Wednesday, June 26, 2019



          In our world, we often ask others what they do, where they work, or who they work for?
          When attending an upscale event, such as a wedding or dinner, it is not unusual for there to be young men or women who serve as waiters and waitresses, doing the coat check, or working as attendants for valet parking. They wear uniforms and cordially bow to you when they serve you, and pleasantly wish you a wonderful evening. They are patient, gracious, and dignified.
          Yet if you met those same people a few hours later, after they have finished working, and have removed their work uniforms, their behavior would likely be quite different. In fact, the contrast may be shocking.
          While they are working, those young men and women are aware that they represent their company and must therefore act accordingly. But when they finish their shift, they revert back to their default mode of behavior, which is vastly different.
          I remember one evening when I was 10/11 years old, arriving at shul for mincha with my father and older brother. As we were getting out of the car my brother and I were horsing around (he definitely started!) and I bolted out of the car to try to get into the shul building first. In my excitement and haste, I ran right past an elderly gentleman who was being helped up the steps into the shul, and almost knocked into him. The elderly man was quite annoyed as could be imagined. He asked me what yeshiva I attended and if that’s what they taught me there. I shamefacedly admitted that they didn’t at all promote such behavior.
          I remember thinking then that I had embarrassed my whole yeshiva, and that this man was going to call the hanhala and it would be downhill from there. More significantly, the idea that I represented my yeshiva and its values stuck with me.

          Parshas Shelach relates the tragic story of the spies; great men who committed a great error. “And Moshe sent them forth from the desert of Paran at G-d’s command...”[2]
          It seems from the Torah’s wording that It was Moshe who dispatched the spies, based on G-d’s instruction. In Parshas Devorim however, when Moshe recounts the event at the end of the forty years, it seems that it was the nation’s initiative to send the spies. “All of you approached me and said, ‘let us send men ahead of us and let them spy out the land...’ The idea was good in my eyes, so I took from you twelve men...”[3]
          The Chasam Sofer explains that this discrepancy in the pesukim reflects upon the root of their tragic and costly error, i.e. they forgot whose emissaries they were! Moshe dispatched them based on G-d’s instruction לתור״ - to scout out” the land. They were to strategize the best way to attack the inhabitants upon their entering the land. They were to seek out the inhabitants’ vulnerabilities and deficiencies, to make their advances as easy as possible.
          “And you shall see the land, what is it? And the people that dwell in it - are they strong or weak? Is it few or numerous? And how is the land? ...”[4]
          But the scouts went to determine IF they should attack at all, and IF they had a chance at being victorious. That was what the nation wanted them to do, but that was not what Moshe had sent them to do.[5]
          That was why upon their return they reported back to the entire nation. “They went and came to Moshe and Aharon and to the entire assembly of B’nei Yisroel... and brought back the report to them and the entire assembly...”[6] If they were messengers of Moshe and Aharon on behalf of the nation, they should have only reported to Moshe and Aharon. But they decided they were actually messengers of the entire nation.
          Calev tried to rally the nation and refocus them to the real purpose of the spies’ mission, but he was unable to stem the tide; once the negative momentum began it quickly spiraled out of control.
          Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski relates that he once attended a meeting of recovering alcoholics where a thirty-five-year-old woman presented. She had started drinking at twelve and drugging at fifteen and had lived a delinquent, decadent lifestyle for years. Over time, she became enslaved to her drug addiction.
          At twenty-six she found her way into Alcoholics Anonymous and, and at the time of that meeting was nine years sober. Before she finished sharing her story, she added the following thought:
          "I am a rabid New York Jets fan. I'll never miss watching a Jets game. One weekend I had to be away, so I asked a friend to record the game on her VCR. When I returned, she handed me the tape and said, 'By the way, the Jets won.'
          "I started watching the tape, and it was just horrible! The Jets were being mauled. At half-time they were behind by twenty points. Under other circumstances, I would have been a nervous wreck. I would have been pacing the floor and hitting the refrigerator. But I was perfectly calm, because I knew they were going to win.
          She then continued, “Ever since I turned my life over to G-d, I no longer get uptight when things don't go my way. I may be twenty points behind at half-time, but I always know it's going to turn out okay in the end. I often don’t know how it will all happen, and it may not happen the way I want, but I am confident that it will all work out. I have just have to sit back and resolve myself to G-d’s Will.”

          Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch explains that when Moshe instructed the spies to find out “are they strong or weak?”, the point wasn’t to ascertain whether they could be victorious. The fact that they would be victorious should have already been a foregone conclusion in their minds. The question of weak or strong was to be viewed as two equally viable possibilities: Would the enemy be weak and the victory less miraculous, or would they be strong and achieving victory would occur in more supernatural ways. But there should never have been a doubt that victory was imminent and guaranteed.
          The tragedy was that once the spies viewed themselves as messengers of the nation and not of Moshe, they no longer had the security of knowing there would be a positive outcome. That guarantee was only for the messengers of G-d.
          In life generally, our task is to always view ourselves as messengers of G-d who have a divine mission to fulfill.
          To serve as a constant reminder of that mission, G-d granted us the mitzvah of tzitzis: “And they shall be for you for tzitzis, and you shall see them and you will remember all of the mitzvos of Hashem, and you will perform them, and you won’t stray after your heart and after your eyes...”[7]
          Tzitzis tassels are tied to the four corners, to symbolize that wherever a Jew goes, throughout the four corners of the earth, his mission never diminishes or changes.
The Nesivas Shalom related that a Jew must always reinforce to his evil inclination the timeless words that Yosef hatzaddik told his brothers: “And now, it is not you that sent me here, but rather G-d.”[8]
          We must always feel that in whatever situation we find ourselves in we have a role to fulfill. As long as we maintain that sense of mission, we can be confident that there is a plan and a trajectory that G-d has set for our lives.

          “And Moshe sent them forth”
          “And you will remember all of the mitzvos of Hashem”
Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] The Following is the lecture I was privileged to give in Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh parshas Shelach 5778.
[2] Bamidbar 13:3
[3] Devorim 1:22-23
[4] Bamidar 13:18-20
[5] Chasam Sofer explains that G-d didn’t originally instruct them to send anyone, since the whole conquering of the land would be miraculous anyway. Therefore, scouts were unnecessary. However, there is a concept of minimizing miracles, and so when Moshe requested that they send messengers to scout out the land, G-d acquiesced.
[6] Bamidbar 13:26
          [7] Bamidbar 15:39
[8] Bereishis 44:8


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