Shelach – Don’t Ask For More Than You Can Handle

This week’s Torah portion of Shelach begins with the episode of the spies. The Jewish people didn’t feel ready to just walk into the land and conquer it, and decided they had to first send spies to scope out the land, which proved to be their doom. Hashem had a specific issue against His people: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘How long will this people provoke Me? How much longer will they not believe in Me after all the signs I have performed in their midst’” (Bamidbar 14:11). For that reason Hashem decreed, “According to the number of days which you toured the Land, forty days, a day for each year, you will [thus] bear your iniquities for forty years; thus you will come to know My alienation” (Bamidbar 14:34).

The Ralbag learns a lesson from here that it  befits a person to place his trust in Hashem, and all the more so if Hashem clearly showed him that He is with him in what he wants to do. See what happened to the Jewish people and all the bad that ensued because they did not want to rely on the destiny that Hashem The Almighty had in store for them in inheriting the land. They instead chose to send spies, even after witnessing the awesome wonders that Hashem The Almighty did for them. They should have realized from these miraculous wonders that Hashem The Almighty is never handicapped from doing what He desires. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

This lesson seems obvious! Of course one should trust in Hashem, the perfect, Almighty, All Knowing, and All Gracious; especially if He clearly proves He can be trusted. So what is the lesson and why didn’t the Jews get it right the first time in the desert? The Jewish people personally live through what was without a doubt the most blatant and open show of Hashem’s power and control over the world with all the plagues in Egypt, miracles at the splitting of the sea, wonders of receiving the Torah at Har Sinai,  the everyday miracles of the manna falling from heaven, water coming out of a rock, and the Clouds of Glory. Indeed, they had proven their trust in Hashem by uniting as one to receive the Torah and with virtually blind faith in following Hashem out of Egypt to a desert of desolation, as the pasuk describes: “ So said the Lord: I remember to you the lovingkindness of your youth, the love of your nuptials, your following Me in the desert, in a land not sown” (Yirmiyahu 2:2). We definitely see from here how powerful our free will is, and even more so the power of the Evil Inclination, in stopping us from choosing what is obviously the right path to take at all times.

Many people have asked me in the past why Hashem no longer performs open miracles. They say: “Why can’t He just show me one sign that he is listening to my prayers, answer me clearly, just once…?”

In truth, Hashem is constantly showering us with miracles, at every moment of our lives, and is giving us direction on how to lead our lives. But Hashem, out of His love and mercy for us, does not hand things to us on a silver platter, because he wants us to earn the right to see His everlasting goodness. He purposely created us with free choice and not a serene existence, so that we can justly earn our share in the World to Come, which is the true place of perfection. And out of Hashem’s kindness and mercy he does not provide open miracles because as we see from the Jewish people in the desert that we still have a choice to follow the miracles and continue on the right path, but it is not guaranteed that it will happen. However, if we are unsuccessful in choosing to stay on that right path, we are held to a higher accountability for our folly: “it is befitting for a person to place his trust in Hashem, all the more so if Hashem clearly showed him that He is with him in what he wants to do. For we see what happened to the Jewish people and all the bad that ensued,” as the Ralbag points out.

Hashem out of his mercy and perfect precision is more open in His Divine intervention  at certain times than at other times, knowing who and when one has the ability to potentially use it appropriately.