Parshas Shelach: The Power of Prayer

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Shelach, we learn of the tragic Cheit Ha’Meraglim – the sin of the spies who went to scout out the Land of Israel.  After walking the breadth and depth of the Land, the spies returned to the Israelite encampment with a negative report about the Land.  It is a Land that consumes its inhabitants!  Amalek dwells in the south!  There are giants in the Land!  The fruits are enormous!  The Canaanites dwell along the sea and the Jordan River!  We were like grasshoppers in our eyes and so we were in their eyes!  לֹא נוּכַל, לַעֲלוֹת – We cannot possibly ascend! (Num.13).

As a result of their report, the nation panicked en masse, and the pasuk tells us: וַתִּשָּׂא֙ כׇּל־הָ֣עֵדָ֔ה וַֽיִּתְּנ֖וּ אֶת־קוֹלָ֑ם וַיִּבְכּ֥וּ הָעָ֖ם בַּלַּ֥יְלָה הַהֽוּא – and the entire assembly lifted up, and they gave forth their voice, and the nation cried on that night (14:1).  

On this verse, Chazal teach us the tragic consequences, and inter-generation reverberation, of this crying:

Taanis 29a

וּכְתִיב: ״וַתִּשָּׂא כׇּל הָעֵדָה וַיִּתְּנוּ אֶת קוֹלָם וַיִּבְכּוּ הָעָם בַּלַּיְלָה הַהוּא״, אָמַר רַבָּה אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן: אוֹתוֹ לַיְלָה לֵיל תִּשְׁעָה בְּאָב הָיָה. אָמַר לָהֶם הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא: אַתֶּם בְּכִיתֶם בְּכִיָּה שֶׁל חִנָּם — וַאֲנִי קוֹבֵעַ לָכֶם בְּכִיָּה לְדוֹרוֹת

And it is written: “And all the congregation lifted up their voice and cried and the people wept that night” (Numbers 14:1). Rabba said that Rabbi Yocḥanan said: That night was the night of the Ninth of Av. The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to them: You wept needlessly that night, and I will therefore establish for you a weeping for generations

Since that very first Tishaa B’Av, the 9th of Av has become a day of great calamity, weeping, exile and mourning for our nation.  Once the nation rejected the Land, our fate was sealed, and  in the future, the Land would reject us, R”L.  

It is compelling to note that of all the spies and the entire nation that mourned over how ‘terrible’ (keviyachol!) the Land of Israel was, there were two scouts who maintained their faith in the Land, their faith in G-d and their faith in themselves.  Unlike those who said, “we cannot ascend!” these spies offered a different report: “כִּי-יָכוֹל נוּכַל, לָהּ – we can surely do it!” (13:30) and “הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר עָבַרְנוּ בָהּ לָתוּר אֹתָהּ–טוֹבָה הָאָרֶץ, מְאֹד מְאֹד – the Land through which we passed to scout it out; the Land is very, very good!” (14:7).  

These two scouts were Calev ben Yefuneh from the tribe of Yehuda (13:6) and Hoshea bin Nun from the tribe of Ephraim (13:8).  What saved these scouts from joining their comrades in the evil report?  What gave them the kochos and emunah to say that the Land was very, very good and conquering it was possible?

The pasuk tells us: וַיִּקְרָא מֹשֶׁה לְהוֹשֵׁעַ בִּן-נוּן, יְהוֹשֻׁעַ – and Moshe called Hoshea bin Nun “Yehoshua”. (13:16).  Why did Moshe change his name, and what does the extra ‘yud’ symbolize?  Answers Rashi (ibid): Moshe davened for him: May G-d save you from the plot of the spies.  Hence, the added ‘yud’ symbolizes Shem Hashem and Divine protection that was granted to Yehoshua.  As for Calev, when the scouts arrived in the Land, he took a detour and went to the Me’aaras Ha’Machpela to pray for himself by the graves of our Avos and Imahos, that he should not be involved in the wicked plot of the spies (13:22 w/ Rashi).  

In both cases, these two men had prayers offered, and it was these very tefillos that saved them from the slanderous, evil reports of their fellow spies.  

The question is: Why did the two scouts specifically need prayers on their behalf, more than any of the other men?

Rabbi Zev Leff shlita (of Moshav Mattityahu) explains as follows: Yehoshua came from the tribe of Ephraim, whose father was Yosef.  When Yosef was a lad of seventeen, he saw his brothers involved in questionable behavior, doing things he did not understand, and the pasuk tells us: וַיָּבֵא יוֹסֵף אֶת-דִּבָּתָם רָעָה, אֶל-אֲבִיהֶם – And Yosef brought slanderous reports about them to their father (Yaakov) (Bereishis 37:2).  Hence, Yehoshua, a descendant of Yosef, from the tribe of Ephraim, had a “spiritual DNA” that was prone to speaking slander and negative reports.

As for Calev, from the tribe of Yehuda, he too had a “spiritual DNA” that lent itself to twisting the facts in order to deceive others.  When the brothers threw Yosef into the pit, and sold him to the passing Midianites, it was Yehuda’s idea to do so.  R’ Zev Leff notes that it was Yehuda, leading the way, who came home with Yosef’s torn cloak, which had been dipped in goats blood, and said to father, “הַכֶּר-נָא, הַכְּתֹנֶת בִּנְךָ הִוא—אִם-לֹא – recognize please, is this the cloak of your son or not!?” (37:32).  

While Yosef spoke outright lashon harah about his brothers, Yehuda spoke words of deceit and deception to trick and mislead his father.  It was these very traits that Moshe Rabbeinu knew lay dormant within the spiritual DNA of Yehoshua and Calev, respectively, and so it was these two scouts who needed tefillos to spiritually fortify them against failure.  

We see from here the tremendous power of prayer.  While Yehoshua and Calev should have been the first to sin, once they were fortified with tefilos, they were the only two who stood up and declared: טוֹבָה הָאָרֶץ, מְאֹד מְאֹד – the Land is very very good!  

We learn from here a very important lesson.  No matter what one’s “natural” tendencies are, nor one’s negative “inherited traits”, nor one’s evil inclination to sin… with much prayer, combined with much effort and hard work, one’s actions, thoughts and speech can always be channeled for good and utilized positively in one’s avodas Hashem.

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום, 


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