Parashas Shemos

In the middle of this week’s parashah, the Torah relates how Hashem instructed Moshe to return to Egypt and redeem the Jewish People. Hashem told Moshe (Shemos 3:17-18):
Go and gather the elders of Yisrael and tell them, “Hashem, the God of your forefathers, has appeared to me, the God of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, saying, ‘I have surely remembered you and what is being done to you in Egypt. And I have said, “I shall bring you up from the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivvites, and the Jebusites, to a land flowing with milk and honey.”’”
The Midrash remarks (Shemos Rabbah 3:8):
The elders always preserve Yisrael, and thus it is written (Yehoshua 8:33): “And all Yisrael and its elders, its officers, and its judges flanked the two sides of the Ark ….” When do the People of Yisrael maintain their position? When they have elders. When the Beis HaMikdash stood, the people would seek counsel from the elders, in line with the Torah’s teaching (Devarim 32:7): “Ask your father and he will relate it to you, your elders and they will tell you.” Whoever takes counsel from the elders never falters.
The Maggid interprets this Midrash as bringing out a key difference between true prophets and false prophets. He draws an analogy to the difference between how a king assembles an army and how a band of traitorous conspirators forms a group of supporters. When a king wants to assemble an army, he first sets up a hierarchy of officers, and then the officers at the bottom of the hierarchy assemble platoons from among the populace until a large army is formed. The leaders of a conspiracy operate differently. Out of fear of being apprehended, at the outset they avoid operating openly. They first gradually assemble a large gang from among the populace, and then they set up a hierarchy of officers. Similarly, the false prophets who spread bogus prophecies work operate from the bottom up. They start off by making emotional appeals to the commoners of weak intellect (as it is written in Mishlei 14:15, “A fool will believe anything.”), thereby forming a large mass of supporters, and they then set out to force the leadership to adopt their position. A true prophet, by contrast, operates like a king, working from the top down. When Hashem appoints a prophet to lead his generation, as it was with Moshe, He cautions him not to start off by conveying his prophecies to the commoners. Instead, when a true prophet receives a prophecy from Hashem, he immediately conveys it to the elders – those who stand at the head of the nation and are devoted to Hashem. Afterward, the elders assemble the people and transmit Hashem’s word to them. Thus, in the present instance, Hashem told Moshe to assemble the elders, and the Midrash remarks that whoever takes counsel from the elders never falters.
The pattern we just described is reflected in the episode of the scouts whom Moshe sent out to survey Eretz Yisrael (parashas Shelach). Moshe turns to Hashem for instructions on to respond to the people’s demand to send scouts, and Hashem tells him (Bamidbar 13:1): “Send for yourself men, and let them scout the Land of Canaan that I am giving to the Children of Yisrael.” Hashem was telling Moshe that the scouts should serve exclusively as his agents, and not as agents of the people, just as a king operates on his own in managing the affairs of his kingdom. And when the scouts returned, they should have gone straight to Moshe and conveyed their report to him alone. However, the scouts acted differently. The Torah relates (Bamidbar 13:26): “And they [the scouts] went and came to Moshe, and to Aharon, and to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel, to the wilderness of Paran at Kadesh, and they brought back a report to them, and to the entire assembly, and they showed them the fruit of the land.” They initially turned to the general populace, before reporting to Moshe, and painted a picture of Eretz Yisrael that was designed to sway the people not to follow Hashem’s command to enter the land. In speaking of “Moshe, Aharon, and the entire assembly,” the Torah is saying that the scouts first gathered the people together, and only afterward approached Moshe.
Our discussion here can perhaps serve as an aid to understanding an interpretation in the Gemara of the verse in Bamidbar that we quoted just above. The Gemara remarks (Sotah 35a): “The verse juxtaposes their going to their coming: Just as their coming was with bad intent, so, too, their going out was with bad intent.” We can view the Torah’s statement that the scouts “went and came” in a manner similar to how the Gemara elsewhere views the statement in Ruth 2:3 that Ruth “went and came, and gleaned in the field behind the harvesters.” The Gemara in Shabbos 113b remarks: “She went and she came, she went and she came, until she found people that were suitable for her to go along with.” Similarly, we can say that the scouts secretly went out to circulate among the general populace and spread their negative message until the people amassed in front of Moshe, and afterward the scouts came to Moshe as well. The Gemara in Sotah thus says that the reason the scouts first went out among the populace must have been because from the very start of their mission, their intent in proceeding ahead was not to carry out Moshe’s instructions, but rather to follow their own leanings. In the manner of conspirators, they worked from the bottom up.
Today, 17 Teves 5775, is the Maggid’s 210th yahrzeit.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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