RABBI WAGENSBERG ON PARSHAS SHELACH
When Moshe sent spies to scout out the Land, he sent a group of Nesiim (spiritual leaders (Parshas Shelach, 13:2). It would seem that if the mission was to spy out the Land, he should have sent trained C.I.A. or Mossad agents. Why would he send the Roshei Yeshiva, Mashgichim, Poskim, Dayanim, and Chassidic Rebbes? What do they know about the spy industry?
Furthermore, in Bamidbar Rabba, Parshas Shelach (16:6), it says that the pasuk, “Send forth men to spy out the Land (Parshas Shelach, 13:2), is connected to another pasuk that says, “They do not know and they do not understand, for their eyes have been smeared from seeing” (Yeshaya, 44:18). What does this Medrash mean? What is the connection between these two seemingly unrelated verses?
Moreover, Moshe instructed the spies to see if the inhabitants of the Land were strong or weak (Parshas Shelach, 13:18). What difference does it make if they were strong or weak? The Jewish people were living in a transcendent atmosphere with miracles occurring all around them such as the Manna, water flowing out of a rock, and Clouds of Glory. Even if the citizens of Canaan were strong, they would certainly fall at the hands of a super-natural people. So, why did Moshe ask the spies to find out if the Canaanites were strong or weak?
Additionally, Moshe asked the spies to see if the Land was good or bad (Parshas Shelach, 13:19). Why would Moshe have to inquire about that when Hashem had already told Moshe that the Land was one, “Flowing with milk and honey” (Parshas Shemos, 3:8), indicating that the Land was good. Did Moshe not trust what Hashem had told him?
Also, we are taught that after the spies entered into Eretz Yisrael, Kalev went to Chevron to pray to Hashem at the graves of the Patriarchs that he not get caught up in the wicked scheme of the spies. Kalev even asked the Avos to daven to Hashem on his behalf so that he [Kalev] would not get entangled in the evil counsel of the spies (Parshas Shelach, 13:22; Meseches Sota, chap. 7, “Eilu Ne’emarin”, pg. 34b; Rava).
Of all places to go to in order to pray, why did Kalev go specifically to Chevron? Why did he not go to where the headquarters of prayer was, which was, and still is, Har Habayit (the Makom Hamikdash, the place where the Temple would be built). The Temple Mount was where Akeidas Yitzchak took place, that is also where Ya’akov Avinu had his prophetic dream about the ladder.
Since the location and significance of Har Habayis was known to them, apparently, he should have gone there to pray. Why did he choose Chevron?
When the spies came back to report what they had experienced, they said that the giants in Canaan were so big that they [the spies] appeared to be as small as grasshoppers (Parshas Shelach, 13:33; Meseches Sota, chap. 7, “Eilu Ne’emarin”, pg. 35a). However, Rashi (ibid) says that the giants were so big that they [the spies] appeared to be as small as ants.
This is difficult to understand. If the pasuk and the Gemara say that the spies were compared to grasshoppers, how could Rashi deviate from that and claim that they were as small as ants?
These are just a few of the questions that can be raised about the episode with the spies. Therefore, at this point, we are going to begin sharing a teaching which may open a new window of perspective.
After Hashem decided to wipe out that generation because of the sin with the spies, Moshe prayed on their behalf. In one verse Moshe said, “Yigdal Nuh Koach Hashem” (May the strength of my Lord be magnified; Parshas Shelach, 14:17). The actual Name of God which is used in this verse is the Name “Adni” (spelled Aleph, Dalet, Nun, Yud). This Name is pronounced “Ado – dash – Noy” (without the dash).
The Ben Ish Chai (Derushim, Parshas Shelach; Rabbi Yoseph Chaim of Baghdad, Iraq, 1835-1909) says that although the Name Adni is spelled with four letters, there are actually twelve letters within it. This is because every letter can be spelled. Let us spell the four letters of the Name of “Adni.”
The letter Aleph of Adni is spelled, “Aleph, Lamed Phey.”
The letter Dalet of Adni is spelled, “Dalet, Lamed, Taf.”
The letter Nun of Adni is spelled, “Nun, Vov, Nun.”
The letter Yud of Adni is spelled, “Yud, Vov, Dalet.”
Since each of the four letters of the Name Adni is spelled with three letters, there are altogether twelve letters contained within it. These twelve letters of Adni correspond to the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
However, four of the letters are revealed (Aleph, Dalet, Nun, Yud), whereas eight of the letters are hidden (Lamed Phey, Lamed Taf, Vov Nun, and Vov Dalet).
