Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Spies’ Mistake and How We Can Apply the Lesson to Our Own Life Challenges

“... וְלֹא־תָתוּרוּ אַחֲרֵי לְבַבְכֶם וְאַחֲרֵי עֵינֵיכֶם .../… and you shall not wander after your hearts and after your eyes …” (Bamidbar 15:39) Rashi on this pasuk explains that the word תָתוּרוּ/wander, comes from תּוּר/spy or scout. He writes that the heart and eyes are like the body’s spies. “The eyes see, the heart desires and the body does the sin.”

It is no coincidence that this pasuk appears in the same parsha as the story of the twelve spies. In fact, the Sfas Emes explains that there is an underlying similarity between these two seemingly disparate subjects. In order to understand this similarity, we need to first understand why the spies were sent and what they did wrong. 

The Chiddushei HaRim explains.[1] The nation in the desert lived with explicit miracles. They ate food that dropped from the sky every day. They saw the clouds of glory and the pillar of fire. Coming into Israel they would be living within nature. The challenge would be to maintain their high level of faith. The challenge would be to realize that just as God provided for them in the desert in an explicit way, He is within nature as well, albeit, implicitly. Success in this challenge would be to reach a level of understanding that nature is a bigger wonder than the miracles of the desert. As part of the transition to living within the bounds of nature, the spies were sent to scout the land. Their ultimate mission was to maintain the level of faith they had in the desert where they experienced open miracles on a daily basis. Their ultimate mission involved seeing the land and its inhabitants and realizing that even though the inhabitants were strong and live in fortified cities, and according to the laws of nature they were unable to enter the land, God is within everything. God would help them if they would only subordinate themselves to His will. In this, ten of the twelve spies failed. They did not maintain their high level of faith. They were fooled by what they saw. They realized that they did not have the physical strength to enter the land and overcome its inhabitants. And because of this, they in fact, did not enter the land. 

According to the Sfas Emes, this is exactly the meaning of the admonition at the end of the parsha to not follow our eyes and heart. Our eyes and heart (i.e. our desires) see the external physical world. The Torah is admonishing us to recognize instead the Godliness that underlies the external physical world. This explains the next pasuk, “לְמַעַן תִּזְכְּרוּ וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֶת־כָּל־מִצְוֹתָי .../So that you will remember and you will do all of my commandments …” (Bamidbar 15:40) The beginning of this pasuk seems awkward. The pasuk tells us to remember but does not tell us what we should remember. If the pasuk were telling us to remember the mitzvos in order to do them it would state, “So that you will remember my commandments …” The pasuk seems to be stating two separate things. Remember and then do the mitzvos. Remember what? The Sfas Emes explains that the word for “remember” in Hebrew means more than simply recalling. It is much deeper. It means to internalize something until it becomes a part of the person. At that point there is no possibility of forgetting. The beginning of this pasuk is really a continuation of the previous pasuk. The Torah is telling us, “Do not follow your physical eyes and desires so that you may internalize the underlying Godliness of everything physical. Through this internalization you will be able to do all My mitzvos – even the ones that according to your nature perspective you do not think you can do.”

The Sfas Emes teaches that this approach applies to any mitzvah and service to God. Viewing challenges solely according to the laws of nature, many times leads us to believe that we cannot succeed. According to the laws of nature, for example, Avraham Avinu was unable to have children. Avraham Avinu had children because he believed God’s promise to him, “וְהֶאֱמִין בַּה' .../and he had faith in God …” (Breishis 15:6) 

When we imagine that we cannot succeed either because of previous sins or because of a general feeling of unworthiness, we have succumbed to the advice of the evil inclination. This way of viewing things considers only external physical circumstance rather than the underlying spiritual reality. Believing that we can accomplish and succeed at any mitzvah with God’s help will lead us inexorably to success in Avodas HaShem.

We are taught that each of us is a soul and a body. Each of our souls stems from a very high spiritual place, the body being merely the soul’s garment, as it were, while we live a physical existence. Each morning we say, “אֱ־לֹהַי, נְשָׁמָה שֶׁנָתַתָּ בִּי טְהוֹרָה הִיא .../My God, the soul you have given me is pure …”

Yet, the first of the three things that Akavia ben Mahallalel advises us to observe in order to encourage us not to sin is that we come from a putrid drop.[1] How can this possibly prevent us from sinning knowing what we know about the body and its relationship to the soul?

The answer, the Sfas Emes teaches us, is that this very knowledge of the relationship between the soul and the body is what keeps us from sinning. Akavia ben Mahallalel is teaching us that the body has no life without the soul. The prophet said, “... נֹתֵן נְשָׁמָה לָעָם עָלֶיהָ .../… He gives a soul to the people who walk upon [the Earth.]” (Yeshayah 42:5) and, “... וְיֹצֵר רוּחַ־אָדָם בְּקִרְבּוֹ/… and who fashions the spirit of man within him.” (Zechariah 12:1) Realizing that our very existence comes from God through our souls is a strong deterrent to sin, indeed.

