By: Rabbi Osher Jungreis
In this week’s parsha, we discover our tragic predilection for self-destruction. Even if G-d performs open miracles and bestows every blessing upon us, it will be to no avail if we are bent on trouble. G-d performed the most astounding miracles for our forefathers: the plagues that fell upon Egypt, the splitting of the Red Sea, the collapse of Pharaoh and the Egyptian army, manna falling from heaven, water gushing forth from rocks, the giving of the Torah at Sinai–and yet, when the command came to enter the promised land, they demanded that spies be sent forth to scout out the land. It is difficult to understand how a nation that had witnessed G-d’s open wonders could question His ability to bring them into the land. When people have hidden agendas however, then no matter what miracles they may experience, it will have no impact upon them. Thus, the parsha states, “And they went and they came…” (Numbers 13:26), meaning that they returned with the very same agenda with which they had departed. This despite the fact that G-d performed mighty miracles on their behalf while they were scouting out the land.
In order to protect their anonymity, G-d made their reconnaissance mission coincide with the death of Job, the most prominent man in the land of Canaan. The entire population was involved in mourning ceremonies, so the presence of the twelve spies went undetected. But instead of appreciating this, they returned with a malicious report, stating that “It’s a land that eats its inhabitants” (Numbers 13-32)–meaning that it is impossible to survive there–people are always dying, and everyone is busy going to funerals.
G-d allowed them to see the magnificent huge fruit of the land, and indeed, they brought back samples of it, but that too was used to plant terror in the hearts of the people when they said, “Yes, it is a land of milk and honey, BUT the people who dwell in the land are powerful; the cities are greatly fortified, and we also saw the offspring of the giants and Amalek.” (Numbers 13:27) By the time they finished their report, the people were frozen with fear, and ready to return Egypt. In vain did G-d make miracles–they refused to see them.
In contrast to the scouts who maligned the land, Joshua and Caleb, who were also part of the reconnaissance mission, returned inspired and energized. They tried to prevail upon the nation to have courage and go forth, for G-d would be with them and they would succeed in conquering the land with ease, but their words fell upon deaf ears.
The question that should give us all pause is how is it that people can undergo the exact same experience, but have totally different perceptions. The answer is that people see what they want to see. If they have faith, if Torah illuminates their lives, then nothing will be beyond their reach, but if faith is lacking, if they have their own agendas, then even G-d’s miracles will be enshrouded in darkness. We would all do well to take this lesson to heart. G-d bestows so many favors upon us — but do we see them?