The Ben Ish Chai says that the four revealed letters of Adni correspond to the four Tribes which were Chiefs in Command, whereas the eight hidden letters of the Name Adni correspond to the eight Tribes which were subordinate to the four.
You see, when the Jewish people encamped in the wilderness, they were positioned around the Mishkan (Sanctuary). Since the Mishkan was in the shape of a rectangle, the Shvatim (Tribes), who were placed around the Mishkan, took on the formation of a box, with three Shvatim on each side.
In Parshas Bamidbar (2:3-32) it tells us that there was a specific order of tribes, from the first Tribe until the last. The order began on the eastern side and worked clockwise from there. This means to say that the tribes on the east would travel first, the tribes on the south would travel second, the tribes on the west would travel third, and the tribes on the north would travel last.
On each side of the Mishkan, there was one tribe which served as Chief in Command of that side. The other two tribes of that side were considered to be secondary to the leading tribe.
The four leading Tribes were: Yehuda on the east, Reuvein on the south, Ephraim on the west, and Dan on the north.
The Ben Ish Chai says that the four revealed letters of the Name Adni correspond to the four tribes who were Chief in Command, in order.
Therefore, the first letter of Adni (Aleph) was connected to the first leading tribe, Yehuda.
The second letter of Adni (Dalet) was connected to the second leading tribe, Reuvein.
The third letter of Adni (Nun) was connected to the third leading tribe, Ephraim.
The fourth letter of Adni (Yud) was connected to the fourth leading tribe, Dan.
However, the eight hidden letters behind the Name Adni are connected to the eight subordinate tribes, in order.
On the eastern side, the two tribes who were under the authority of Yehuda were Yissachar and Zevulun. Therefore, their letters would be the two hidden letters behind the Aleph of Adni. Those two letters are, Lamed and Phey. The Lamed was connected to Yissachar, and the Phey was connected to Zevulun.
On the southern side, the two tribes who were under the authority of Reuvein were, Shimon and Gad. Therefore, their letters would be the two hidden letters behind the Dalet of Adni. Those two letters are, Lamed and Taf. The Lamed was connected to Shimon and the Taf was connected to Gad.
On the western side, the two tribes who were under the authority of Ephraim were, Menasheh and Binyamin. Therefore, their letters would be the two hidden letters behind the Nun of Adni. Those two letters are, Vov and Nun. The Vov was connected to Menasheh and the Nun was connected to Binyamin.
On the northern side, the two Tribes who were under the authority of Dan were Asher and Naftali. Therefore, their two letters would be the two hidden letters behind the Yud of Adni. Those two letters are, Vov and Dalet. The Vov was connected to Asher, and the Dalet was connected to Naftali.
Now, it is imperative to emphasize that the letter that was connected to the Chief Tribe of Yehuda was the revealed letter Aleph of Adni, and the letter which was connected to the Chief Tribe of Ephraim was the revealed letter Nun of Adni.
The reason why we must focus on these two Tribes is because the two good spies, Kalev and Yehoshua, were from the Tribes of Yehuda and Ephraim. Kalev was from Sheivet Yehuda (Parshas Shelach, 13:6), and Yehoshua was from Sheivet Ephraim (Parshas Shelach, 13:8).
Since Kalev came from Sheivet Yehuda, he [Kalev] was connected to the revealed letter Aleph of Adni because that was the letter of his tribe. Since Yehoshua came from the Tribe of Ephraim, he [Yehoshua] was connected to the revealed letter Nun of Adni because that was the letter of his tribe.
Incidentally, this explains why time and again we refer to Yehoshua as, “Yehoshua Bin Nun.” Why can’t we just refer to him as plain old “Yehoshua?” One answer is that “Bin Nun” does not just mean that Yehoshua’s father’s name was Nun, but it also comes to teach us that Yehoshua’s letter of Adni was Nun.
Since Kalev and Yehoshua did not sin as spies, their two letters (Aleph and Nun) of the Name Adni were not damaged. But since the ten spies of the other ten tribes did sin, they wound up damaging the ten letters that were connected to those tribes.
Now we can finally appreciate the prayer of Moshe Rabbenu a little bit deeper. Moshe said, “Yigdal Nuh Koach Adni” (May the strength of my Lord be increased). The word “Nuh” is spelled “Nun Aleph.” Those are the two letters of Adni that were not damaged.
Moshe asked Hashem that the “Nuh” (Nun Aleph) should increase and atone for the whole Name “Adni.” Meaning, Moshe asked Hashem to focus on the two letters Nun and Aleph which were not damaged (meaning, focus on Yehoshua and Kalev who did not sin) and thereby forgive the rest of the tribes who were connected to the rest of the letters of Adni.