We find this idea in the Midrash[2] on the pasuk from the end of this week’s parsha, “לְמַעַן תִּזְכְּרוּ וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֶת־כָּל־מִצְוֹתָי .../In order that you remember to perform all My commandments …” (Bemidbar 15:40) The Midrash teaches us the importance of fulfilling all the mitzvos. Performance of the mitzvos gives us life because through it we are connected to God, the source of life. The Midrash compares this to a drowning man who is thrown a life buoy and told that as long as he holds the life buoy he will live. God, as well, tells us, “As long as you are connected to the mitzvos, ‘וְאַתֶּם הַדְּבֵקִים בּה' אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם חַיִּים כֻּלְּכֶם הַיּוֹם/you are connected to God, your Lord, all of you who are alive today.”

The Chiddushei HaRim was wont to say that the Torah gives life only to those who recognize that life comes through the Torah, “עֵץ־חַיִּים הִיא לַמַּחֲזִיקִים בָּהּ .../It is a tree of life to those who hold on to it.” (Mishlei 3:18) To the extent that we internalize the knowledge that on our own we have no life, we can connect to the good life that comes through the Torah.

We find this same concept in the juxtaposition of two pesukim at the end of this week’s parsha. “... וְלֹא־תָתוּרוּ אַחֲרֵי לְבַבְכֶם וְאַחֲרֵי עֵינֵיכֶם אֲשֶׁר־אַתֶּם זֹנִים אַחֲרֵיהֶם/… and do not explore after your heart and eyes which have led you astray.” This is followed directly by, “לְמַעַן תִּזְכְּרוּ וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֶת־כָּל־מִצְוֹתָי וִהְיִיתֶם קְדֹשִׁים לֵא־לֹהֵיכֶם/So that you remember and perform all My commandments and you shall be holy to your Lord.” To the extent that we refrain from being drawn after the cravings in our hearts and what our eyes see because we know that everything is from God, we can pursue truth. Remembering leads inexorably to performing. 

Akavia ben Mahallel, then, is teaching us something profound about the nature of our physical existence that will in fact deter us from sinning. May we merit internalizing this understanding!

[1]Chidushei HaRim and Sefer HaZchus, parshas Shelach

[Sfas Emes blog] 

ולא תתורו כו' עיניכם. ברש"י ב' מרגלי הגוף כו'. וזה דבר גדול להיות נמשך תמיד אחר הפנימיות שלא לתור אל הסתכלות החיצוניות שנראה לעיני בשר כך או כך. רק להיות בטל אל השי"ת להסתכל רק מה שהשי"ת צוה להסתכל. והוא חיותו ית' שיש בכל דבר. 

ובאמת גם חטא מרגלים הי' חסרון אמונה כמ"ש אא"ז מוז"ל ע"ש. כי ודאי הי' נראה לעיני שכלם שאין בכחם לכנוס שהרי באמת לא נכנסו. אבל אם היו מאמינים ומבטלים הסתכלותם לרצון השי"ת הי' זה עצמו מסייע להם לצאת מהטבע כמ"ש הקב"ה לאברהם צא מאיצטגנינות שלך כו' דכתיב בי' והאמין כו'. וז"ש למען תזכרו שהוא המשכה ודביקות בחיות הפנימי הרי לא נאמר תזכר אותם. והי' קאי על המצות כמ"ש ועשיתם. ויש לפרש תזכרו להיות כל האדם דבוק בחיות הפנימי וזה ענין זכירה ועי"ז ועשיתם. ודבר זה צריך אדם לידע בכל מצוה ועבודה להשי"ת אף שנדמה לעיני בשר כי אין בכחו לגשת ע"י חטא או משפלות עצמו. כל זה רק מבחוץ והוא עצת יצה"ר. אבל צריך אדם להאמין כי יוכל לקיים כל מצוה בעזר השי"ת. וע"י שיודע שגם חיותו מהשי"ת ונמצא יש לו דביקות בהמצוה כי תורה ומצות הם חיות כל העולם וכ"כ הם חיינו: ובמשנה עקביא בן מהללאל הסתכל בשלשה דברים כו' מאין באת מטיפה סרוחה. והלא נשמת האדם גבוה וכל אדם מישראל אומר בכל יום אלקי נשמה כו' טהורה היא. אך כי כפי מה שיודע שגופו וגשמיות שלו הוא טיפה סרוחה וממילא מבטל כל החיות להשי"ת שהרי יודע ומבין כי חיותו ממנו שהרי [*איננו חי] בלי נשמת ה' שנותנת חיים בכל רגע כמ"ש נותן נשמה לעם עלי' וכתיב יוצר רוח אדם בקרבו. ע"י זה יודע ג"כ שנשמתו גבוה והוא בבחי' אין ג"כ. ועי"ז לא בא לידי עבירה כשכל חיותו דבוק בראשית החיות שבא מהשי"ת כנ"ל. 

וכן במדרש למען תזכרו כו' משל לנטבע שנותנים לו חבל ואומרים אם תניח אין לך חיים כו' ואא"ז מוז"ל רגיל לומר מאמר זה כי התורה נותנת חיים למי שיודע שעיקר החיות רק מהתורה כמ"ש עץ חיים כו' למחזיקים בה. וכפי מה שיודע שאין לו חיות כלל מצד עצמו יוכל להתדבק בחיים טובים שבא מהתורה כנ"ל. וכן כתיב ולא תתורו אחרי לבבכם כו' למען תזכרו כנ"ל ע"י שאינו נמשך אחר תאות לבו שיודע שהכל רק מהשי"ת יוכל לקרב עצמו לדביקות אמת. תזכרו ועשיתם כנ"ל: