Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Parshas Shlach 5769- Intention directs the deed!

This weeks parsha contains the famous incident with the spies:  Hashem tells Moshe to send out spies into the land of Israel, to see that the land is good and to investigate it prior to their conquering of it.  Hashem specifies to Moshe that the spies should be princes of the tribes.  the spies go out, and when they come back, ten give a fear filled negative report while Caleb and Yehoshua praise the land, its bounty and call for the nation to immediately descend to conquer it.  The other ten incote the people, they come close to killing Caleb and Yehoshua, Moshe and Aharon pray to deflect the nation.  The result- Hashem wants to destroy the nation and begin again with Moshe- Moshe gets Hashem to forgive the nation- but all the men over the age of 20, with the exclusion of Caleb and Yehoshua, or sentenced to die in the desert without entering the land of Israel.

Ramban raises a question on this and rashi’s comment on the incident, that merely sending spies was sinful.  After all, if it was sinful, then why would Hashem have commanded it?  Later on in sefer Devarim we read that the people had approached Moshe, he had then prayed and ask hashem if he should send spies, to which he was told the start of this parshah “Send spies for YOURSELF”.  it is that last word that Rashi sees as being a sign that this was not according to Hashem’s wishes, but rather something he allowed, but did not approve of.  Ramban takes a different stance- he sees this command as coming from Hashem, as Hashem wished the peopel to see the bounty of the land, to confirm that he was true to his promise to bring them to a land of prosperity, one flowing with milk and honey.  That is why the Torah emphasises they came there during the harvesting of the grapes, and mentions other produce of the land.

Another indication that the spies were according to the will of Hashem comes from the Midrash where it says that it was at thos point that Iyov died and, as a great and rich man, the citizens of Canaan were all mourning him and the cities were open, with many people travelling between them eulogising him, so twelve strangers, the Jewish spies, went unremarked.  Furthermore, there is a principle that we do not rely on miracles:  In war generals will send spies to see routes, roads, what targets ill be easiest to attack first- and these spies then act as guides later on. 

So, what went wrong?  The spies were sent according to Hashem’s wishes, they are learned men, princes of the tribes who learned directly from Moshe and acted as judges.  There report, and Hashem’s reaction to it gives us an indication as to where they erred- they saw the physical might of the inhabitants and decided it would be too difficult.  Hashem’s reactrion is:  “after all the signs and wonders I did in taking them out of egypt, the plagues, the splitting of the sea, the gicing of the Torah, they still have doubts?  when will this nation understand that physical might is meaningless in respect to spiritual might?”  The midrash gives an alternative expanation:  The Jews in the desert had it easy.  They were clothed by Hashem, they were fed by Hashem, the clouds that surrounded them protected them from danger- in short, after centuries of hard work and oppresion, they were now living the easy life.  They knew that once they entered in israel this easy life would end- there would be battles, wars, land to farm, clothes to weave etc.  They wanted an excuse to continue the easy life.

Thus we see the factor of intention enter into the deeds.  Moshe did not sin in sending the spies- his intentions were pure.  Like Hashem, he wanted the spies to confirm that everything promised to them was true.  He wanted the spies to help plan the conquering of the land, to learn what was necessary to wage a war.  His intentions were good- as were those of calen and Yehoshua.  On the other hand, the intentions of the other spies were not.  Thus although they, Caleb and Yehoshuah all did the same actions- their intentions made the results very different!  In the end, intentions corrupted the good that could have come from their actions.

We need to learn a lesson from this:  when we perform an action- be it a mitzvah or anything else, what is our intention behind it?  Do we do actions with a good heart and pure intention, or do we abrogate any good that could come from an action by having impure intentions?

Perhaps one of the best examples of good actions with corrupt intentions are thos of the Messianic Jews.  many of them love to claim they perform more mitzvot and keep more Torah commandments than jews in the liberal movements.  they claim this to try and claim legitmacy.  After all, if they follow the Torah how can anyone say they are not Jewish?  It all comes down to intention.  By inserting Paganistic concepts, by worshiping in a manner that ius outside of Judaism- their intention is impure.  Any good they may achieve through performing Mitzvot and obeying the Torah is abrogated- turned into dust by an intention that is incorrect.  The end of the parshah emphasises this- it is the command to wear tzitzit, the last paragraph of the Shema that is so familiar to us all.- to wear tzitit, to see them to remember all the mitzvot.  it is pointed out that the word tzitzit is equal to the number 600, and with the 5 knots and 8 threads, we see 613 on each corner- the mitzvot of the Torah.

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June 19, 2009 - Posted by | Torah | , , , , , , , , , ,

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