Parshat Shlach Lecha 

Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald

Parshat Shelach Lecha details the Sin of the Spies, one of the tragedies that continue to accompany us until this very day. Our sages sought to identify the causes of the Sin of the Spies, as the spies were princes of Israel.

The Zohar explains that the sin was an initiative of the princes, who were upstanding people (part 3, page 158a): “’All men’, they were all righteous people and leaders of Israel.” What caused their sin was “consultation leading to poor advice” and they initiated a failed process of keeping the People of Israel in the desert for some additional time. What motivated them was a concern that “if Israel goes into the Land, they will end our tenure as princes and appoint others in our place!”

Is the Zohar accusing the princes of concern for their positions and authority at the expense of their responsibility to the tribes, to see to it that Israel enters the Land of Israel as soon as possible (see: Shem Mishmuel on Shelach, 5675; Sfat Emet, 5675, 5639; Pri Tzaddik on Shelach, A; Tiferet Shmuel on Shelach; and others)? On the contrary, the Zohar itself states they were righteous people!

It appears more reasonable to say that the princes made a strategic assessment of the future of the People of Israel after they enter the Land. Their conclusion was that the People of Israel had not yet completed the course of spiritual training needed to instill in them a new spiritual identity. The spies assessed that Israel was not yet ready to leave the greenhouse of the Israelite camp, where everything was at their fingertips, but also where the princes were able to take spiritual and moral responsibility for the people and have an influence on them. The princes feared that the dispersal of the nation throughout the Land of Israel, each to his inheritance, would prevent them from taking responsibility for the nation as leaders.

They did not sin by making a forward-looking strategic assessment; to the contrary, it was their responsibility to do so! However, their assessment was faulty in that it did not take into account Divine guidance, which determined the appropriate time to enter the Land. In this, they also sinned by denigrating the Land in order to dissuade the nation from entering it.  

Of course, there are those who analyze the negative lesson of the Sin of the Spies. We would like to focus on the positive lesson.

Authentic leadership, generally, and in the national-religious community specifically, must develop its own forward-looking strategic view; a long-term vision. The Jewish ideal is grand and long-term, and we must ask where we wish to see ourselves and Israeli society as a whole in ten years or more. This strategic conclusion must be translated into initiatives – an operational plan, detailing what must be done directly and indirectly in order to achieve the goal. Otherwise, we will continue to find ourselves on the defensive, constantly involved in creating bulwarks and putting out fires, in response to challenges and directives initiated by others, and in attempts at damage control. 

In order not to ruin the joy of Shabbat, we will not list here our past and current failures caused by a lack of any long-term strategic vision, or by allocating resources in the wrong direction, distracting us from obvious needs.

We were privileged to witness an example of strategic vision when our teacher, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, zt”l, focused attention on the consequences of the settlement enterprise for the future of the State of Israel. Or when Rabbi Neriya, zt”l, founded the network of yeshivas and ulpanot as a future infrastructure for the spiritual-moral underpinnings of religious-Zionism in the Land of Israel. Or in the strategic vision of Rabbi Soloveitchik, zt”l, when he created the model for combining religion and modernity in the United States.

“It was an act of charity for the world when the Holy One, blessed be He, did not allocate all skills to one place or to one nation….” (Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, Orot, 152)

We are called upon to develop a religious-Zionist strategic dialogue to address the challenges of the future. And the sooner, the better. 

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