If I proposed an assignment to students to read an inspiring autobiography or stories about great people or sages, we can predict that the responses of the readers will vary. Some will feel that the impression they get from the great person is so superior, that is unobtainable in their lives. It could actually make the reader feel the interior. This type of person will not even bother to try emulating the good things in the story and will not choose to improve one's own life, in actions and behavior. A second group will feel inspired, believing that they could also achieve these great skills and accomplishments; of course with effort and help from Heaven. A third group might be so highly convinced that the people that they are reading about resemble who they currently are, that they will claim that they are just as worthy as the historic giants they may be reading about.
This parable can also explain to a degree what takes place in this week's parsha with the story of the 'spies' (meraglim). Perhaps, we can learn how one should deal with the challenges in life. How should we approach difficult situations in our journey towards "Tikkun Olam"?
Who Is Your "Tour Guide"?
It all begins when Am Yisrael sends leaders of the tribes to survey the land of Canaan (Bamidbar 13:2). Why is this so significant? That is because this action is so different from the original plan. Just one week ago, in Parshat Behaalotecha, we read that only two years after leaving Egypt, G-d's plan was to have Am Yisrael enter the Land of Eretz Yisrael within three days! Therefore, Hashem had them walking three times faster than a regular human pace. Surrounded by a special cloud and the Divine presence, they were heading straight to Eretz Yisrael (Rashi Bamidbar, 10:33). A miraculous anan (cloud) leveled mountains and raised valleys. In this ideal protected atmosphere, they were not even supposed to use weapons (Rashi: Devarim, 1:8). They were simply commanded to enter the land and settle it. Hashem was going to take care of all the hard work for them. The "tour guide" was not a human being– but rather the Holy Ark. The Torah even uses the same verb as the spies to describe the Ark's function- "latur", or 'search out' (Bamidbar, 10:33). The Ark was three days ahead of them, already waiting for them in Eretz Yisrael. Moshe even asked for the Aron (Ark) to wait for the people (Rashi, Bamidbar 10:34).
Now we can understand the trouble the nation is heading for. Is the tour guide human or is it the Ark? If led by human guides, they will end up analyzing and opening on the current situation or things to consider, i.e., will it be easy to capture in battle? Is it good for agriculture? What are the consequences? What will the future bring?
The Gap between Heaven and Earth
When the spies arrive in Israel (Canaan) they see a large population of giants. The people and the fruit are massive (Bamidbar 10: 23-28). These dimensions are unrelatable to the Jewish people. How could they ever "jump" into such great shoes? This can resemble the struggles that every one of us has in life where we don't feel that we are capable of "jumping " higher to get to our next stage. How do we respond? How should we respond? The parsha gives us a few "models":
Some of the Jewish people demand to return to Egypt (14:4). How can this be so! They were lowly slaves over there! Yes, they were slaves but at least the Egypt that they knew was a world that fit into their human understanding. Therefore, some would choose to forgo stepping up to the "Erertz Yisrael level" because of the human dimension. They could not combine heaven and earth, so they chose earth.
Some chose to remain in the desert. In essence, they chose to stay in heaven, surrounded by the miraculous Holy Clouds, and other daily, ongoing miracles. There was no desire to try and connect heaven to earth (Admor Hazaken, Torah or, Shelach).
Yehoshua and Kalev claim that the Nation can indeed reach this great level of life. Yehoshua claims we can surely succeed- with God's help (14:8-9). They counsel the people not to worry as there is Divine Providence. We will take out our swords and weapons. We will have to fight our enemies and grow our crops on earth but we will maintain our connection between heaven and earth. This spiritual energy will give us the strength that we need to beat the giants.
Kalev is ideologically together with Yehoshua, but his claim is a bit different; Kalev visits Hevron and the Cave of the Patriarchs to pray and get inspiration to succeed (Rashi, 23:22). He is basically saying- I am a giant! My great grandparents were giants so I can also emulate them and live up to the high level of Eretz Yisrael. I am not as tiny as I feel. If we are told to go up to heaven, then we will bring ladders and climb up (Rashi 13:30). In other words, we are capable of advancing and elevating ourselves. Once we start, we will discover the significant powers that exist inside our unique character.
The 'Maapilim' (those who pushed ahead) decide that they are going to make Aliyah whether Hashem agrees or not. They travel and advance without the Ark against Hashem's word (14:40-45). They feel that they do not need His approval. Unlike Kalev, who leaned on the forefathers, the Maapillim don't take this path of advancement. They consider themselves worthy on their right, already giants. Although they might have had good intentions, this was not the proper way of entering Eretz Yisrael and they predictably fail.
Dealing with Challenges in Life
To conclude, this week's parsha gives us an amazing understanding of how one should approach the many challenges in life. a. Do not give up and rely on your former low level (Egypt) b. Do not avoid the challenge by opting for the status quo in staying in the perfect environment, namely, the desert. c. Don't get confused into thinking that you are worthy and have nothing that needs fixing and improvement (Maapilim). The right approach is to believe in your powers, believe that Hashem will help you in a natural manner and that you can climb upwardly step by step and with great success (Yehoshua and Kalev). We learn what is the correct path on our journey to connect heaven and earth in Eretz Yisrael, the land of the giants.
Rabbi Yonatan Kirsch was born in NJ but grew up in Ginot Shomron after his parents moved to Israel. He teaches at the Hesder Yeshiva in Sderot, where he lives with his wife and family, after receiving his semicha from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. He is author of the book "Ma'alot Hamikve", published by Dabri Shir, and served as a combat soldier, is a certified tour guide.