This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Shlach (5766)
This week we read of the first, major, head-on conflict between Moses and the Jewish people: Moses told them to enter Israel and they all refused.
Does this make sense? How could all the Jews oppose G-d and His servant Moses after all the powerful miracles they had seen? Did the Jews really think that G-d couldn't help them conquer the Holy Land that He had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?
Even stranger is that the Jews seemed to be willing to follow Moses into Israel until the spies returned and convinced them otherwise.
But the spies didn't really say anything special. In fact, they gave a very accurate, objective report of the land and its inhabitants. And although they added, "We can't conquer the natives because they are stronger than us [13:31]," it certainly wasn't enough to sway an entire nation into rebellion!
On the other hand, something very potent must have happened to make all the Jews change their minds. And it must be very relevant to us today because the Torah, which means "teaching" in Hebrew, is telling it to us. What can it be?
To understand this, here is a story (found in Yidion HaKfar 8.6.06):
Rabbi Yehuda Leib Hofman had just boarded the train in Petersburg, found his seat, and was waiting to begin the ten-hour journey to Lubavitch when he felt that someone was staring at him. He glanced up and got a glimpse of a thickly bearded man, apparently a Jew, looking at him intently. He nodded cordially and the man approached, shook his hand, and introduced himself.
"Good afternoon. Please pardon the intrusion. My name is M. . . . Excuse my asking but, are you a Lubavitcher chassid? That is, of the Rebbe Maharash?
[Rebbe Shmuel, nicknamed the Maharash, was the fourth Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch (1836 -1884).]
Yehuda Leib shook his head yes. His visitor sat down opposite him and
"I know your Rebbe and he is a truly G-dly man. He changed my life. That is why I am on this train. I'm now on my way to see him for the second time in ten years. Please, do you mind? I feel I must tell you my story. It is so amazing that I am seeing a chassid of the Rebbe today of all days!"
The man was obviously in an emotional upheaval. He took out a handkerchief, wiped his forehead, and continued:
"Some fifty-five years ago, not far from here, I was born. My family was very religious and in school I was an excellent student in learning Torah.
Even when I was very young, five or six, all my teachers said that I would be a famous rabbi or Talmudic scholar.
"But they didn't know how wrong they were. When I was about sixteen I decided to do things my way. I began reading the works of the great philosophers and secular thinkers of the day and my heart and mind became inflamed with fresh, radical, atheistic ideas.
"It wasn't long before I was spending days on end in coffee houses discussing these ideas. I left Torah learning completely. Of course, my parents and teachers felt it their obligation to dissuade me but their pitiful attempts only made me hate them and their religion so much that, finally, one day I decided I had enough. I packed my belongings, moved to another city, changed my name and religion, and became a new person.
"I enrolled in university, in medical school, excelled in my studies, graduated with honors, and married into a very wealthy gentile family. We had a few children. I opened a clinic and in a short time I succeeded in becoming one of the most successful and wealthy doctors in Petersburg.
"For some twenty years I never thought of my Judaism or my parents; I was totally involved in my work and in social affairs and couldn't have cared less about my past.
"But then, one night about ten years ago, I had a dream.
"An old man with a white beard dressed in white stood out against a totally black background and stared at me. At first I didn't recognize him but when he began to speak I remembered . . . it was my father! He said he had searched for me unsuccessfully for years and now was not among the living.
He begged me to return to the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob . . . and then disappeared.
"I woke up in a sweat but I didn't tell my wife or anyone. They didn't know that I was Jewish and I didn't want them to but I was shaken. Nothing like this had ever happened to me.
"After a few days I calmed myself down. After all, I told myself, it was only a dream. And even if it was real, so what?! I never listened to my father when he was alive. Why should I care now? I just decided to just forget the whole thing and if it happens again to ignore him.
"But it wasn't so simple.
"A few days later the dream recurred and this time it was worse. I became frightened, remorseful. I almost wanted to cry and tell him I was sorry but then, in the dream, I caught myself. 'What's there to be sorry about?
Because I left the dark ages?!' But my father said, 'Don't do it for me . .
. return to Judaism for the sake of the truth.'
"And again I awoke in a cold sweat.
"I tried to put it out of my mind, to keep busy and think of other things but it haunted me day and night. Everyone began to notice that I was acting strangely tense and distant.
"Then there was the party.
"For several months I had no dreams but I was still far from normal. I was depressed and uneasy all the time and even took to drinking. So when my wife and I received an invitation to the duke's birthday party, we took up the offer with joy. It would be packed with interesting and important people.