In fact, when you take the revealed letters Nun Aleph away from the rest of the revealed letters, the remaining revealed letters are Dalet and Yud. The letters Dalet and Yud spell the word “Dai” (enough; sufficient). In other words, Moshe was asking Hashem that the undamaged letters Nun and Aleph be enough or sufficient (Dai) to atone for the other damaged letters of Adni.
After being exposed to this coded message contained within the parsha, we must ask ourselves, “What was it about Yehoshua and Kalev that saved them from falling prey to the evil plot of the other ten spies?”
The answer to this question is buried beneath the answer to the question we mentioned above concerning why Rashi said that the spies were likened to ants if the Gemara and the pasuk say that the spies were compared to grasshoppers. So, let us address this difficulty right now.
In Mishlei (6:6), Shlomo Hamelech says, “Leich El Nemala Atzeil” (Go to the ant you lazy one). In Yalkut Shimoni (Mishlei, Remez, 538) it asks, “Why did Shlomo Hamelech instruct the lazy person to examine an ant? What message did Shlomo Hamelech want the lazy person to learn from the ant?”
The Rabbanan say that an ant spends the entire summer gathering kernels of wheat, barley, and beans. Rebbi Tanchuma said that the life-span of the average ant is only six months. In its life-time, an ant can only eat one and a half kernels. That is all that his little ant stomach can handle.
If ants live such short periods of time, and if they can only eat a very small amount of food, why do they collect so much more food than they could ever possibly consume in their life-times?
The answer is that each ant says, “Maybe Hashem will decree upon me that I live a longer life. Therefore, I must gather as much as I can to last me for that longer period of time.”
Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai said that once upon a time, they uncovered an ant-hole and discovered three-hundred kor (a measurement) of kernels. [One kor is approximately two hundred gallons. Imagine what three-hundred kor are].
Therefore, Shlomo Hamelech said to the lazy person that he should examine the ant because they possess a healthy work ethic. The ant’s philosophy is to work hard today so that I can save for the future.
We are supposed to learn from the ant that we should also work hard in Olam Hazeh (this world) doing as many Mitzvos as possible because we need to stash away our spiritual nourishment for our long journey in Olam Haba (the next world).
It turns out that an ant serves as a paradigm example of forward thinking. An ant makes sacrifices today for a better tomorrow.
However, a grasshopper only thinks about the here and now. Grasshoppers are related to the locust family. Locusts just keep on eating until there is nothing left. Locusts leave destruction in their wake. What about tomorrow? Locusts and grasshoppers, do not think about tomorrow. They maintain that there is no tomorrow. The only thing that matters to grasshoppers is today. “Drink and be merry today” is the grasshopper philosophy.
Now we can begin to understand Rashi who said that the spies were compared to ants, even thought the verse and the Gemara said that they were compared to grasshoppers.
The Re’eim (Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrachi, 1455-1525, Constantinople) who wrote a master commentary on Rashi says that there was a misprint in this Rashi and we should change the word “Nemalim (ants) to Chagavim (grasshoppers) in order to keep Rashi consistent with the verse and with the Gemara.
However, perhaps we could suggest an alternative understanding of Rashi without tampering with his text.
The ten evil spies were the ones who brought the fruits back to the Jews in the Midbar (Sota, chap. 7, “Eilu Ne’emarin”, pg. 34a). The two good spies did not. This shows us that the ten spies were interested in the physical aspects of Eretz Yisrael. They wanted to know what Israel had to offer them materialistically. How many meters would their houses be? Do they have backyards? How soft is the toilet paper in Israel? How much does milk cost? What are the malls like?
The head space of the ten spies was that they lived in the here and the now. As such, they wanted to know how many comforts Eretz Yisrael would bring them. Obviously, one’s financial status is a legitimate concern. However, those aspects are not the goals of life.
The goal of life should be a person’s spiritual standing. Since Yehoshua and Kalev did not bring any fruits back, they demonstrated that their primary concern was with the spiritual component of Eretz Yisrael, not with the physical. They wanted to know how much they could grow in Torah, Avoda, Middos Tovos, and Chesed in Eretz Yisrael.
Therefore, when the pasuk and Gemara say that they were compared to grasshoppers, it is referring to the ten bad spies. Like grasshoppers, the ten spies were only interested in the here and now. They were not thinking about the greater tomorrow.
However, when Rashi says that they were compared to ants, he is referring to the two good spies. Like ants, Yehoshua and Kalev were more interested in their eternal futures.
