Parshat Shelach 5779: The Miraglim, Protocol, Intelligence vs Opinion and Today’s Battle for the Jewish Soul

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua Sh’lach is being sponsored by Dr. Eli and Miri Behar of Ramat Beit Shemesh L’ilui Nishmas for the Yahrtzeit of Yerachmiel Meir ben Nissim Avraham. To the Behar family, many thanks for your sponsorship and continued kindness.

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Moshe Burt
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Parshat Shelach 5779: The Miraglim, Protocol, Intelligence vs Opinion and Today’s Battle for the Jewish Soul

by Moshe Burt

Our Parshat opens as Torah relates:

“Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying, ‘Send forth men, if you please, and let them spy out the Land of Canaan that I give to the B’nei Yisrael; one man each from his father’s shevat [tribe] shall you send, every one a leader among them.’ Moshe sent them forth from the Wilderness of Paran at Hashem’s command; they were all distinguished men; heads of the B’nei Yisrael..” (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 13, posukim 1-3 as rendered to English in the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash)

Our Parshat continues:

“Moshe… said to them, …’See the Land — how is it? And the people that dwells in it — is it strong or weak? Is it few or numerous? And how is the Land in which it dwells — is it good or is it bad? And how are the cities in which it dwells — are they open or are they fortified? And how is the land — is it fertile or is it lean? Are there trees in it or not? You shall… take from the fruit of the Land.’ The days were the season of the first ripe grapes. They ascended and spied out the Land…” (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 13, posukim 17-21 as rendered to English in the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash)

Upon their return after forty days of spying out the Land:

“They came and went to Moshe and to Aaron and the entire assembly of the B’nei Yisrael, …and brought back the report to them and the entire assembly, and they showed them the fruit of the Land. They reported to him and said, ‘We arrived at the Land to which you sent us, and indeed it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. But — the people that dwells in the Land is powerful, the cities are very greatly fortified, and we saw the offspring of the giant… Caleiv silenced the people toward Moshe and said, ‘We shall surely ascend and conquer it, for we can surely do it!’ But the men who ascended with him said, ‘We cannot ascend to that people for it is too strong for us!… The Land through which we have passed… is a land that devours it’s inhabitants! All of the people we saw in it were huge! There we saw the Nephilim, the sons of the giant from among the Nephilim; we were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we were in their eyes!'” (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 13, posukim 26-33 as rendered to English in the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash)

The manner in which the spies return from their mission and give their report before “the entire assembly of the B’nei Yisrael,” not just to Moshe and Aaron, seems to this author, to excuse the expression, to be “unorthodox.” When military commanders send reconnaissance teams on missions, normal protocol seems for the team to return to their commanders to be debriefed — not for the team to return and share their intelligence finds with their entire battalion, etc. To do as the miraglim did, seems to this author, to seriously risk demoralization of the mass of troops and, therefore, risk utter failure of a military mission.

Rav Shmuel Goldin, in his sefer “Unlocking The Torah Text” on Sefer Bamidar on our Parsha, provides these comments (Pages 120):

While the spies initial report seems to be faithful fulfillment of Moshe’s directives, one word changes everything. When the Miraglim [spies] preface their remarks concerning the inhabitants of the Land with the word “efes” [But in this context], they endeavor to change the parameters of their role. No longer satisfied with simple intelligence gathering, the spies unilaterally assume an advisory capacity.

….The spies, after all, had been sent to determine how to conquer the land, not to offer an opinion as to whether or not the land should be conquered. By venturing an opinion concerning the latter issue [by way of “efes” but in context], the miraglim sow seeds of doubt concerning the Jews’ very entry into the land.

…The spies unusual use of the word “efes” to introduce their doubts becomesparticularly telling. “Efes” (literally “zero”) connotes total negation. Through their choice of language, the spies deliberately transmit a sense of profound hopelessness, striking to the core of the nation’s heart.

