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Lives in the Balance

By: Rav Michael Unterberg

Those of us who are Religious Zionists often rely on the story of the meraglim’s failure to bolster our cause. Look at what happens, we claim, when leaders cause the people to despair. If only they had instead inspired the nation to march bravely forth into the Promised Land. Confidence in our success is no vice, we feel, and timidity in achieving our goals is no virtue. And indeed, this is all true. 

But we would do well to also remember a lesson learned later in the sidra. This is the sin of a group who arose in the morning after the terrible verdict, forty years of wandering, was delivered. We know them as the ma’apilim. They decided to reject the verdict, and attempt to conquer the land anyway. Although warned by Moshe that this was doomed to failure because G-d did not approve it, they decide to bravely head out. It is needless to add, that they were promptly slaughtered, as per Moshe’s warning. 

I would argue that another Biblical exemplar of this lesson is Hanania Ben Azzur. In Yirmiyahu chapter 28, he claims that the domination of the Babylonian Empire will fall. His prediction is that all Jews taken to Bavel and all of the stolen klay haMikdash will be restored to Yehuda within two years. Hanania is so sure of these things, that he claims them in the name of Hashem. When Yirmiyahu essentially tells him, “we’ll see who’s right, and who is really speaking in the name of God”, Hanania assaults him. It seems that Hanania was so convinced of his rectitude, that he felt he could claim Divine sanction and assault a true prophet. He assumed that his perceptions were real and true, and even claimed them in the name of God. It is needless to add, that he died soon afterwards, before the Mikdash was destroyed, and the Jews dragged into exile. 

There is a story about President Lincoln being asked if he thought that G-d was on the North’s side in the American Civil War. Lincoln’s response is recorded to have been: “Sir, my concern is not whether G-d is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on G-d’s side, for G-d is always right.” 

The Jewish Nation faces many challenges ahead. In the long run, our prophets have assured us of a glorious future. In Israel or the exile, we often disagree over tactics and strategies in the short term. We should, of course, work tirelessly in our efforts to get closer to our goals on communal and national levels. And we should have the confidence that the meraglim lacked in pursuing those goals. But whatever our personal convictions, we must avoid the sin of the ma’apilim as well. We are obligated to have open minds and hearts, humbly listening to those who disagree with us. 

We must live in the balance between these two sins in parashat Shlach Lecha. Otherwise, we might, G-d forbid, end up relearning the lessons of the destruction of the second Mikdash. 

Shabbat Shalom





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