“Send forth men and let them spy out the Land of Canaan …” (Bamidbar 13:2)
Hashem allowed Moshe to send scouts to explore Canaan in advance of the Jewish nation’s entry into Eretz Yisroel. After 40 days they returned with a disheartening report about their inability to successfully conquer the land. The people cried all night upon hearing this report, and the entire generation died during the 40 years that they wandered in the desert. Rashi tells us, furthermore, that because they cried for naught, this night was established as a time of weeping throughout the generations. It was Tisha B’Av which, indeed, is a night of mourning throughout history for the two Holy Temples that were destroyed on that date.
What was the enormity of the sin of the spies?
The spies (meraglim) were “each one a leader among them” (ibid 13:3), who had witnessed the splitting of the Red Sea and had stood at Har Sinai for Matan Torah. The Sefer Mesilas Yesharim (11th chapter) cites a Zohar that these individuals knew that their status as leaders was transient – that it was only for the time the Jewish nation was in the desert. Once they entered Eretz Yisroel they would no longer be worthy of their positions due to the unique spiritual climate of Eretz Yisroel, which increases the wisdom of all its inhabitants. This awareness distorted their report in their hope of postponing the entry of the Jewish nation into Eretz Yisroel.
HaRav Eliezer Menachem Shach, the rosh yeshiva of Ponovezh, elaborates on their thought process. They thought that if Hashem was sending them to scout the land, it must be that there were alternatives to invading and conquering it. They therefore believed there was reason to consider it possible to criticize the land and not fight to obtain it. They chose to disregard the wonderful attributes of Eretz Yisroel and the fact that the Jewish nation had already tarried in the desert for 40 years. Their desire to continue leading the nation blinded their vision and closed their hearts to Hashem’s promise to give them Eretz Yisroel.
A similar instance of self-interest caused Shaul to forfeit his monarchy. Hashem commanded Shaul, through the Prophet Shmuel, to entirely wipe out Amalek, including women and children and all their animals, without mercy. However, Shaul had compassion on Agag, the king of Amalek, and did not kill him. He also did not kill the finest of the livestock, so that he could bring sacrifices to Hashem.
He was so intent on his desire to please Hashem with his sacrifice that he did not grasp the egregiousness of his failure to heed Hashem’s command. He eagerly hailed Shmuel afterwards, “I have fulfilled the word of Hashem!” (Shmuel 1, 15:13), with explanations as to why the livestock had not been destroyed. It wasn’t until Shmuel sternly rebuked him, saying that obeying Hashem’s directive was much more pleasing to Hashem than any burnt offerings and sacrifices, that Shaul realized the extent of his offense.
One day I received a phone call from a woman seeking guidance. She told me that she had an orphaned niece whom she had taken in to live with her family for the last two years. The niece was the same age as her own daughter, and both had just begun to entertain suggestions for a shidduch. The girls were both exceptional young ladies who were similar in many ways, and they were both seeking comparable qualities in a boy.
She explained that often the shadchan did not specify for whom the suggestion was being made. She was concerned that she might be partial in determining who – her daughter or her niece – should meet the young man.
After analyzing the situation further, I made the following recommendation: I suggested that she call an independent party who had no association with her family, perhaps a rov or a rebbetzin, to make an educated judgment call.
Over the next few months the woman made the calls as I had advised. When a shidduch was suggested with a young man whose name was the same as that of her husband, the woman felt it was more appropriate to have her niece meet him, even though halachically the boy could add a name to avoid any issues. To their amazement, the two became engaged.
When the woman called me to give me the good news, she remarked before hanging up, “I’m very happy that it turned out this way. I’m not sure how I would have felt if it had been my daughter who became engaged first.”