The ideal opportunity to get back into life!
"We had clothes tailored specially for the occasion and sure enough it was everything we expected -- a magnificent ballroom, joyous music, excellent food, plenty of good brandy, the richest and most important people in Petersburg, and a lot of fun. In fact, I got so drunk and felt so good that, when the orchestra happened to play a quick polka, I leaped to the middle of the dance floor and began spinning and kicking to the glee of everyone. They all stood around me and clapped.
"Then, suddenly without warning, on the dance floor in front of me . . .
appeared my father! But this time he looked menacing.
"I was infuriated! I stopped dancing, pointed my finger at him, and screamed, 'Leave me alone! Go away!' The music stopped and everyone fell silent in shock but I continued, 'I do what I want and you won't stop me!
LEAVE ME ALONE!' Insane with anger, I pulled out my pistol, aimed at him, and fired!
"There was pandemonium! Women screamed and fainted and men began to run for the door. Luckily, no one was hurt.
"Of course, everyone thought that their honorable doctor had totally gone mad and they were right! I ran desperately out of the room and began to weep. I was going insane! I had to have a cure.
"The next morning I packed some clothes, took a lot of money, and headed for the train station. Somehow the name of the Lubavitcher Rebbe popped up in my mind. He was known as a grand holy man with great spiritual powers; I would pay him big money and he would heal me.
"I arrived in Lubavitch, arranged a meeting, rested up, put on my best clothes, and entered his room that evening with the money in my pocket. But as soon as I saw his holy face, I froze. This was a totally different sort of human than I had ever seen. I cannot explain it but it was like looking into some window of infinity.
"But he didn't even look at me. The Rebbe got up, went to his window, opened it as though to let in fresh air, looked outside, and yelled, 'What is a man who tried to kill his own father doing in my house?!'
"Suddenly the truth hit me like a huge hammer! I fell to my knees and held my head in my hands. It was as though the entire world turned upside down.
He was right! I tried to kill my father not only now but for the past twenty years! Even worse, G-d is also my Father. I tried to do the same thing to Him!
"I began to weep and weep and weep until I felt my soul was about to leave my body. My whole life had been a huge, ugly mistake and now I regretted every second of it.
"After several minutes I came to and begged the Rebbe to fix me. He said I should leave my gentile family, give them half of my money, move to a distant town, and devote myself to Torah and prayer until a certain thing, that I cannot divulge, would happen. This will be the sign that I have been forgiven by G-d. He told me that when I see that sign I should return to him in Lubavitch.
"He is truly a G-dly man! Today I saw the sign he spoke of and I am on my way to see him!"
This answers our questions.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that the main trick the spies used to incite the masses against Moses was to change the order that Moses had given them for reporting what they had witnessed in Canaan.
Moses told the spies to first report about the giants of the land (13:18) and then to report about the fruits and bounty (13:19,20)
He knew that the Jews wanted to enter Israel despite all odds. They trusted G-d to help them and were anxious to fulfill His will. They only sent the spies to learn how to best accomplish this goal.
But once the spies got into Canaan and saw the giants and other terrifying sights they thought differently. They were holy people, not warriors. They longed for the G-d-given security and pristine holiness of the desert where they could learn Torah uninterruptedly.
But they had to convince the people to follow them.
So they cleverly reversed the order of their report to win the people to their "natural" point of view.
First, they got the Jews to think about what was in it for them: they told them about the bountiful land and massive fruits etc. Then, when they were sure the Jews were thinking in normal terms, they reported about the fearsome inhabitants of Canaan that would have to be destroyed.
A lot to risk for a few fruits!
The results set the centuries-long pattern for Jewish tragedies, caused two Temples to be destroyed (on the ninth of Av, the same date the spies returned), and put us in exile for almost two thousand years.
When G-d's chosen people get "logical," (like Mr. M. in our story) the result is always disaster.
This is very relevant to our generation. The Lubavitcher Rebbe said time and time again that NOW is the generation that Moses (and all the true Jewish leaders through the ages) lived and died for -- the generation of Moshiach.
Now, in our generation (even today!) will arise a "king" who will bring the entire world to connect to the Creator and His Torah. (the gentiles according to the Seven Noahide Commandments).
It all depends on the Jews rising above nature, putting all personal considerations aside, learning about Moshiach, (see our Moshiach and Noahide essays at www.ohrtmimim.org/torah ) and doing all we can to bring him.
Finally the Jews will all enter the Holy Land; just as Moses wanted to do and the world will be filled with blessing meaning and joy with....
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