Friday, June 24, 2016
Shelach 5631 Second Ma'amar
The Spies’ Mistake and How We Can Apply the Lesson to Our Own Life Challenges
“... וְלֹא־תָתוּרוּ אַחֲרֵי לְבַבְכֶם וְאַחֲרֵי עֵינֵיכֶם .../… and you shall not wander after your hearts and after your eyes …” (Bamidbar 15:39) Rashi on this pasuk explains that the word תָתוּרוּ/wander, comes from תּוּר/spy or scout. He writes that the heart and eyes are like the body’s spies. “The eyes see, the heart desires and the body does the sin.”
It is no coincidence that this pasuk appears in the same parsha as the story of the twelve spies. In fact, the Sfas Emes explains that there is an underlying similarity between these two seemingly disparate subjects. In order to understand this similarity, we need to first understand why the spies were sent and what they did wrong.
The Chiddushei HaRim explains. The nation in the desert lived with explicit miracles. They ate food that dropped from the sky every day. They saw the clouds of glory and the pillar of fire. Coming into Israel they would be living within nature. The challenge would be to maintain their high level of faith. The challenge would be to realize that just as God provided for them in the desert in an explicit way, He is within nature as well, albeit, implicitly. Success in this challenge would be to reach a level of understanding that nature is a bigger wonder than the miracles of the desert. As part of the transition to living within the bounds of nature, the spies were sent to scout the land. Their ultimate mission was to maintain the level of faith they had in the desert where they experienced open miracles on a daily basis. Their ultimate mission involved seeing the land and its inhabitants and realizing that even though the inhabitants were strong and live in fortified cities, and according to the laws of nature they were unable to enter the land, God is within everything. God would help them if they would only subordinate themselves to His will. In this, ten of the twelve spies failed. They did not maintain their high level of faith. They were fooled by what they saw. They realized that they did not have the physical strength to enter the land and overcome its inhabitants. And because of this, they in fact, did not enter the land.
According to the Sfas Emes, this is exactly the meaning of the admonition at the end of the parsha to not follow our eyes and heart. Our eyes and heart (i.e. our desires) see the external physical world. The Torah is admonishing us to recognize instead the Godliness that underlies the external physical world. This explains the next pasuk, “לְמַעַן תִּזְכְּרוּ וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֶת־כָּל־מִצְוֹתָי .../So that you will remember and you will do all of my commandments …” (Bamidbar 15:40) The beginning of this pasuk seems awkward. The pasuk tells us to remember but does not tell us what we should remember. If the pasuk were telling us to remember the mitzvos in order to do them it would state, “So that you will remember my commandments …” The pasuk seems to be stating two separate things. Remember and then do the mitzvos. Remember what? The Sfas Emes explains that the word for “remember” in Hebrew means more than simply recalling. It is much deeper. It means to internalize something until it becomes a part of the person. At that point there is no possibility of forgetting. The beginning of this pasuk is really a continuation of the previous pasuk. The Torah is telling us, “Do not follow your physical eyes and desires so that you may internalize the underlying Godliness of everything physical. Through this internalization you will be able to do all My mitzvos – even the ones that according to your nature perspective you do not think you can do.”
The Sfas Emes teaches that this approach applies to any mitzvah and service to God. Viewing challenges solely according to the laws of nature, many times leads us to believe that we cannot succeed. According to the laws of nature, for example, Avraham Avinu was unable to have children. Avraham Avinu had children because he believed God’s promise to him, “וְהֶאֱמִין בַּה' .../and he had faith in God …” (Breishis 15:6)
When we imagine that we cannot succeed either because of previous sins or because of a general feeling of unworthiness, we have succumbed to the advice of the evil inclination. This way of viewing things considers only external physical circumstance rather than the underlying spiritual reality. Believing that we can accomplish and succeed at any mitzvah with God’s help will lead us inexorably to success in Avodas HaShem.