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Shelach: Fulfilling our Personal Mission with Humility

וידבר ה' אל משה לאמר, שלח לך אנשים ויתירו את ארץ כנען אשר אני נותן לבני ישראל איש אחד איש אחד למטה אבותיו תשלחו כל נשיא בהם.

“And Hashem spoke to Moshe so saying: Send on your behalf men who shall scout the Land of Canaan which I am giving to the Jewish People; One man, one man of the tribe of his fathers, send the leaders among them.” (Bamidbar 13:2)

The Jewish people asked Moshe to send spies to the Land of Canaan in preparation for the Conquest. Moshe turned to Hashem requesting permission, and Hashem responded with the above verse. Rashi explains: “Do not read the words ‘Send on your behalf men’ as a command.’” After all, the Jewish People were harshly criticized for sending the spies, regardless of the outcome of their mission. Therefore, it must be made clear that Hashem did not command them to send the spies, for then sending the spies would have been a mitzvah. We know that “One who fulfills a mitzvah will know of no evil” (Keheles 8:5). The great calamity that befell the Jewish People in result of this ill-fated mission would not have come about if it would have been a mitzvah. Rather, explains Rashi, Hashem told Moshe to send the men “according to your thoughts.” In other words, Hashem gave His consent to the plan, although He clearly hinted that it was not His will.

If so, why didn’t Moshe curtail the mission right then and there? He understood clearly that Hashem did not approve of the idea, so why did he proceed? The Torah continues to tell us that “Moshe sent them according to Hashem’s Mouth.” Once again, Rashi explains that it was only with Hashem’s permission, and not by His command. Again we must ask why Moshe sent them when he knew that Hashem did not really approve of the plan.

We also need greater clarity on the entire story of the spies. What was so wrong about what they did? They returned from Canaan and told the Jewish People everything they saw there, which was exactly why they went in the first place. If we were to read the verses carefully, we would see that they spoke only the truth. It was true that there were giants in Canaan and that mighty people lived there. It was true that even the fruits were giant sized, which was unusual and strange. If so, why are they blamed and faulted for bringing back their report? After all, Moshe had sent them with precise instructions, to check out the land “if it is strong or weak.” They performed their mission as expected of them, so why were they punished?

Most commentators say that they sinned by inserting their own fears into their report. They cried publicly: “We would never be able to conquer them! They are too strong and they will crush us!” They were not asked to give their personal opinion of the matter. In fact, before agreeing to the mission Hashem told Moshe: “Send on your behalf men who shall scout the Land of Canaan which I am giving to the Jewish People.” Hashem clearly stated that the Land will be given to them, and it makes no difference whether or not the people who presently occupy the land are strong or weak, or whether the land is good or bad. Hashem is giving it anyway, and if it is from Hashem it is surely the best.

When Hashem promised the Jewish People that the land is “a land of milk and honey,” He meant it both in a physical as well as spiritual sense. The Chasam Sofer explains the dilemma of the Jewish People when they heard the report of the spies. On the one hand, they thought, if we believe what they are saying about Canaan, that would mean that the land is not as good as Hashem told us. On the other hand, if we do not believe them it would mean that the land is not as spiritually good as we thought; otherwise, how could a group of ten upstanding and lofty tzaddikim have returned from there completely corrupted? This is why the people were so bewildered upon hearing the spies’ account, because they realized that the land must be deficient in one way or another.

Therefore, Koleiv and Yehoshua proclaimed: “The land is very, very good!” They stressed the goodness twice, indicating that the land is very good physically and very good spiritually. It is true that the people of the land are strong and ordinarily it would be impossible to conquer them. But, they said, Hashem will fight on our behalf! Hashem wants to give us the land, and we have no reason to fear. In addition, the land is good spiritually. It is the ideal place to grow in Torah and obtain a special closeness to Hashem. However, there is one crucial condition: “And against Hashem you shall not rebel!” How does one rebel against Hashem? By thinking that whatever he gained and accomplished came about through his own powers. A person who is fully aware that everything he does or achieves is by the will of Hashem, will succeed in all of his endeavors.

When Moshe instructed the spies about their mission, he told them to check out “If there is a tree or not.” The commentators explain that the word “tree” was symbolic of a righteous person whose merit could protect the land. Since the tree symbolizes the tzaddik, the verse can be interpreted to mean: “yesh eitz  - if there is a tzaddik who considers himself a yesh – a somebody, or ayin – not, he considers himself to be a nothing.” The goal of humility is not to feel dejected; on the contrary, after attaining true humility the person realizes that everything is from Hashem and he feels strengthened.

Moshe continued by saying: “And then be strong and take from the fruits of the land.” Once true humility is attained, the person becomes strong and can benefit from the fruits of the land.

Each person is sent into the world with a specific mission. There is much to be accomplished! Every person should contemplate how everything is from Hashem and comes about only through His command; then he will be able to fulfill his life’s mission.

Moshe was the most humble of all men. Hashem therefore said to him: “Send on your behalf men.” And Rashi clarifies: “On your behalf – according to your thoughts.” Due to his humility, Moshe was always aware in his thoughts that he alone is nothing, and only Hashem gives a person the ability to achieve things. Hashem wanted Moshe to send people with this thought-process, so that they should not fear the giants or any of the other signs of strength that were evident all across the Promised Land. If they would have Moshe’s thoughts in mind while fulfilling their mission, they would not be afraid and they would not frighten the Jewish People. Although Hashem did not originally approve of the idea of sending spies, He agreed that Moshe send them, according to his thoughts.

The same applies to all of us. Each one of us was sent to this world with a specific mission that we must accomplish. But first we must acquire true humility and truly understand that we are nothing, we can do nothing and achieve nothing, without the will of Hashem. Only then can we adhere to the “tribe of our fathers” and stay connected to Hashem.


“The leaders among them…” The word nasi – leader, has the same root as the word nesuyin, which means wedding. When a person marries and builds his own home, he shouldn’t think even for a second that he is doing it by himself. Without the help of Hashem he can do nothing! Marriage brings completion, but this completion can only be attained if the person realizes that he is fully dependent on Hashem for his marriage to succeed.

When establishing a new home, the young couple must understand that they are to be of “the tribe of their fathers.” They must continue the ways of their parents and not change anything from the way they’ve seen at home. Even when it comes to things that are not required by strict Halacha, but are only greater stringencies, they should adhere to the ways of their parents. The verse mentioned before, along with Rashi’s explanation, can be interpreted in a way that teaches us the great importance of going beyond Halacha and serving Hashem by fulfilling more than what has been explicitly commanded. Rashi tells us that Hashem’s agreement to sending the spies should not be understood as a command, but rather it was the wish of the people. So too, when it comes to stringencies that are not commanded by Hashem, but the person performs them out of his personal wish to serve Hashem, then he can “send” away the yetzer hara. If he does more than what was commanded of him, he gains greater power over his evil inclination.

Hashem should help all of us, we should be able to go in the ways of our parents and adhere to the correct path. Each person would then be helped with whatever he needs and merit refuos and yeshuos.

However, we must remember: “Against Hashem you shall not rebel!” This doesn’t only pertain to transgressions, but even to a slight forgetfulness about Hashem’s constant presence and control of our lives. We must always remember that everything is from Hashem, the good as well as that which seems bad, and we must accept everything with complete faith in His eternal kindness.


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