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Chosen by G-d
by Rabbi Heschel Greenberg
One of the most difficult stories in the Torah to comprehend concerns the spies handpicked by Moshe to scout the land of Canaan. Ten of the 12 spies gave a horribly slanderous report upon their return. Their negative depiction of the land caused nearly the entire male population of Jews to cry and spurn the gift of the Land of Desire that G-d had promised them. As a consequence of their rebellion, the spies died in a plague and the rest of the Jewish community, aged 20 and older, were destined to die in the desert while the conquest of the land was delayed for almost 40 years.

Commentators have grappled with this enigmatic episode. How could such righteous people have turned so dramatically against Moshe and G-d?

To answer this question it is necessary to explore the Chassidic approach to this entire episode. The spies’ rebellion was not motivated by their lowliness. On the contrary, it was a product of their extremely high spiritual state. They could not countenance living a primarily physical existence, which living in and inhabiting the land would entail. They preferred the purified spiritual environment of the desert, surrounded by clouds of glory and subsisting on heavenly Manna.

The Land of Canaan was known for the depravity of its inhabitants prior to the conquest. Such extensive impurity so pervaded the landscape that it would be most difficult, if not impossible, for the Jewish nation to conquer the land and transform it into a Holy Land. The odds were stacked against them.

To “soften the turf” and remove the effects of the moral depravity of the Canaanites, Moshe sent the spies, who were righteous, moral and spiritually sophisticated scouts. Their task was to purify the air in preparation for the conquest by the remainder of the Jewish people.

The spies, however, were led astray by their lack of self-confidence. After being confronted with the ugly reality of the land’s degeneracy and decadence, they were convinced that they could not change it for the better. They feared it would prove morally fatal to the Jewish people.

The spies, tragically, forgot that their power and spirituality alone would not pave the way for the conquest. It was Moshe’s inspiration and G-dly energy that empowered them in their mission. When they saw the formidable and daunting challenge of the land’s degradation with their own eyes, it hit them hard and they began to doubt their ability to succeed. Had they remained connected to Moshe and his spiritual power, they would not have lost their self-respect and determination to triumph in their task.

We are living in an age obsessively preoccupied with self-esteem. And yet we see so many people who fall apart when confronted by a challenge. The problems will overwhelm us when we fail to grasp that self-esteem must be replaced with G-d esteem. We are the last generation of exile and the first generation of Redemption, chosen by G-d to lead the way into this miraculous Age. We must not lose our confidence in victory over the forces of exile.

How do we develop this confidence when we look around the world and see so much strife and negativity?

The answer, again, is that we have been chosen by G-d to be the emissaries of the Moshiach of our generation, just as the spies were chosen by their Moshe. He is with us in our exile, but will imminently take us out of it. Now when we confront all the obstacles we can be confident that we will surmount them because we go with the power of Moshiach. Even one additional positive act, word or even thought, on our part, when suffused with our awareness of the identity of the one who sent us, can tip the supernal scales for the good and bring salvation to the entire world.


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