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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.