Choice for generations
Parsha and its Implementation – Shlach Lecha’ - Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald - 5779
What can be learned from the spies’ sin story?
The spies’ sin was undoubtedly a very serious sin. We are faced with its severity by the seriousness of the punishment. An entire generation that dies in the desert and will not enter the land. The impression of this sin and its harsh consequences continue to accompany the people of Israel for generations to this day. If it were a sin that is the result of certain rare circumstances, it would be a sin of that moment, a non-ordinary stumble that had nothing to teach us for generations. But the spies’ sin has certain characteristics that are very similar to the life of the individual and the nation in daily life, and therefore it is necessary to learn from it for generations. We would like to point out one issue.
And it is further written: “And all the congregation lifted up their voice and cried and the people wept that night” (Bamidbar 14:1). Rabba said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: That night was the night of the Ninth of Av. The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to them: You wept needlessly that night, and I will therefore establish for you a true tragedy over which there will be weeping in future generations. (Taanit 29a). And then it was decreed on the Temple to be destroyed" (Bamidbar Rabbah 16:20).
The spies stood before the people. Ten of them spoke badly about the land, and Joshua and Caleb praised. Ten spies called them, in the smallest and weakest of the spirit, to ignore the Divine command and without understanding the magnitude of the vision and the time: “We cannot attack that people, for it is stronger than we.” (Bamidbar 13:31). In contrast, Joshua and Caleb called them, in the strength of the spirit, in recognition of the Divine command and the magnitude of the vision and the time: “Let us by all means go up, and we shall gain possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it.” (Bamidbar 13:30). Lest they miss the timing! Because their choice is for generations.
The people of Israel as individuals and as a public were asked to choose who they wanted to follow. And whether they succumb to grumbling and whining, to the weakness of the moment. Or they fill up with strength and attributes and know the size of timing, and its implications for generations and for ever and ever.
Their weeping and their choice preferred the life of the moment, missed the opportunity and became a "weeping for generations"!
At a later stage Am Israel understands the mistake. There are those who seek to correct it:
וַיַּשְׁכִּ֣מוּ בַבֹּ֔קֶר וַיַּֽעֲל֥וּ אֶל־רֹאשׁ־הָהָ֖ר לֵאמֹ֑ר הִנֶּ֗נּוּ וְעָלִ֛ינוּ אֶל־הַמָּק֛וֹם אֲשֶׁר־אָמַ֥ר ה' כִּ֥י חָטָֽאנוּ׃
"Early next morning they set out toward the crest of the hill country, saying, “We are prepared to go up to the place that the LORD has spoken of, for we were wrong.” (Bamidbar 14: 40). But this was a late awakening, the damage had already been done and it was not reversible: וַיֹּ֣אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֔ה לָ֥מָּה זֶּ֛ה אַתֶּ֥ם עֹבְרִ֖ים אֶת־פִּ֣י ה' וְהִ֖וא לֹ֥א תִצְלָֽח׃
But Moses said, “Why do you transgress the LORD’s command? This will not succeed. (Bamidbar 14: 41)
A famous midrash describes the gap between man's attitude to his act at the time of acting - and the way in which the act is later perceived in perspective years later:
