Parashas Shelach

This week’s parashah describes how Moshe sent forth scouts to survey the land that Hashem had promised to give the Jewish People, and the scouts improperly concluded that the people would not be able to conquer the land. Regarding Hashem’s promise to give Eretz Yisrael to the Jewish People, a Midrash on the parashah presents the following teaching of R. Acha the Great (Bamidbar Rabbah 16:3):
It is written (Yeshayah 40:8): “Grass withers and a blossom fades, but the word of our God shall abide forever.” The message of this verse is along the lines of the following parable. A king had a beloved friend to whom he made a promise: “Go with me, and I will give you a gift.” The man went with the king, and then died. The king said to the man’s son: “Although your father died, I am not retracting my promise to give him a gift. Come and take it.” The king is Hashem, the King of Kings. And the beloved friend is Avraham, … to whom Hashem said (Bereishis 12:1), ‘Go you forth from your land, and from your birthplace, and from your father’s house,” and then promised (Bereishis 13:17): “The entire land that you see, I shall give to you.” Said Hashem to Moshe: “I promised to give the land to the forefathers, and they died. But even so, I am not retracting.” Rather, “the word of our God shall stand forever.”
The Maggid links this Midrash to a statement that Yehoshua and Caleiv made to the Jewish People after the other scouts presented their negative report. Yehoshua and Caleiv exhorted (Bamidbar 14:9): “Just do not rebel against Hashem! Do not fear the people of the land, for they are our bread. Their protection has turned away from them, Hashem is with us. Do not fear them!” The passage in Yeshayah that the Midrash quotes sheds light on what Yehoshua and Caleiv were saying.
The Maggid first elaborates on Yeshayah’s message. Yeshayah says (verses 40:6-8): “All flesh is grass, and all its goodliness is like a blossom in the field – grass withers and a blossom fades as Hashem’s spirit blows upon it (רוח ה' נשבה בו). Indeed, the nation is grass. Grass withers and a blossom fades, but the word of our God shall abide forever.” Every living thing in this world ultimately perishes, but the blessing that Hashem directed toward it continues in existence, transferring to a higher life form. Grass receives a stream of blessing from Hashem while it is fresh and moist. Ultimately the grass withers, and the blessing infused within it transfers to the animals who eat the grass. An animal also eventually dies, and then the blessing transfers to a human being. In the end, the blessing transfers from the man who first received it to a man of eminence, along the lines of Iyov’s statement (Iyov 27:17): “He [a wicked man] may prepare [a wardrobe], but a righteous man will wear it.”
The passage in Yeshayah, the Maggid notes, provides an apt analogy for this pattern. The life force that Hashem initially infuses in grass transfers later to an animal, a being of flesh, so that Hashem’s spirit then blows within the animal (rendering רוח ה' נשבה בו as “Hashem’s spirit blows within it, with “it” referring to the flesh). But within the animal as well the life force abides only for a limited span of time. And even within the community of men, the life force continues to transfer from one level to a higher one. Thus Yeshayah says that the “nation is grass” – the general population is like grass compared to the class of righteous men. In truth, as Yeshayah indicates initially, all flesh is grass compared to the righteous. Yeshayah then concludes: “Grass withers and a blossom fades, but the word of our God shall abide forever.” For the righteous, the stream of Divine blessing abides eternally, never ceasing.
The Maggid then turns to Yehoshua and Caleiv’s statement. The other scouts, speaking of the people living in the land they surveyed, declared (Bamidbar 13:31): “חזק הוא ממנו – they are mightier than us.” The scouts’ declaration can be re-rendered as “they are mighty through Him,” that is, the people’s might was not a natural might they had from birth, but rather a supernatural might that Hashem had specially infused within them. Yehoshua and Caleiv countered: “Do not be concerned over the great stream of blessing that Hashem has infused into the people of the land up to now, for Hashem granted them this stream of blessing for our benefit.” They argued that the process that was unfolding was just like the transfer of Divine blessing from a plant to an animal, and then to a group of lesser men, and finally to a group of lofty men. Speaking of the people in the land, they said: “They are our bread” – we will now take in the “nutrients” that they bear. Yehoshua and Caleiv then continued: “Their protection has turned away from them” – that is, the stream of Divine blessing has been turned away from them and is being directed toward us. When Avraham died, Hashem did not retract His blessing; His word remained eternal. He continued supplying the stream of blessing He had provided Avraham, channeling it [in part] to the Canaanites, ultimately to be redirected to us upon our entry into the land.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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