Parashas Shelach

This week’s parashah begins with Hashem telling Moshe (Bamidbar 13:7): “Send forth for yourself men, and have them scout out the land of Canaan that I am giving to the Children of Yisrael. In Bamidbar Rabbah 16:8, the Midrash relates that the Jewish People asked Moshe to send out scouts, Moshe asked Hashem what to do, and Hashem replied: “I know what the people of the land are like, but since you asked, send forth men for yourself.” As Rashi says, Hashem was telling Moshe that He was not commanding the people to send forth scouts, but if they wanted to do so they should. The Maggid comments that Hashem’s answer, on the surface, seems odd – if Moshe had planned to do what the people wanted, he would not have asked Hashem what to do, but rather would have simply gone ahead and done it.
The Maggid sets out to explain the deeper meaning of what Hashem was saying. He begins by discussing three attitudes that a person can take in regard to caring for his needs. At one extreme is the attitude where a person puts all his faith in his own efforts, without turning to Hashem at all. At the other extreme, there is the attitude R. Shimon bar Yochai advocated, as related in Berachos 25b, where the person spends all his time learning Torah, and relies completely on Hashem to provide his needs. In the middle is the attitude R. Yishmael recommended for most people (ibid.), where a person combines Torah study with working for a livelihood, while bearing in mind that it is really through Hashem that he obtains what he needs, and not through “my strength and the might of my hand” (Devarim 8:17). The person following the middle path works not because he counts on his own efforts, but rather because Hashem set up the world in a way that calls for people to make some effort toward obtaining what they need, and he takes it upon himself to fulfill this Divine decree just as with any other.
The Maggid then enters into a general discussion of faith in Hashem. David HaMelech declares (Tehillim 32:10): “The one who puts his faith in Hashem, kindness surrounds him.” If a person relies on Hashem to care for him, Hashem provides for him and protects him. Usually Hashem helps a person take the step of turning to Him, as it is written (Tehillim 10:17): “The desire of the humble You have heard, Hashem; guide their hearts and let Your ear be attentive.” When Hashem punishes the wicked, He also withholds this help from them, allowing their hearts to remain so clogged that they do not turn to Him for relief. Otherwise, as David says elsewhere (Tehillim 145:18), “Hashem is near to all who call upon Him.”
Speaking of the righteous, David says (Tehillim 112:7): “Of evil tidings he will not fear; His heart is steadfast, trusting in Hashem.” In Berachos 60a, Rava teaches that this verse can be read in both directions: When read as written, it means that the righteous man will not fear evil tidings because his heart is steadfast, trusting in Hashem – when read in reverse, it means that the righteous is steadfast, trusting in Hashem, and therefore he will not fear suffering. On the surface, it seems that the two readings bear exactly the same message. But the idea we just discussed enables us to grasp the difference between the two readings. Read as written, the verse’s message is as we just said: the righteous man will not fear evil tidings because his heart is steadfast, trusting in Hashem. But read in reverse, the verse is conveying a different message: If a person’s heart is steadfast and he puts is faith in Hashem, he has no need to fear evil tidings, for, on account of his faith, it is certain that Hashem will help him. In this connection, the Gemara relates the following episode: once, when Hillel was returning from a trip, he heard a great outcry in the city, and he said, “I am sure this is not coming from my house.” He knew that, because of his strong faith in Hashem, He would surely spare him this suffering.
With this background, the Maggid turns to the Midrash with which we began. We know that Yehoshua sent out scouts before entering Eretz Yisrael, and he was not criticized for doing so. Similarly, Hashem told Gid’on that if he felt fear over going to battle against the Midianites, he should spy on them beforehand, so that he could fortify his heart by hearing one Midianite say to another that the Jews would surely defeat them. We learn from these episodes that if someone is afraid about going to battle, he should take steps to fortify his heart; such steps are part of the normal effort that Hashem decreed a person must make effort to care for himself. The Jews of Yehoshua’s generation did not see the miracles that Hashem performed when He took the Jewish People out of Egypt, but had only heard about these miracles from their fathers, and it is human nature that hearing makes less of an impression than seeing. Yehoshua was thus perfectly right in sending out scouts. Likewise, Gid’on was not at fault for the fear he felt.
The Jews of Moshe’s generation, however, had seen with their own eyes the miracles that Hashem performed in Egypt. They should have been ready to march into Eretz Yisrael fearlessly, without sending scouts first. Accordingly, Hashem was not planning to command them to send scouts. But since they wanted to do so, it was evident that they harbored fear, and this fear made it necessary for them, as with Gid’on, to send the scouts to fortify their hearts.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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