Shelach – Avoiding the Destruction of Society

In this week’s Torah portion of Shelach, the Jewish nation accepted the lashon hara and evil report on the Land of Israel given by most of the spies. Hashem was ready and willing to wipe out the Jewish people and start anew with Moshe Rabbeinu, but Moshe Rabbeinu, with his utmost dedication, prayed to and pleaded with Hashem to have mercy. It worked, and saved the nation from complete annihilation.
The Medrish Rabba (16:28) discusses the dialogue between Hashem and Moshe: “HaKadosh Baruch Hu said to Moshe, ‘I will wipe them out from before Me!’ [Moshe] said before Him, ‘Master Of The Universe, You delay wrath. And if a servant does good deeds and he listens to his master, and his master gazes at him with a smile, the master doesn’t get any credit for that. When does he deserve credit? At a time where the servant acts up inappropriately bad, and still the master gazes upon him with a smile. So too You should not focus Your gaze on their rebelliousness, as it says, ‘do not turn to the stubbornness of this people, to their wickedness’ (Devarim 9:27). HaKadosh Baruch Hu said back, ‘Because of you I will pardon them, as it says ‘Hashem said, ‘I have forgiven, like you told Me to do’ (Bamidbar 14:2).”

The Maharz”u explaining the medrish’s quote in Devarim, “do not turn to the stubbornness,” but turn towards their righteous and good ones with a smile even though there are harsh ones and bad ones. The quote of this pasuk from Devarim is brought here because the medrish on paragraph 22 says this prayer was also prayed by Moshe for the sin of the spies.

However, the Etz Yosef presents a different angle of why Hashem should not get upset and wipe the Jewish nation off the face of the earth, “’when does the master get credit etc.’ Meaning in this exact way the servant will change his ways for the good, when he sees the immense kindnesses his master performs for him.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
According to both explanations of the medrish, one can ask: how can the All-Knowing Hashem not have been aware of Moshe Rabbeinu’s response before he said it? Realistically, it is better that the servant is acting appropriately and listening to his master and of course the master will be extremely happy for what he sees and should be given a lot of credit for his servant performing to the max and optimum. However, Hashem knows that showing an overabundance of mercy and patience is what people give credit for, but He wanted to have Moshe choose to figure that out and beseech Him to provide that support, even at times where it is not deserved. Moshe Rabbeinu, figuring out on his own and advocating for the nation, in of itself was a reason to save Klal Yisrael.

If one analyzes closely the two different reasons why Hashem should not have destroyed the nation, you will find that although they are very different from each other, each is a valid approach.

The Etz Yosef held that the sinners should be given a chance to change their ways, and they would do that if they saw all the incredible kindness Hashem does for them. In this case, by Moshe pointing out to the Jewish people that Hashem is going to let them live and live out their days with all the miracles of the desert, that was a reason to keep them alive, in order to stir them to repent.

The Maharz”u holds the impetus to allow them to live was not their potential to repent. For those who sinned, which  were the majority of the nation’s men in one shape or form, in fact deserved to die, and did before the next generation entered the land. However, when focusing on the good and the righteous, even though the majority were bad, there was then an impetus to keep everyone alive, at least for the time being. We see the weight and clout of the righteous, how they can carry an entire nation on their shoulders and keep them alive even though they deserve, as a whole, utter annihilation.

When looking at society today and where it is heading, one can ask if there is any hope for continued existence? How can anyone see the truth and the abundance of kindness Hashem showers us with, and in this way turn towards Him and embrace Hashem, His path and ways? Civilization and culture as a whole are so far gone, so how will they ever be able to see the light? From here we see one of two possible answers. Either we are hopeless and only exist because of the merit of the righteous and those who act with good deeds in our generation, or it is up to us, rabbis, kiruv professionals, or anyone who can convey the truth and open the eyes of the world to see Hashem’s incredible kindness and abundance of mercy, and hopefully people will start to actually see and embrace it with open arms and everything will change for the better. There would then be reason to truly and happily live, im yirtzeh Hashem, may this reality come speedily in our days!