Friday, June 12, 2015

Shelach 5631 First Ma'amar

In the beginning of parshas Shelach, God tells Moshe Rabbeinu to send spies into the land of Israel, “שְׁלַח־לְךָ אֲנָשִׁים וְיָתֻרוּ אֶת־אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן .../Send out men who shall spy out the land of Canaan …” (Bamidbar 13:2)  However, in parshas Devarim when Moshe Rabbeinu recounts the story, he says that the nation asked him to send the spies.[1]  Furthermore, Chazal teach us that sending the spies did not find favor in God’s eyes.[2]  How can we reconcile the two versions of this story and why did God command Moshe Rabbeinu to send the spies if He was against it?

The Sfas Emes finds the answer to these questions in the first Midrash on the parsha.[3]  The Midrash says that there is nothing as precious to God as a shli’ach mitzvah/one sent to do a mitzvah.  An emissary is one whose sole motive is to do the sender’s will.  If he has other personal motives, he is no longer simply an emissary.  He is on his own mission as well.  An emissary who has no personal motives in the mission is called, in the words of the Midrash, one who puts his soul into the success of his mission.

The Chiddushei HaRim, expounding on this point explains that it is highly significant that, according to Chazal, the two spies Yehoshua sent to Jericho disguised themselves as potters.[4]  Clay pots exemplify things with no intrinsic value.  Their value is defined solely by their functionality.  The spies were prepared to fulfill Yehoshua’s will with absolutely no personal ulterior motives. 

Both the version that Moshe Rabbeinu relates in Devarim and the version of our parsha are true.  The people wanted to send spies into the land.  Out of kindness, God commanded Moshe to send spies even though the nation had already asked for it and even though He was against it.  The spies were being sent on a dangerous mission.  It was physically dangerous and spiritually dangerous.  God turned the mission into a mitzvah in order to afford the spies protection.[5]    They became shluchai mitzvah/emissaries sent to do a mitzvah.[6]

In order to become true emissaries, though, they needed to suppress their own desires and motives and proceed with the mission only because God commanded it.  If they had done this they would have been protected.  Ten of the spies failed and the results were tragic.

This Midrash is teaching us something very important about our lives in this world.  The Chiddushei HaRim used to say that we are all shluchei mitzvah/emissaries sent do to a mitzvah.  God sent us into this world to fulfill His will.  In this sense, we are His agents.  However, we are only His agents, in the true sense, when our desire is solely to fulfill His will rather than for any ulterior personal motives.

This world is a dangerous place fraught with pitfalls and traps.  It is easy to be snared.  The advice we glean from the Midrash is to suppress our own desires to do the will of God.  We have the ability to transform all of our daily activities into mitzvos.  In fact, another Midrash in this week’s parsha says that God left nothing out.[7]  There is no action that cannot be transformed into a mitzvah.  By making everything we do a mitzvah we connect to the inner Godly life force that inheres in each action.  This connection affords us protection in this world.

There was, however, a positive mission that the spies were sent to accomplish.  Before entering the land of Israel, there was no need to work at attaining any physical need.  Every physical need was provided.  God was manifest in the daily lives of the people.  After entering the land of Israel, the nation would have to work within nature to satisfy their physical needs.  Maintaining the same level of faith while living within the boundaries of nature would not be easy.  The Chiddushei HaRim explains that the larger context of the spies’ mission was to help make this difficult transition as smooth as possible.  They were supposed to show that the light of the Torah exists within nature as well.  In fact, the word for spies, meraglim has the same root as hergeil/habit.  The spies were supposed to teach us how to bring the light of the Torah into our daily lives. 

This concept is alluded to in the Zohar[8] on a pasuk from this week’s parsha, “... וַיָּבֹא עַד־חֶבְרוֹן/… he came to Chevron.” (Bamidbar 13:22)  The Zohar explains that Chevron represents the Torah SheBe’al Peh/Oral Law.  The word Chevron has the same root as the Hebrew word for connection – chibur.  Furthermore, a person who studies the Oral Law is called a chaver.  All of a Torah scholar’s actions are drawn after the Torah.  His essence is connected to the Torah.  He brings the light of the Torah into his daily activities.  For this reason we say in our morning brachos, “שֶׁתַּרְגִילֵנוּ בְּתוֹרָתֶךָ/You have made us accustomed to Your Torah.”  In essence we are praising God for helping us to bring the light of the Torah into our daily lives, through the mitzvos.

God told Moshe, “... וְיָתֻרוּ אֶת־אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן .../… and they shall spy out the land of Canaan …” (Bamidbar 13:2)  “וְיָתֻרוּ/And they shall spy out” has the same root as the word for Torah.  God wanted the spies to show the nation that it was possible to bring the light of the Torah into the physical world.  It was possible to live in the physical world, to work within the boundaries of nature and still live a spiritual life.  This was the spies’ ultimate mission.  This is our ultimate mission as well and it is accomplished by realizing that in every aspect of our lives we are shluchai mitzvah/emissaries to do a mitzvah in this world.

[1]Devarim 1:22
[2]Bamidbar R. 16:7
[3]Bamidbar R. 15:1
[5] See also Ramban 13:2, in the middle starting with והנראה אלי לפי פשט הכתוב, says very similar
[6]A person sent to do a mitzvah is protected against harm (Pesachim 8a)
[7]Bamidbar R. 17:5,6
[8]Zohar 3:16a

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