Rabbi Isaac Arama, in his Akeidat Yitzchak, offers a simple analogy. A servant, sent by his master to determine the quality and cost of a garment, oversteps his boundaries if, upon his return, he proffers an opinion concerning the reasonableness of the asking price. (Rabbi Goldin citing Akeidat Yitzchak, Sefer Bamidbar, sha’ar 77)

Rabbi Goldin continues (ibid, page 124) :

A careful reading of the report of the spies reveals that they overstep [a] critical boundary — one easily crossed in our own experience as well.

From the outset, the miraglim offer their opinions as fact.

Had the spies stated upon their return, “we believe that the nations that reside in the land are too strong for us to conquer, or even, it seems to us that we cannot enter the land,” the B’nei Yisrael might not have despaired so deeply. Opinions, after all, can be debated. Once, however, the spies offer their subjective report as fact, they leave no room for dispute. This… transforming of opinion into fact becomes more pronounced as the spies continue to speak.

Our Parsha Shelach, and the affair of the miraglim — the spies, annually brings to mind the evolution of the Israeli media, academia, political, governmental scene which has brought us to the state of affairs we are facing and continue to face today, and conjures up ways in which today’s state of affairs could parallel the event of the miraglim in Bamidbar.

The moral of the episode of the miraglim, in this aurhor’s view. cannot be repeated often enough for we see their sin re-played out, and continue to evolve in our times.

This author recalls the infancy of the so-called “peace movement” and modern-day Israeli “progressivism” with its multitudinous tentacles which eventually became the alt-leftist NGOs (non-governing organizations funded by foreign lobbies and governments). The memory harkens back to one Yom Nora’im (High Holidays) the late-1980s in Philadelphia. These were the years just prior to becoming Ba’al Teshuva, and when the seeds of “Shalom Achshav” — “Peace Now” (sic) were being tended by the then-nascent Israeli/Jewish left.

The conservative synagogue this author attended for Rosh Hoshana and Yom Kippur, prior to becoming Ba’al Teshuvah, had a practice of bringing in a young JTS (Jewish Theological Seminary) student as guest “rabbi” to help and assist the synagogue’s long-time Rabbi who was getting on in years. This particular Yomim Tovim, they brought in a young fellow who proceeded to pitch the philosophies of Breira, one of these leftist-agendized predecessors of Shalom Achshav.

These were years before “Shalom Achshav” emerged and succeeded in snowing and propagandizing hundreds of thousands of secular Israelis while sprouting and growing, with the help of European NGOs, numerous different heads and tentacles which connected with leftist, Arabist, anti-semitic foreign funding sources.

And so this young conservative “traditional (sic)” rabbi-to-be proceeded to turn the Torah’s account of the Miraglim (the spies) on its head. He portrayed the evolution of leftist “ideology”; from Breira, to the Progressives, to “Shalom Achshav”: of “land for peace (sic),” as a worthy sequel to Yehoshua and Caleiv, the two spies who took their lives in their hands while standing against the ten to defend Hashem while urging the people on into Eretz Yisrael.

This whole premise of “land for peace (sic)” and portrayals, such as that of this student rabbi-wannabe who equated Yehoshua and Caleiv with contemporary alt-left progressives, is built on a base of unverified “PA” demographics data, once again in our times — the big, bogus “But”, which successive Israeli governments have accepted as gospel but which has been confuted time and again by independent demographic research and data which show:

both the steady high birthrates of the Jewish population in Judea and Samaria and the ongoing and increasing emigration of the Arab population from those areas. The media rarely notes that the reports of massive Arab population growth have been deliberately exaggerated…” (cited from Jerusalem Post piece: Demographic threat? Nonsense, By David Rubin – link has since been deleted by Jerusalem Post)

And as it turns out, these fake “PA” census and demographics data serve as cover for what seems to be a beneath-the-surface manifestation of irrational hatred and disdain, by their proponents, for their religious roots by successive Israeli regimes and their lust to make the Jews, Israelis — a nation of all of its peoples, Jews who know nothing of and are totally devoid of any form of Yiddishkeit and spirituality.

