Parshat Shelach (Numbers 13:1-15:41) - The Jewish Voice
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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Parshat Shelach (Numbers 13:1-15:41)

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Leave it to the Jews: The spies sent to scout out the future Eretz Yisrael came back bearing grapes the size of basketballs, yet somehow still managed to complain about the land. Incidentally, the above image is the logo for Israel’s Carmel Winery. The Israeli Tourism Ministry uses something similar.“Aloh Na’aleh!”

 In the book Tribal Leadership, the authors speak about how to unify different organic groups of an organization into a larger, stronger unit that could work on global issues. One of the primary ways to bring about this organizational unity is by the group’s unification around a “noble cause” which injects a sense of mission into their day-to-day lives. This “noble cause” is of the result of the set of organizational values which shapes the daily decisions that are made within the company. 

 However, the authors also warn against groups which have appeared to have achieved this high level of operation by the sheer charismatic force of one person. If a company has reached such a level via the prodding of one person, if that one person leaves, then the group is reduced to intratribal squabbling. The group eventually falls apart, as their commitment to their shared values and cause only came from their commitment to the charismatic leader. Rather, in order to form a higher and more stable group, the different members should have all reached that level of commitment to their values and noble vision due to each member’s own understanding, and then they will succeed as a group, even if the original charismatic leader is no longer with them.

One could argue that a lack of internalization of the group’s values even without the original leader was one of the roots of Chait Hameraglim (the sin of the spies). The passuk tells us that when Moshe Rabbeinu sent them out, they were all described as “anashim, roshei B’nei Yisrael,” as well as “kol nasi b’hem.” Rashi interprets these words to be that they were all of lofty spiritual status, while the Seforno understands that they were all strong and valorous. How could such a group fall to the level of speaking Lashon Hara about Hashem’s Chosen Land of Eretz Yisrael? One would think that this group would come back with only the best reports. This group should have only returned with reports that although the land’s inhabitants are strong, Hashem will annihilate their enemies and give the Israelites victory.

The Meshech Chochmah offers the approach that this group was united by a fear which would eventually bring it into conflict with Hashem’s command that they conquer Eretz Yisrael. This group was afraid to conquer Eretz Yisrael without Moshe. Previously in the wilderness,  the Children of Israel had made an attribution error involving Moshe Rabbeinu, where they asked Aharon to build them a new leader, as “Moshe, the man who took them out of Mitzrayim, is no longer with them.”  This led to the incident of the Golden Calf.  The Jews had attributed all of the miracles of Exodus from Egypt and the Splitting of the Sea of Reeds Moshe, as opposed to Hashem. The Midrash tells us that the prophecies of Eldad and Medad stated that Moshe would die in the desert and Yehoshua would lead them into the land. The leaders of Israel were afraid to go into the Land without Moshe. Therefore, they decided it would be better to scare the B’nei Yisrael into refusing to enter the land so they could keep Moshe as their leader for longer, and they would not be left helpless in the face of their enemies.

In contrast, when Kaleiv tried to encourage the people, saying that they could conquer Eretz Yisrael regardless, he was urging the people to believe in their own greatness. He was telling them that Moshe’s great stature as leader of the Israelites only came from his role of serving them and teaching them Torah. Due to the greatness of the B’nei Yisrael themselves, they could succeed, even without Moshe. If the nation as a whole had achieved that level of internalization of Torah values, then they themselves were worthy of divine intervention. They would be more than capable of “Aloh Na’aleh!”, that we could go up by ourselves.  Kaleiv’s point unfortunately would be reflected during the next 38 years that they were in the Midbar when Hashem did not speak to Moshe at all, as the B’nei Yisrael had no need for additional mitzvot until they reached the border in Arvot Moav at the end of the 40th year.

  Unfortunately, the Israelites had not yet reached that level. They would not have listened to Yehoshua, as they dismissed him as being “noge’ah b’davar” (having a vested interest), seeing as he stood to inherit power if Moshe would die. The Meshech Chochamah goes so far as to state that had they continued to make that attribution error, they would have come to, Heaven forbid, conclude erroneously that Moshe was not entirely human, rather a form of god. Therefore, Moshe would have to die in the desert in order that when Yehoshua would lead them into Eretz Yisrael, they would realize that their true power of success came from their being Hashem’s special people, worthy of His protection, that Hakadosh Baruch Hu is the true source of their conquering power.

Therefore, in conclusion, as the school year comes to a conclusion, students might anxiously ask their parents how could they still grow in Torah without their teachers/friends/spiritual environment of Israel (if they are at that age). The answer that should reassure them should be in Kaleiv’s words to the B’nei Yisrael: yes, it is harder to grow without those people and specific places. However, if you have truly internalized those ideals that you have learned, then you will understand that you can take Torah values with you wherever you go, as you are a Jew and worthy of Hashem’s protection and favor. If your growth is limited to that specific person or place, then it will not last. May we all be capable of “Aloh Na’aleh” spiritually, no matter whom we are with and wherever we may find ourselves in the future.

Adina C. Brizel graduated from the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration and is currently freelance writing and lecturing in her hometown, Kew Gardens Hills. She can be reached at adina.brizel@gmail.com.

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