אָמַר רַבִּי יִצְחָק בַּר מַרְיוֹן בָּא הַכָּתוּב לְלַמֶּדְךָ שֶׁאִם אָדָם עוֹשֶׂה מִצְוָה יַעֲשֶׂנָּה בְּלֵבָב שָׁלֵם, שֶׁאִלּוּ הָיָה רְאוּבֵן יוֹדֵעַ שֶׁהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מַכְתִּיב עָלָיו (בראשית לז, כא): וַיִּשְׁמַע רְאוּבֵן וַיַּצִּילֵהוּ מִיָּדָם, בִּכְתֵפוֹ הָיָה מוֹלִיכוֹ אֵצֶל אָבִיו. וְאִלּוּ הָיָה יוֹדֵעַ אַהֲרֹן שֶׁהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מַכְתִּיב עָלָיו (שמות ד, יד): הִנֵּה הוּא יֹצֵא לִקְרָאתֶךָ בְּתֻפִּים וּבִמְחוֹלוֹת הָיָה יוֹצֵא לִקְרָאתוֹ. וְאִלּוּ הָיָה יוֹדֵעַ בֹּעַז שֶׁהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מַכְתִּיב עָלָיו: וַיִּצְבָּט לָהּ קָלִי וַתֹּאכַל וַתִּשְׂבַּע וַתֹּתַר, עֲגָלוֹת מְפֻטָּמוֹת הָיָה מַאֲכִילָהּו. (רות רבה פרשה ה ו)
Rabbi Yitzchak the son of Maryon said: "the scripture came to teach us that if a man is going to do a mitzvah, let it be done with his whole heart. Now if Reuben had known that the Holy One, blessed be He would write about him "And Reuben heard it, and delivered him out of their hand (Genesis 37:21)" on his shoulder he would have brought him to his father. And if Aaron had known that the Holy One, blessed be He would write about him "And also, behold, he comes forth to meet you (Exodus 4:14)" with tambourines and dances he would have met him. And if Boaz had known that the Holy One, blessed be He would write about him "And they reached her parched corn, and she did eat and was satisfied, and left thereof" he would have fed her with fattened calves" (Ruth Rabbah 5). So, what can be learned from this? That at the time of the act one must relate to every good and required act (mitzva), as if it were something of great value, and long-term, for generations, and not a trivial matter! So that the timing will not be missed and there will be no “weeping for generations”.
"כל ספרי הנביאים וכל הכתובים עתידין ליבטל לימות המשיח חוץ ממגילת אסתר" (רמב"ם מגילה ב יח).
Esther was an exception. She was the "miracle maker who knew her miracle" (according to Nida 31a), she recognized the size of the miracle and the historical event to which she was a partner. Not as a special miracle, but rather as a message for generations.
אמר רב שמואל בר יהודה שלחה להם אסתר לחכמים קבעוני לדורות (מגילה ז א).
Rav Shmuel bar Yehuda said: Esther sent to the Sages: Establish me for future generations. Esther requested that the observance of Purim and the reading of the Megilla be instituted as an ordinance for all generations. (Megillah 7a)
And merited to be remembered for good, forever:
וִימֵ֞י הַפּוּרִ֣ים הָאֵ֗לֶּה לֹ֤א יַֽעַבְרוּ֙ מִתּ֣וֹךְ הַיְּהוּדִ֔ים וְזִכְרָ֖ם לֹא־יָס֥וּף מִזַּרְעָֽם׃
“Consequently, these days are recalled and observed in every generation: by every family, every province, and every city. And these days of Purim shall never cease among the Jews, and the memory of them shall never perish among their descendants”. (Esther 9:28)
“כל ספרי הנביאים וכל הכתובים עתידין ליבטל לימות המשיח חוץ ממגילת אסתר והרי היא קיימת כחמשה חומשי תורה וכהלכות של תורה שבעל פה שאינן בטלין לעולם”
“All Prophetic Books and the Sacred Writings will cease [to be recited in public] during the messianic era except the Book of Esther. It will continue to exist just as the Five Books of the Torah and the laws of the Oral Torah that will never cease”. (Mishneh Torah Scroll of Esther and Hanukkah 2:18).
The individual and the public are asked to choose all the time. Sometimes without giving it much thought or weaknesses. And the elections are made out of the accounts of time, of the here and now. It is difficult to see these decisions as something that will affect generations. Only after a while will it turn out to be a “choice for generations”, or perhaps “weeping for generations”. In retrospect it is difficult to understand or explain why they were negligent at the time of their choice.
This is how the Sages teach the lesson from the sin of the spies, for generations, as "weeping for generations." From then on, already at the time of acting, the deeds must be examined as potential 'generational choices' in order to prevent “weeping for generations”. The current message for today, will be taken by each person and by his choices.