Rashi is not disagreeing with the pasuk and with the Gemara. On the contrary, he is complimenting them. The pasuk and the Gemara only spoke about the ten spies. Therefore, Rashi finished the thought by telling us about the nature of the two remaining spies.
Perhaps this could be another reason why Yehoshua is often referred to as Yehoshua Bin Nun. Besides the idea we mentioned above about Yehoshua being connected to the letter Nun of the Name Adni, the “Bin Nun” part of Yehoshua also comes to teach us that he possessed the hashkafa (outlook) of the ant. We can see this from the words, “Bin Nun.” The letter “nun” stands for the word “Nemala” (ant; the first letter of the word “nemala” is a nun). Therefore, “Bin Nun” means that he was the “son of the nemala,” meaning that he took on the properties of the ant with respect to saving up for the future.
Perhaps we could add a little bit more. When Shlomo Hamelech said, “Leich El Nemala” (Go to the ant), the words, “El Nemala” have the acronym of aleph nun. When reversed, the letters aleph nun become a word, “Nuh.” These two letters of “Nuh” (nun and aleph) were the letters of Yehoshua and Kalev who came from the Tribes of Ephraim and Yehuda respectively (as we mentioned above from the Ben Ish Chai).
So, when Moshe prayed, “Yigdal Nuh,” he meant to say that these two letters of “Nuh” (nun and aleph) were not damaged because of the fact that Yehoshua and Kalev went “El Nemala” (to the ant) learning from it to concerned about the future. In other words, Yehoshua and Kalev lived up to the “Nuh” expectation by going “El Nemala” (in the path of the ant).
The lesson that we are learning from all of this is that every move that we make in this world should be with the thought, “How is this going to impact my future and my eternity.”
Now we can understand the Midrash we mentioned earlier which connected the verse, “Send forth men,” to the verse, “Their eyes are smeared from seeing.” The Midrash is trying to say that, unfortunately, most of those men who were sent did not see clearly. Their eyes being smeared means that they could not see very far. It was as though they had their blinders on which only enabled them to see what was right in front of them. This near sightedness did not allow them to see how Eretz Yisrael would impact their ultimate futures.
The Slonimer Rebbe (Rabbi Noach Shalom Berzovsky, 1911 Belarus-2000 Israel) in his Nesivos Shalom adds that Moshe Rabbenu’s motivation in sending the spies was to find out more about the spiritual opportunities that this Land would provide for them.
However, since it says that Hashem created a world of opposites (Koheles, 7:14), Moshe also instructed the spies to find out about the unique spiritual pitfalls (the Sitra d’Achara) that are inherent within this Land. Moshe wanted to know these things so that he could help himself and the people prepare for the ultimate battle, the milchemes hayetzer (the battle that we must wage against our negative impulses) that they would be faced with in the Land.
This was not the motivation of the majority of the people nor of the majority of spies. Most of the people and most of the spies were motivated to check out the Land to determine how this Land would pamper their physical needs.
It turns out that there were two different shlichus’s (agencies) that were going on. There was the shlichus of Hashem and Moshe Rabbenu who were interested in the spiritual properties of the Land (the ant shlichus), and then there was the shlichus of the majority of the people and the majority of the spies who were interested in the physical components of the land (the grasshopper shlichus).
The Slonimer Rebbe says that this explains why Hashem said to Moshe, “Shlach Lecha” (send for yourself; Parshas Shelach, 13:2). Reish Lakish says that the word “Lecha” means “Leda’atecha” (according to the way that you [Moshe] are thinking; Sota, chap. 7, “Eilu Ne’emarin”, pg. 34b). In other words, Hashem told Moshe to send people whose thinking were aligned with Moshe’s thinking, which was about ruchniyus (spirituality).
The Nesivos Shalom adds that this is what Moshe meant when he instructed the spies to find out if the inhabitants of the Land were strong or weak. Moshe did not care about their physical strength because Moshe knew that they were living in a cocoon of miracles which would floor even the greatest of giants. Rather, Moshe just wanted to know if the kochos hatuma (impure forces) were strong or weak, because he wanted to be prepared to face those spiritual challenges.
The Slonimer Rebbe continues to say that this also explains why Moshe instructed the spies to see if the land was good or not. Moshe already knew that the Land was physically good because Hashem had told him that it is “a Land flowing with milk and honey.” Rather, Moshe just wanted to know if the nature of this Land raised good people or bad people. Moshe wanted to know more about the spiritual energy of the Land so that he could prepare himself and the people for the challenges ahead.
