Parashas Shelach

Parashas Shelach recounts the episode in which a group of 12 spies gave the Jewish People a negative report about Eretz Yisrael, and the people panicked and refused to go out to conquer the land. Hashem punished them, declaring that they would have to remain in the wilderness for 40 years. Afterward a group of them set out to wage battle. Moshe told these people (Bamidbar 14:42): “Do not go up, for Hashem is not in your midst, and do not be stricken before your enemies.” The Midrash elaborates (Bamidbar Rabbah 17:3):
Moshe told them (Devarim 1:42): “Hashem said to me: ‘Do not go up and do not wage battle, for I am not in your midst.’ For you had said (ibid. 1:28): ‘To where should we ascend? Our brothers have melted our hearts.’”
The Maggid sets out to explain what Hashem had in mind. The key issue in the episode of the spies, he says, is the belief that Hashem watches over us and cares for us. Faith in Hashem’s watchful care is a cornerstone of the Jewish outlook. The prophets exhort us repeatedly to maintain firm faith in Hashem. The Gemara in Berachos 32b discusses the issue of faith in connection with prayer. The Gemara lists prayer as one of four areas in which a person must fortify himself constantly – the Gemara says that if a person’s prayers are not answered at first, he should not give up hope, but rather he should pray again. The Gemara derives this principle from a teaching of David HaMelech (Tehillim 27:14): “Hope in Hashem; strengthen and fortify your heart, and hope in Hashem.”
Now, a person can confidently assume that Hashem will save him only if he has firm faith in Him. The Jewish People of the wilderness generation were aware of this principle. And they recognized that their faith had been weakened by the spies’ negative report. They therefore reasoned that they no longer deserved Hashem’s help in conquering Eretz Yisrael. As a result, they panicked and said “To where should we ascend? Our brothers have melted out hearts.”
As Moshe recounted the episode, he recalled that he tried to fortify them, saying (Devarim 1:30): “Do not be broken and do not fear them.” Moshe was saying: “Don’t be broken now, and you won’t fear later.” He told them he knew they were worried that when they went out to battle they would be overtaken by fear and then they would lose. He encouraged them, promising that when they got to the battlefield they would be fortified, for they would see how all the inhabitants of the land melted before them, their hearts filled with fear and trembling.
But the Jewish People did not listen. They allowed the spies’ negative report to break their spirit, and they cried. Hashem then passed judgment on them, as we explained above, and afterward a group of Jews set out to wage battle. At Hashem’s command, Moshe told them not to go up, but they did so anyway. Moshe rebuked them, saying (ibid. 1:43): “You rebelled against Hashem’s word; you sinned deliberately and climbed the mountain.” Their mistake was that they forced themselves to go out to battle even though they still had fear in their hearts. Because of their fear and lack of faith, their effort was doomed to failure.
This idea is hinted at in the message Hashem told Moshe to give the people: “Do not go up and do not wage battle, for I am not in your midst.” The Maggid calls attention to the use of the phrase “in your midst” (בקרבכם) as opposed to “with you” (עמכם). One of the meanings of the term קרב is “innards” or “inner being,” as in the phrase וקרב איש ולב עמֹק (in the inner being of every man and deep in the heart) in Tehillim 64:7. In this vein, in expounding on Moshe’s statement that Hashem “took for Himself a nation from within the midst of a nation (גוי מקרב גוי)” (Devarim 4:34), the Midrash remarks (Yalkut Shimoni, Torah 828): “In the way that a person extracts a fetus from the innards of an animal, thus did Hashem take the Jewish People out of Egypt.” When Hashem told the Jewish People that He was not בקרבכם, He was pointing out to them that they lacked in their inner being a firm awareness of His watchful protection. Because of this lack, it was inappropriate for them to go out to battle.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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