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!

Shelach – Expectations of a Perfect Leader

Most of this week’s Torah portion of Shelach discusses the disastrous episode of the spies which condemned a whole generation of the Jewish people to die in the desert after wandering for 40 years, instead of everyone going straight into and inheriting the Land of Israel.
One lesson the Ralbag learns from here is that “it is appropriate for a person to place his trust in Hashem especially when He clearly shows that He is with him in what ever he decides to do. Behold, we all know the bad that happened to the Jews because they did not want to rely on the mission of The Exalted Hashem in inheriting the land and instead decided to send spies there, even though they had already witnessed the awesome wonders that The Exulted Hashem had done for them. They should have realized that the Hand of the Exulted Hashem will not fall short of doing whatever He wants.”

With this basic and baseless lack of trust that the Jewish people showed, at whatever level it really was, how miniscule it must have really been, still in all there is a very important lesson that every leader should learn from Moshe Rabbeinu, which the Ralbag in a different lesson points out. “It is appropriate for the perfect leader to have the strength to be patient with his followers and their blatant negligence in order to direct them to what is good. Behold, we see that it wasn’t enough that Moshe did not get angry at them for rebelling against him for wanting to return to Egypt even though Hashem showered them with favors done through him [Moshe], but [Moshe] also was gracious towards them and fell on his face before them pleading with outstretched arms that they won’t self-destruct by rebelling against The Exulted Hashem. This wasn’t even enough but he also piled on prayer after prayer before The Exulted Hashem that He should overlook their iniquities until The Exulted Hashem answered him and was comforted over the bad which He said He would do to His nation, meaning He did not completely wipe them out but left their children to inherit the land and they themselves did not all die at once.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
A leader is someone who takes, or at least attempts to take, his followers from point A to point B, whether that is physically or spiritually. Whatever goal-minded purpose or mission, a leader inspires, shows, directs, and leads a person or people in that direction. The Ralbag mentioned 3 areas in progression where Moshe went above and beyond and showed that he was the perfect leader:
1. He did not get angry when his followers were not listening to him, even though it was clearly proven without a shadow of a doubt that Moshe was just the messenger of the All Trustworthy, All-Powerful Hashem who was taking care of them, and they certainly should have trusted Hashem who had also proved His love, loyalty, and power towards them.
 2. Moshe humbled himself and begged on his hands and knees for them to not continue with their mistakes, and to repent, and to go back onto the trustworthy path of Hashem.
3. He focused all his energy and strength to pray for them so that they wouldn’t be annihilated for not trusting in, and rebelling against, Hashem.

But shouldn’t this be expected of any leader, even if they are not perfect? Isn’t every leader expected to be selfless and self-sacrificing for the sake of his constituents? What else should he have done if he wasn’t the perfect leader?

It is implicit from here that if Moshe Rabbeinu would not have acted as a perfect leader, then he might have acted out of anger, albeit for good intentions. He was still the humblest of men and surely wouldn’t have felt any slight from them rebelling against him. Rather it must be that because they were rebelling against Hashem, the Honor of Hashem was being slighted; then there would have been just cause to speak out or even take action out of anger, with the intention of instilling fear into them so that they would hopefully leave their evil ways. It might have even worked, at least for a while.

However, we see from here that a truly perfect leader would never use anger, or even the display of anger, to sway his followers to the good; rather the opposite should be demonstrated. Not only was Moshe not angry, but he belittled himself and pleaded with his followers to change, and when that didn’t work, he put in an immense amount of strength and energy into his prayers in order to, at the very least, successfully lessen the punishment. Even though they complained, made some really nasty remarks, and showed an outright lack of trust and interest in following him and Hashem, still in all the perfect leader did not care that his followers didn’t  show any interest in him, and showed a complete dedication towards them.

For that reason, the Ralbag is praising and pointing out that Moshe Rabbeinu was the perfect leader. It’s not surprising if people don’t want to follow you then you’ll just give up on them. There is just so much one can do to try to help others. However, it takes a perfect leader to never give up and to continue to help and be completely dedicated to his or her students, congregants, or even children even though they are showing a total lack of interest in him or her.

The Negiah: The Power of a Bias

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This week’s Torah portion is Shelach, which discusses the incident of the spies. This dvar Torah is based on a shmuz given by Rav Moshe Chait zt”l, who was Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim Yerushalayim. It shows the power and extent a bias corrupts without defining what the bias of the spies was. For an explanation of the exact bias of the spies please click here and here and here for the Rosh HaYeshiva of the entire Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim network, Rav Henoch Liebwitz zt”l’s shmuz found in Majesty of Man.