Now we can understand why Moshe chose spies who were the Roshei Yeshiva and Chassidic Rebbes who had no training in the spy industry. It is because Moshe did not send these spies for the conventional meaning of the word. These men were not sent to find the weak points of their enemy’s defense systems. They were not sent in order to collect various data and information regarding facts on the ground so that they could create and execute a more strategic battle plan.
Rather, these men were sent to spy out the spiritual nature of the Land. They were meant to determine which places would be ideal for the establishment of Yeshivos and Batei Midrashim. Where would the best places be for building thriving Torah communities? Where would the mikvaos go?
Even the most decorated generals might not be fit for such a mission. Who would be the best people to send on such an assignment? The Roshei Yeshiva, the Chassidic Rebbes, the Poskim and the Dayanim. They were the Nesiim (spiritual leaders) of the Jewish people. They would be best suited to assess the spiritual circumstances of each locale. They would be best fit to advise what type of Torah institutions should be erected in each and every area. (Nesivos Shalom).
Regrettably, most of those Nesiim turned. The majority of those spies got distracted by the materialistic features of the Land, and that became their primary interests.
Perhaps we could add that the reason why the sin of the spies was considered to be such a mega crime, on par with the sin of the Golden Calf, is because we are talking about people who belonged to the Dor Deah (Generation of Knowledge). These people had greater knowledge of God that any other generation in Jewish history. This was because of the revelation of Hashem that they experienced at Har Sinai.
The definition of people who are knowledgeable (da’as; chochma) is that they are capable of seeing the future. That is what it says in Meseches Tamid (chap. 4, “Lo Hayu Koftin”, pg. 32a), “Who is a wise person? One who can foresee the future.” This does not refer to prophetic powers. Rather, it simply means to say that a wise person can tell how his actions today will have ramifications for his tomorrow. As such, he lives life today in such a way that nothing comes back to haunt him down the line.
Therefore, of all people, we would have expected that the Dor Deah would have cultivated this forward thinking. When even they failed to ponder their futures, it was considered to be a great disaster.
This is why Kalev chose to run specifically to Chevron to pray. It is because Chevron contains this energy of contemplating the future. We can already see a hint to this idea in the name Chevron. When you move the last letter of the word Chevron (the letter nun) away from the rest of the word, and then rearrange the first letters, it spells, “Chibur Nun,” which means, “connect with the nun.” The “nun” here stands for “Nemala” (ant). Therefore, Chevron means to connect (chibur) with the lesson learned from the ant (nun, nemala).
It is worth pointing out that by each and every one of the Avos, the word “Nuh” (please, or now) is used (see Parshas Vayeira, 18:8; Parshas Toldos, 27:19; 25:30, and 27:9. Either they [the Avos] said the word Nuh or the word Nuh was said to them). Since the word Nuh is spelled Nun Aleph, it serves as the acronym for “El Nemala” (Go to the ant [to learn the lesson of forward thinking from it]). Since the word Nuh appears by each of the Avos, it teaches us that this was the way that they lived their lives. Like the ant, they worked hard today to save up for their eternal tomorrows.
This is why Kalev went specifically to Chevron to pray. Kalev already saw that ten of the spies shifted and began to think like grasshoppers. Therefore, he davka went to Chevron in order to be mechaber (attach himself) to the nun (nemala; ant) and soak up the energy of the Avos (who were Nuh people) so that he would be able to withstand the temptation of the other ten spies who already adopted the philosophy of the grasshopper.
Even Kalev’s name indicates that he concentrated on what is truly important [the eternal future] just like the ant does. The name “Kalev” is spelled, kaf, lamed, beis. We can divide his name in half by using the letter lamed for both halves. Let us do this together right now.
The first two letters of “Kalev” (kaf lamed) spells, “Kol” (all; entire). The last two letters of Kalev (lamed beis; using the lamed again) spells “leiv” (heart). Together, “kol leiv” means “with his entire heart.” What did Kalev do with his entire heart? The answer is as follows.
The first two letters of Kalev’s name, kaf lamed, have the numerical value of fifty. The letter in the Hebrew alphabet which equals fifty is the letter nun. Therefore, we can exchange the letters kaf lamed of Kalev for a letter nun. The remaining letters of Kalev’s name are lamed beis, which spell leiv (heart).
This teaches us that, with his entire heart (leiv), Kalev focused on the nun which stands for nemala (ant), learning the lesson of working hard today for our eternal tomorrow.
So, my request is, Nuh (please), let us look El Nemala for even more guidance in training ourselves to prepare even more so for the future with every step that we take during our shlichus in this world, and thus increase the strength of Ado – dash – Noy Who will bring us all back to Eretz Yisrael, in which we will reach the nun (fiftieth) level of kedusha, together with Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov.