R Pesach Siegel
Jun 17, 2011
The understanding behind the atzas meraglim, the counsel of the spies is elusive. They are referred to in the Torah as anashim. The term anashim denotes chashivus (distinction). They were keshayrim (proper/fit).1
Mori VeRabi, Rav Chaim Schmelczer, z”l, expounded on man’s struggles while in the midst of a turbulent state of conflict. During periods of tranquility, it is easy to deal with life’s trials. One does not have to be an exceptional baal middos tovos when the going is smooth. Even one who is prone to anger can maintain a peaceful demeanor when unprovoked.
It is when one is at war that all the character flaws of a person come to the forefront. This holds true for any conflict, whether major or minor. For one who is flawless, peace and war are the same.
My rebbe brought the words of Rav Meir Simcha HaKohen (in his sefer - Meshech Chochmah) in Parshas Pinchos as an example.2
The daughters of Midian entrapped members of the Bnei Yisroel into acts of immorality and idolatry. Hashem commanded Moshe Rabeinu to instruct the Judges of Israel to execute those who forged a connection with the idol of Baal Pe’or.
This stands in contrast to the punishment of those who worshipped the golden calf. Then, Moshe specifically chose the tribe of Levi as the executioners. They were commanded to kill their own brethren for the sin of idolatry.
Why is it that when Moshe Rabeinu, again, required the execution of idolators, he chose not to utilize the Levi’im?
Rav Meir Simcha explains. The worship of the Baal stood diametrically opposed to the service in the Mishkan. If the Levi’im would be the ones to administer justice, it would be said of them, “They are only protecting their own way of life. They are biased.” Other judges had to be chosen. Pinchos led them. (And Pinchos was not a Kohen at the time).
At the time of the golden calf, there was no Mishkan, thus, there was no bias amongst the Levi’im. Idolatry threatened all the Bnei Yisroel, equally.
In a time of conflict, a time of difficulty, one must be completely free from the taint of bias. Bias is like a dormant beast within the heart of a person that rears its head in time of turmoil. One cannot possibly see clearly through the lens of negiyus (bias). Everything is colored and distorted. No one, absolutely no one, is free or safe.
The Talmud Yerushalmi brings an encounter between Rav Yochanon and Reish Lakish. Rav Yochanan entered the Beis Medrash. Reish Lakish put a query to him. No response was forthcoming. Again, he posed a Torah question, again no answer. Rav Yochanan explained, “All the limbs are dependant upon the heart, and the heart is dependant upon the wallet.” I was just swindled. I am speechless.3
This is the same Rav Yochanan who lost ten sons in his lifetime. Rather than fall apart, he comforted others who suffered similar losses. He would show them the bone of his tenth son, to strengthen others and enable them to cope with their pain.4
How could he be rendered speechless by a mere loss of money?
My rebbe explained. It wasn’t the actual loss of money that brought him to a state of speechlessness. The loss, however, did make an impression, however slight upon his heart. As he said, “The heart is dependant upon the wallet”. It was this effect that was the cause of his loss of speech. It pained him that such a miniscule occurrence could affect him in the slightest. It tugged at him and exerted its influence on him. He is not totally free, his emotions and ability to think are prisoners of events. The sense of loss has become part and parcel of the prism through which he views everything. He no longer sees with total clarity. This is what caused him so much pain and agony.
We can now attempt to penetrate beneath the surface.
Our sages tell us that the meraglim were important people. They were leaders. And they were afraid. The time would come when they would enter the Land of Israel. Their importance would come to an end. New leaders would be chosen.5
They were great people, and chas veshalom to assume that they were conscious of this underlying motive. But negiyus, self-interest, is blinding. What they saw, upon entering Eretz Canaan as spies, could have been interpreted in multiple ways. Their view was jaundiced, it was colored, and they were not even aware of it.
When they returned they said, “Tov lanu shuv Mitzrayma.” (It is better for us to return to Egypt). Certainly, when they said that it is better “for us”, they had in the forefront of their mind the betterment of the Jewish nation.
There is a unique cantillation (trop) under the words “tov lanu.” It is a double mercha (mercha kefula). When this cantillation appears it is a sign that a dual meaning exists simultaneously within the same words.6
Perhaps this is the Torah’s way of conveying to us the root of the meraglim’s error. It was an error made out of blindness. They assumed that their motives were pure and untainted, and that it was truly “tov lanu” – good for the Jewish people to remain outside of Eretz Yisroel and to return to Mitzrayim. This is the view of great people. They only see the concern of their nation. But there is a hidden “tov lanu.” It is good for us, meaning, good for the meraglim personally. Their vision was not clear. It was not true. And as such, it is a danger and not to be relied upon.
1 Rashi, perek 13, posuk 3
2 Parshas Pinchos, perek 25, posuk 5
3 Meseches Terumos 32b
4 Meseches Brachos 5b
5 Sefer HaZohar, chelek III, daf 198a
6 Sefer HaZohar, Parshas Balak, chelek III, daf 189a