A major theme in the Torah portion of Shelach is the count of the meraglim, the spies. The Mussar Giants say this is an example of great people succumbing to mistakes which appear be obvious to other people, but to the individuals involved in the matter there was some kind of negiah, bias, that distorted their deductions.

The Yalkut Shimone says that the spies were righteous. In the opening pasuk of the portion it says: “Send for you men,” “Shelach licha anashim;” and whenever the Torah says “anashim,” “men,” it is refering to righteous people.
The selection of these people were approved by both Moshe and Hashem. Nevertheless, on this pasuk Rashi says that Hashem told Moshe ‘they are being sent on your command, not Mine.’

Really, Moshe couldn’t understand the request of the Jewish people, because Hashem promised them a land flowing with milk and honey. So there was already a doubt as to whether their request was authentic or not; Hashem had assured them, so they shouldn’t have any doubt in the land.

In fact, at the end of his life, Moshe warned the people to not do like their fathers did and mess up when they were about to go into the Promise Land. Moshe reminded them, “And all of you approached me and said, ‘Let us send men ahead of us so that they will search out the land for us and bring us back word by which route we shall go up, and to which cities we shall come’” (Devarim 1:22). Rashi there says that when the Jews came to ask for the spies the younger folks were pushing the elders and the elders pushing ahead of the judges. This was a lack of courtesy which Moshe now admitted he didn’t pick up on at the time but should have noticed and rejected their request. In the next pasuk, “And the matter pleased me; so I took twelve men from you, one man for each tribe,” Moshe even admitted that he thought they had a good idea. It is hard to admit you are wrong. But “Derech Eretz Kadmah liTorah,” good manners precede the Torah; it is the beginning and ending of the Torah. A slight lack of courtesy could destroy even a sincere and devoted motivation to do something. A lack of good manners is not being so meticulous in Jewish law, halacha, in general, and specifically in character development, mussar.

As a result, while Moshe hand-picked the spies and Hashem approved, he still had his suspicions and blessed Yehoshua, as well as prayed for him, that he would be saved from the influence of these bad people.

Once in the land, “They went up in the south, and he came to Hebron” (Bamidbar 13:22), Calev only went to Chevron to pray by the tomb of our forefathers. Calev at that point was aware that there was something wrong and prayed to not be corrupted. When the spies returned to the camp Calev had to stop the people from stoning Moshe and Aharon. He had to first act like he was against Moshe and Aharon to get the Jews to listen to him and then convinced them otherwise, that they were making a bad decision in following the rest of the spies. However, with all his bravery and conscientiousness, he still had to pray to Hashem to not fall to the influence of the spies. He might have thought that when he is in the company of all the great Jewish leaders he might be great himself, but if he is acting on his own, it is hard to feel that one can overcome the danger by himself. Therefore he turned to Hashem to ask for assistance. Based on this it would seem that both Yehoshua and Calev acted by themselves, not together, as it says that for their own deeds they merited to inherit a part in The Land.

To understand the extent of the spies’ bias and how far they went in going against Moshe, we see that they came back on Tisha B’Av and they went from tent to tent crying that ‘we will never see each other again’ and ‘destruction is imminent if we enter the land.’ Then all of the Jewish people, men, women, and children started to cry. Because of this bias they could not enter the land and there was then a real reason to cry, for all generations, until the Final Redemption, may it come speedily in our days.

The lesson we see from here is that even if one knows he is doing the right thing, but everyone else is doing the wrong thing, he still might be able to fall into the evil inclination’s trap. So one cannot rely on oneself but rather should pray for Divine Help as we see that Calev left the spies, though he might have put himself in a dangerous and compromising position, in order to pray to Hashem by the tomb of our forefathers. He couldn’t pray where he was but had to go to his forefathers, as he knew Hashem would accept their prayers to save him. Yehoshua, also, had Moshe pray on his behalf so he felt a little more comfortable since Moshe prayed for him.

There are times we feel a little too confident about ourselves, at those times we must turn to Hashem to pray to Him that He removes any bias that we can give in to when making decisions, for example, yeshiva guys sometimes feel too confident that they are always in yeshiva and don’t have to worry about any outside influences but the truth is they still have to pray for Hashem’s help to not stumble. So to, everyone else in the world, with their own circumstances should always turn to Hashem for Divine Assistance in making proper judgement calls.