Avos Ubanim

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Shelach
Avos Ubanim


The story of the spies has always remained intriguing. The spies were handpicked by Moshe Rabbenu. They were the Nisiim (leaders or princes of their tribes). This means that they were supposed to be on a much higher spiritual level than the average person. They were supposed to have had a deeper faith and trust in God than the common person. And yet, ten of those righteous people fell to such a low place that they (the spies) claimed that it was even too hard for God Himself to overcome the Canaanite kingdoms (Nu. 13:31, Rashi citing Rebbi Chanina bar Papa, Sota, chap. 7, "Eilu Ne'emarin", pg. 35a). This was outright heresy! How could such holy people stoop to such a low place?

We will begin by citing a famous question, "Who is a wise person?" Although there may be several answers to this query, we will share the Talmud's answer. There it says that a wise person is, "Haroeh Es Hanolad" (one who sees the future; Tamid, chap. 4, "Lo Hayu Koftin", pg. 32a).

The Bechor Shor (Rabbenu Yosef ben Yitzchak, a 12th century Tosafist) explains this Gemara in the following way. All sins have two categories: 1) Avos (principal or primary sins) and 2) Toldos (secondary sins which are sub-categories of the Avos).

For example, worshipping a foreign god is the Av sin of idolatry. However, the Talmud says that becoming arrogant is as if one committed the crime of idolatry (Sota, chap. 1, "Hamekaneh", pg. 4b, Rebbi Yochanan in the name of Rebbi Shimon ben Yochai). Therefore, arrogance is a Tolda sin of idolatry.

Now, the Yetzer Hara (evil inclination) knows that he cannot get us to commit Av sins straight away. Imagine the Yetzer Hara trying to persuade an average person to literally commit murder. The person would drive such a Yetzer Hara away instantaneously.

Therefore, the Yetzer Hara applies a different method. He convinces the person to speak just one Lashon Hara (derogatory speech about another). Or, he tempts the person to crack just one joke about somebody else, embarrassing him publicly. These sins are the Toldos of murder.

Since Ben Azai teaches us that, "One sin leads to another sin" (Avos 4:2), eventually, the person may just be ready to cross the threshold and commit the actual crime of murder. Once a person transgresses the Toldos, it's a slippery slope which can bring him to violating the Avos as well.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this is how ten out of the twelve righteous spies became heretics. It all began by them falling into the trap of arrogance.

The Zohar (Shelach pg. 158a) says that the Nisiim knew that once they would enter the Land, they would lose their positions and new leaders would be appointed over the tribes. This is because Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) needs a different type of leader. What worked in Chutz La'aretz (outside the Land of Israel), might not necessarily work in Eretz Yisrael.

The Nisiim were faced with a difficult test. Were they to advise the nation to enter the Land, it would seal their fate. They would lose their prestigious positions. Ten of the spies did not stand up to this challenge.

Once they transgressed the Tolda of idolatry with their arrogance, it wasn't long before they became outright heretics by claiming that the inhabitants of the Land were even stronger than Hashem Himself. After all, one sin leads to another.

The Ropshitzer Rebbe (Zerah Kodesh) adds that this is why Hashem stressed that spies be sent to "Eretz Canaan" (the Canaanite Land; Nu. 13:2), even though they already knew which land was under discussion. The name "Canaan" is related to the word "Hachna'a" (humility). Eretz Canaan has a way of making people humble, if we are open to it. Hashem was hinting to them that when they scout out the Land, they should absorb the energy of "Canaan" by cultivating "Hachna'a" so that they would be spared from also transgressing idolatry through their heresy.

This idea fits in beautifully with the Ba'al Haturim (Nu. 13:2) who teaches us that when Hashem commanded Moshe with the words, "Shelach Lecha Anashim" (send forth men; Nu. 13:2), He hinted to Moshe that those men be "Chachamim" (wise). We can see this hint by taking the last letter of each of those words which are ches, chuf, and mem. Together they spell the word "Chacham."

The reason why Hashem stressed that the spies must be Chachamim is because God wanted them to live up to the teaching, "Who is a wise person? One who sees the nolad." Hashem wanted them to see the first definition of "nolad" which is the "Tolda" sin of arrogance. Hashem also wanted them to see the second definition of "nolad" which is the "future." Hashem wanted them to realize that, in the future, their arrogance would lead them to idolatrous heresy. Unfortunately, most of the spies did not take this lesson to heart.

Perhaps we could add that this fits into Yonasan ben Uziel (Nu. 13:16) who says that when Moshe saw Hosheah bin Nun's humility, he changed his name to Yehoshuah. The reason why his humility would lead to this name change can be understood by pointing out that the whole change in name was by adding the letter yud at the beginning. The letter yud is the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet. This teaches us that Yehoshuah achieved humility by making himself small.

Yehoshuah advised that they enter the Land. He said that they could overcome the nations living there. Yehoshuah's vote to enter the Land came with a price. He would lose his position as leader of his tribe. This did not deter him. He remained humble and was willing to surrender his position. The small letter yud was a fitting addition to his name.

Perhaps we could add that since Yehoshuah ran away from honor by stating that they should enter the Land thus giving up his position, honor pursued him because he eventually became, not just the leader of a tribe, but he became the leader of the entire Jewish people (Eiruvin, chap. 1, "Mavoi Shehi Gavoah", pg. 13b).

In order to apply this teaching in a practical way, let us try to refrain from at least one anger a day. This will be considered as if we abstained from the sin of idolatry itself. Let us try to refrain from at least one Lashon Hara a day. This will be considered as if we withheld from the sin of murder itself. Let us try to withdraw from at least one inappropriate look a day. This will be considered as if we desisted from the sin of immorality itself.

This passivity from engaging in the Tolda sin which is tantamount to refraining from the Av sin, will cause Hashem to reward us as if we did an equally great Av mitzva (See Kedushin, chap. 1, "Ha-isha Niknis", pg. 39b). This process will also help us repeat it again and again because one mitzvah leads to another.

So, may we all be blessed with the strength to spy out any Toldos sins within our personalities and eradicate them. May we also be blessed to do even Toldos mitzvos and thus be credited with having done huge Avos mitzvos, and thereby deserve to hold on to, and even expand, our Eretz Canaan, under the right leadership.