Shelach 5784: Lessons in Respect

This week’s parsha, Parshas Shelach, tells us of Cheit Ha’Meraglim, the Sin of the Spies.  Prior to their planned, and (what they thought was) imminent entry to the Land, Moshe sent twelve spies to scout out the Land – one per tribe.  Ultimately, after forty days and nights of scouting out the Land, the spies returned with a negative report about the Land, and convinced the nation, en masse, that entering and conquering the Land would be impossible.  The entire nation cried on that night (Bamidbar 14:1), and the Sages teach that that night was Tisha b’Av (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 חִנָּםוַאֲנִי קוֹבֵעַ לָכֶם בְּכִיָּה לְדוֹרוֹתAnd the verse says: “And the entire assembly lifted up their voice, and the nation cried on that night” (Bamidbar 14:1).  That night was 9 Av, and HKB”H said to them: You cried a purposeless cry; I will establish for you a crying for generations (Taanis 29a).

This disastrous sin, and rejection of the Land, as well as a lack of faith in the One Who Promised to give them the Land, caused a ripple effect of galus (exile) and churban (destruction) through the generations.

Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski z’l writes, “The episode of the spies is one of the most enigmatic occurrences in the Torah.  The twelve men chosen were tribal leaders, and Rashi states that they were righteous people (Rashi to Bamidbar 13:3).  What happened to them that caused them to lose faith in G-d and discourage the nation from entering the Promised Land?  Furthermore, the Abarbanel says that Moshe’s involvement in sending the spies was the real reason he was not permitted to enter the Land” (Twerski on Chumash, p.306).

How can we understand this entire enigma of this sin?  Why did Moshe agree to send the spies, once G-d had promised him – and the nation – that it was a good Land.  In fact, at the Burning Bush, before Hashem tells Moshe about Matan Torah, He tells him about Eretz Yisrael!  And I am coming down to save them from the hand of the Egyptians, וּלְהַעֲלֹתוֹ מִןהָאָרֶץ הַהִוא, אֶלאֶרֶץ טוֹבָה וּרְחָבָה, אֶלאֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁand to take the nation out of this land, to the Land that is good and broad, to the Land flowing with milk and honey” (Shemos 3:8).

What happened, and how did this happen?

Rabbi Dr. Twerski explains that, “Thirty-eight years later Moshe reminds the nation of this tragic sin.  He says: “All of you approached me and said, ‘Let us send some men ahead of us and let them spy out the Land’ (Devarim 1:22).  Rashi comments that the phrase ‘all of you (approached me)’ indicates that they came as a mob, the young pushing the elders out of the way.  This was complete disrespect.  Yet, nonetheless, Moshe says, ‘This idea appealed to me’ (ibid, 1:23)” (Twerski on Chumash, p.306).

How could Moshe have seen the people pushing each other out of the way – וַתִּקְרְבוּן אֵלַי כֻּלְּכֶם בְּעִרְבּוּבְיָאיְלָדִים דּוֹחֲפִין אֶת הַזְּקֵנִים, וּזְקֵנִים דּוֹחֲפִין אֶת הָרָאשִׁיםyou all approached me in a great multitude/crush of people – the youth were pushing the elderly and the elderly were pushing the tribal leaders (Rashi to Devarim 1:22) – and nevertheless agreed to their plan?  In the very next verse, he himself says: וַיִּיטַ֥ב בְּעֵינַ֖י הַדָּבָ֑ר, and the matter was good in my eyes, so I chose twelve men from amongst you, one man per tribe (ibid, v.23).

Rabbi Dr. Twerski proposes that, “Moshe’s error was that he mistook their pushing and shoving as enthusiasm for entering the Land, and this caused him to err – and overlook their lack of respect for the elders and leaders.  This misinterpretation was Moshe’s complicity in the Sin of the Spies.

“Respect is primary in Judaism…lack of respect is a mortal sin.  The spies were indeed righteous people at the beginning of the journey, but they were sent as agents of the people.  And in halacha, an agent is a representative of the principal.  While in mussar, an agent can be affected by the character of the principal.  Having become agents of the people – people who were disrespectful towards Moshe, each other, and ultimately G-d – the scouts/agents were corrupted and their perspective was distorted.

“The fatal report of the spies resulted, not only in the death of that entire generation, but in a disastrous way on our entire history… We can rectify their mistake by being scrupulous in respect, not only of our elders, but of every person, young and old” (Twerski on Chumash, p.306-307).

In a generation, time and world that is sorely lacking in respect – one only has to take a cursory look at the news for countless real-life examples of the disastrous effects of lack of respect, one man for another – our nation must be elevated and live higher.  We must strive to always show respect to others, through our thoughts, speech and actions.

A certain man recalled the following interaction he had with Rav Moshe (Rav Moshe Feinstein zt’l, 1895-1986).  “One evening, I answered the doorbell and there stood Rav Moshe and his assistant, Rabbi Moshe Rivlin.  We shook hands and I then escorted them upstairs to my dining room.  My wife brought in glasses of tea and we began to talk.  Rav Moshe came to ask that I support his yeshiva, and our discussion went on for some time.

“Finally, Rav Moshe rose to leave.  It was then that my two young sons came to ask to take a picture with the Rosh Yeshiva.  I was embarrassed but Rav Moshe said, ‘No, no, there is nothing wrong at all.  I would be happy to pose with them.’  He put an arm around each boy and I took the picture.  He wished me well, and then he left.

“A few minutes later the doorbell rang again.  I opened it and was shocked to see Rav Moshe and Rabbi Rivlin standing at my door.  Rav Moshe explained that they had forgotten to thank my wife for the tea.  So he and Rabbi Rivlin had climbed the stairs once again (Rav Moshe was 74 at the time), thanked my wife, and then they left” (Reb Moshe, 25th Yahrzeit Edition, Artscroll Mesorah, p.214).

We live in a world where respect is virtually non-existent.  Klal Yisrael must rise higher, and remember we are a nation of ‘with our youth and our elders we shall go’ (Shemos 10:9).  Perhaps when we respect each other – in our families, neighborhoods, communities, and in our nation – we will be able to be mesaken (rectify) the sin of the spies, and effect redemption.

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


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