Home June 2012 Shelach: When Majority Opinion Fails

Shelach: When Majority Opinion Fails

The story of the spies is the subject of a large number of interpretations by commentators, many of which have great relevance today.  Why was the sin of the spies and the generation who listened to them, so serious that it warranted such harsh punishment?  God commanded Moshe to send in the spies in this section but in Parsha Devarim, it is B’nai Yisroel who approaches Moshe with the request.  Rashi explains that God did not want the spies sent but was permitting it at the request of the people, for it is written “You send on your own initiative.”
Rashi explains that Moshe did not agree to the necessity of sending the spies but felt that if he consented to the people’s request, B’nai Yisroel would realize that he had nothing to hide from them, that God’s promise of a good and prosperous land would be fulfilled and that they would withdraw their request.  The Midrash compares this to a business transaction where a man seeks to purchase a beast of burden.  When the buyer asks the seller if he can test the animal by having it carry loads up mountains and into valleys, and the seller agrees to his wishes, the buyer is often convinced that the animal is sound and no longer requires the test to be performed.  To Moshe’s surprise, however, the people insisted on actually sending the spies, despite his assurances.  God then ordered Moshe to send in the spies as an acknowledgment of the people’s bechira chofshit (free will) in choosing their own course of action, regardless of the consequences.
The emerging report was unjustified and unexpected.  There were two basic, subconscious motivations that created the entire debacle and were deeply embedded in the hearts of that generation.  That is why they were so willing to accept the words of the ten spies and ignore the truth that Yehoshua and Calev related to them.
The first motivation was that the leaders in the desert realized that the new leaders would take their places once the Jewish people settled in the Promised Land, so they subconsciously chose to scuttle the idea of going to the Land of Israel in favor of remaining in office in the desert.
When the rabbis said, “One should not trust one’s self” they meant that one’s judgment is always clouded by self-interest.  One has to examine one’s own prejudices, experiences, ego and desires before passing judgment on important issues.
The other motivation was that the people in the desert feared the responsibilities that having a Jewish state entailed.  They had come from being slaves in Egypt.  Being a slave is no joy, but a slave has no independence, no decisions to make.  Immediately upon gaining their freedom, they came to a desert where all material needs were miraculously met: manna from Heaven, water from the rock, dry cleaners from clouds and perfect weather.  All taken for granted. They understood that once they entered the Land, all support systems would cease.  They would have to become masters of their own destiny and they were truly fearful of the task.  Slave mentality had not been eradicated from their psyche.
The shirking of national responsibilities led to disastrous consequences for such a generation.  Decisions of policy and state founded upon weakness of will and distorted vision will always come back to haunt us.  Yehoshua and Calev may have been the minority opinion, but history has proven them to be the authors of the correct opinion.

JUNE 2012
Sivan-Tammuz 5772
Candle Lighting Times
and Torah Portions

Friday, June 1
Light candles at 7:41
Saturday, June 2
Torah Portion: Naso
(Numbers 4:21-7:89)
Friday, June 8
Light candles at 7:45
Saturday, June 9
Torah Portion: Beha-Alotecha
(Numbers 8:1-12:16)
Friday, June 15
Light candles at 7:48
Saturday, June 16
Torah Portion: Shela-Lecha
(Numbers 13:1-15:41)
Friday, June 22
Light candles at 7:50
Saturday, June 23
Torah Portion: Korah
(Numbers 16:1-18:32)
Friday, June 29
Light candles at 7:50
Saturday, June 30
Torah Portion: Hukkat
(Numbers 19:1-22:1)

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