Rav Zelig Pliskin, in his sefer “Growth Through Torah” (pages 326-327) comments: “Beware of false conclusions from the facts you observe”, cites Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 13, posukim 28, 31 of our Parshat Shelach and provides commentary:

“The people who dwell in the land are extremely fierce and the cities are fortified and very great, and we also saw the children of Anak [giants] there…. We cannot go up to the people because they are stronger than us.”

The Akaidah explains that the report of the spies itself was appropriate. They were told to see the land and report back on the conditions of the land and the people who lived there. But their task was just to observe and relate what they saw. Their mistake was in rendering a decision that they should not attempt to enter the land. It was not up to them to come to any final conclusions, only to report the facts.

They were wrong about their not being able to conquer the land. The Almighty has the power to help against all odds. Just because in their minds they did not think it was possible for them to successfully take over the land of Israel did not mean that it was really not possible.

Among the secular, it’s a case where they have been so misguided by generations of governmental, leftist-defeatist-cancer-infected military establishment, media and intelligencia elitist mythical “dogma” indoctrination that, even being in close quarters in our small Medinat Yisrael, and having to interact with our various observant segments — sectors, they’ve been conditioned to abhor observance and thus seemingly lack the initiative — the mesirut nefesh to learn the truth. Add to that, the lack among most secular Jews, as well as sectors of the Religious, to come to the aid of their Gush Katif brethren when they were expelled from their homes and land. Inevitably there are many more such citations not mentioned here. Thus is the war for the Jewish heart and neshama — Jews vs Israelis.

“The Midrash Says,” by Rabbi Moshe Weissman (Sefer Bamidbar, Parsha Shelach, pages 162-163) discusses the corruption of the spies:

The twelve spies were dispatched on the 29th of Sivan, 2449.

Although they had been tzaddikim at the time of their appointment, they turned sour as soon as Moshe sent them out. They immediately decided to bring back a derogatory report so as to detain B’nai Yisrael.

What caused the Spies to become corrupted?

They said to each other, “Under Moshe’s leadership, we are heads of the people. As soon as we enter Eretz Yisrael, Yehoshua will become the leader. He will then appoint a different cabinet of ministers. Let us therefore detain the people in the wilderness to ensure that we shall not be demoted from our high positions.”

They spent the next 40 days planning how to make it plausible that Eretz Yisrael could not be conquered.

In a National Council of Young Israel Parshat HaShevua (June 24, 1995) on our Parsha, Rabbi Dr. Chaim Wakslak cites a preface written by Chasam Sofer in his books of Responsa:

It was because of their leadership positions, intense piety and their acclimation to a miraculous existence that they wanted to avoid the non-spiritual, non-miraculous, somewhat pedestrian existence that awaited them in Eretz Yisrael.

Rabbi Dr. Wakslak goes on to write:

Had the Miraglim… realized that it was incumbent upon B’nai Yisrael to move from a realm of the overtly miraculous that they had enjoyed until then, to the fulfillment of Mitzvot…, they might not have arrogantly decided to resist the Divine plan and B’nei Yisrael might have been spared the punishment that the sin of the Miraglim led to.

In essence, the spies provided the perfect “out”, the perfect rationale to sever the bond. As heads of the Sh’vatim, the 10 spies, with their ulterior motives: maintainance and perpetuation of their positions, station and empires, their perks and spoils, they covered and perpetuated their own kingdoms.

And so, true to the form which Rabbi Dr. Wakslak describes, we see the disunity, and apparent mutual jealousy and distrust within the religious sectors today, coupled with the leftist, elitist intelligencia scoffers whose distorted historical revisionism have fed efforts by successive Israeli governments who sought, seek to divide and conquer, maintain, consolidate and perpetuate their secular kingdom at the expense of the governed and at the expense of Jewish sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael as well as against the advent of a REAL Jewish leadership.

