This week’s parsha discusses cheit hamiraglim, the consequences of which are still felt to this day. Not only did the generation that sinned not merit going into Eretz Yisrael, the Midrash says that the destruction of both the first Beit HaMikdash and the second Beit HaMikdash are also connected to this sin. The Jewish people cried on Tisha B’Av over the bad report brought by the spies. Hashem said, “Now you are crying for no reason but on this same day you will have a good reason to cry.”
The people chosen to inspect Eretz Yisrael were the leaders of Klal Yisrael. The Torah calls them anashim, men, indicating that they were on a high level. Yet, Rashi calls them rishaim as well, and explains the connection between the end of Beha’alotecha and the beginning of Shelach. These rishaim didn’t learn the danger of speaking lashon hara from what happened to Miriam and still spoke lashon hara about Eretz Yisrael. How could anashim become rishaim so quickly and why did cheit hamiraglim prevent that generation from entering the land?
Rashi notes that Hashem connected both cheit haegel and cheit hamiraglim and would not allow any of this generation to enter the land. Now, before we explain the connection, let us answer how it was possible that the leaders of Klal Yisrael to become rishaim.
Mifarshim explain that the sin of the miraglim was that they felt they weren’t at the proper level to conquer Eretz Yisrael. They considered themselves like grasshoppers, and did not believe they had the zechusim to conquer the land. They also felt that they wouldn’t be able to handle being in the land. In the desert, they ate the mahn, drank from the be’er Miriam, and were protected by the ananei hakavod. The whole experience in the desert was lema’ala min hateva, above nature and there was a complete connection between Bnai Yisrael and Hashem. The miraglim were afraid that everything would change once they entered Eretz Yisrael. The miracles would become hidden, they would have to work for their food, and their whole experience would become lematah min hateva, bound by the physical – they thought they would lose their high level of ruchniyut and devikot Hashem. These two calculations of the miraglim shared a common mistake – they didn’t believe in themselves.
We can now begin to appreciate how people on such a great level sinned. We can also use this understanding to explain the connection to the cheit haegel.
Bnai Yisrael sinned because they thought Moshe was dead and that they were incapable of having a direct relationship with Hashem. They thought that having Moshe as a middleman was the only way to connect to Hashem. Now that Moshe was niftar they hoped the eigel would be their new emissary to Hashem. Bnai Yisrael would use the golden calf as a conduit to achieving closeness to Hashem. Just like in cheit hamiraglim the root sin was a lack of belief in themselves.
Now we can explain why the punishment for these sins was to be barred from entering Eretz Yisrael, the holy land. Our land is a place where the Jewish people can achieve their full spiritual potential. However, a generation that showed a lack of belief in themselves and in their ability to connect to Hashem couldn’t enter it. It wasn’t a punishment; it was a reality. These two sins showed that this generation wouldn’t ever be able to fully tap into the strength of Eretz Yisrael. Their own self-doubt would always hold them back. Eretz Yisrael, a place of growth, needed a people who were confident that they could achieve greatness.
One of the first rules of any competition is to believe you can be victorious and to convince the other side that they won’t be. It doesn’t matter if it’s something as inconsequential as a game of basketball or as important as a major war. One of the defining moments in American history was Washington’s crossing of the Delaware. The victory the Patriots achieved in Trenton wasn’t a major military achievement. However, it changed the tide of the war and quite possibly of world history. It showed the young nation that victory is possible.
Each of us battle daily with our yetzer hara, which tries to convince us that we can’t achieve closeness to Hashem or greatness in our Judaism. The more we believe that victory is possible, and even probable, the more we will achieve our true potential. If we don’t limit ourselves, then the sky’s the limit.
May we never lose sight of who we are and what we can achieve. May we be zoche to reach our full potential and use our kochot to help bring Mashiach bimheirah.