Now, let’s return to Rav Shmuel Goldin and his sefer “Unlocking The Torah Text”, Sefer Bamidbar on our Parsha which cites Rebbetzin Nechama Leibowitz and then adds his commentary (Page 121):

Caleiv’s… colleagues, however counter his efforts by… moving from… suggestion to open assertion: “We cannot ascend against that people for they are stronger than we [ Hebrew for “we” or “us” as above = “mimenu”]. Rebbetzin Leibowitz explains the Hebrew word “mimenu”… can either connote the first-person plural “than we”…, or it can be read as the third-person singular “mimeno,” “than he.”

This dual meaning serves as the basis for the Midrashic tradition that a secondary, more disturbing message… [comes] through the words of the spies: Not only are the nations of the land more powerful than we, but they are more powerful “than He,” [meaning] than Hashem Himself.

Finally, the true colors of the spies emerge…. They now embark upon an open, deliberate, calculated campaign, using any means possible to discourage the people from entering Canaan.

Rav Shmuel Goldin then speaks about posuk 33, the one about “grasshoppers in our eyes” (page 122):

“We were like grasshoppers in our eyes,” the spies proclaim, and then “so we were in their eyes” Only once we felt our own worthlessness, did we become worthless in in the eyes of others.

…The core of the sin of the spies: when all is said and done, the spies are guilty of a loss of faith in themselves.

Here, this author asks on Rav Goldin, did the spies lose faith in themselves, or move to insure their positions in their lifetime by evoking a loss of faith in Hashem among the B’nei Yisrael? When we felt worthless, then we’re worthless in the eyes of others — this sounds soo much like R’ Pliskin’s citing of Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz on Parshat Sh’mot which this author cited in 5777:

As long as they [the Jewish people] were considered important and worthy of respect by themselves [self-respect and self-esteem], the Egyptians were not able to treat them in an inferior manner. Only when they considered themselves in a lowly manner could they be subjugated by others.

Rav Shmuel Goldin sums up the crushed psyche of the B’nei Yisrael due to the spies’ public pronouncements (page 122):

How overwhelmingly devastating their [the spies] implied message to B’nei Yisrael must have been!

Do you know how we felt and what we realized when we saw ourselves matched against the nations of Canaan?

We realized that it’s all been a lie — all that we have experienced and all that we have been promised over these last months — the plagues, Yetziyot Mitzrayim, the parting of the Reed Sea, the Revelation at Sinai…

We are not a conquering nation, weare not a fledgling, divinely chosen people. We are grasshoppers! We are still the servile slaves who endured centuries of servitude to Egyptian masters. We haven’t changed…

We simply can not do it. We will never enter that land: we will never possess that land; we will never become a nation; we will never achieve our “promised” destiny.

To repeat R’ Pliskin’s thoughts above about B’nei Yisrel drawing false conclusions:

They were wrong about their not being able to conquer the land. The Almighty has the power to help against all odds. Just because in their minds they did not think it was possible for them to successfully take over the land of Israel did not mean that it was really not possible.

How very much do the so-called “wise-men” of our time — The Israeli Swamp of the leftists; bureaucrats, intelligencia, university professors, media, judiciary, politicians and equivocal governance, and their allies — the Yassamnikim, all who promote, at all costs, disheartened psyche among the Am regarding Eretz Yisrael and Yiddishkeit bare resemblance to the Miraglim of the Bamidbar. But hopefully, the Am, unlike the B’nei Yisrael in Bamidbar, may be evolving to see through the subterfuge being fed by the Israeli Swamp.

We long for the attributes of a Moshe Rabbeinu, of a real Jewish leadership, which by its very nature, recognizes the necessity of national unity and the continued building and in-gathering of the Jews to modern-day Israel. Such a leadership recognizes that success in Yishuv Eretz Yisrael, and in conflicts with enemies bent on our destruction are in the Hand of Hashem, but that the Yad Hashem depends on our doing what is good in Hashem’s eyes, on our unity, and the labor, planning and efforts of our unity.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the twice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — only upon his return home to Israel, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of nearly five years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.