Rabbi Yakov Haber
Rabbi Yakov Haber

External and Internal Truth

Moshe Rabbeinu commences his detailed review of the four decades Klal Yisrael spent in the "midbar hagadol vehanora" (Devarim 1:19) in our parasha. One of the first episodes he mentions is the sin of the meraglim who returned with a slanderous report about the Holy Land dissuading the Jewish people from entering it. Among the several significant differences which exist between the narrative as recorded originally in parashas Shelach and as reviewed by Moshe here (see Rashi and Ramban on Shelach at length), one of them concerns the way the initial report of the spies is presented.

"And they took in their hand of the fruit of the land and brought [it] down to us; and they brought a report back to us and said, "The land is good which Hashem our G-d is giving us'" (Devarim 1:25). This is immediately followed by the nation's refusal to enter: "And you refused to go up and you rebelled against Hashem, your G-d's word" (Devarim 1:26). Later the Torah records that the Jewish people lamented: "How can we go up, our brethren have dissolved our hearts saying, "A nation greater than us and towering over us, great and fortified cities to the heavens, and the children of giants we have also seen there!'" (Devarim 1:28). At first glance, this recounting of events is extremely puzzling. Moshe records the report of the spies as being wholly positive; nonetheless, the nation refused to enter the land. But this is not what happened! Parashas Shelach records that the spies did say initially that the land was good and this is its fruit (Bamidbar 13:27). But this was immediately followed by fright tactics scaring the nation about the nature of the people (Bamidbar 13:28). Only Yehoshua and Kalev tried in vain to reestablish the Jews' confidence that since Hashem was with them, there was nothing to fear (Bamidbar 13:30, 14:7-8). This was then followed by the spies bringing more slanderous reports and discouragement to the people (Bamidbar 13:32-33). Some of this is alluded to here in the words of the people to Moshe quoted above. But the negative reaction of the people is presented here without first recounting the spies' negative report. Why did Moshe omit this crucial unfolding of events?

Rashi (quoting Sifrei), addressing this problem, states tersely, "Who were the ones who recounted its goodness? Yehoshua and Kalev". Ramban questions this interpretation. Would it not be expected for the Jewish people to trust the report of ten over the report of two? Ramban presents an alternate explanation that the report stating "the land was good" is a reference to the initial report of all of the spies. The reason that Moshe does not reference the "dibas ha'aretz", the false, bad report that the "land devours its inhabitants" (Bamidbar 13:32) is that this report was spread privately from tent to tent without Moshe's knowledge. Hence, he did not know about it! What remains difficult is the omission of the second part of the spies initial statement: "however, the nation is mighty, the cities are greatly fortified, and we have seen the offspring of the giant!" (Bamidbar 13:28). On this Ramban comments that it is referenced here by the nation's response "our brethren have dissolved our hearts..." (Devarim 1:28). But we can still ask why this second statement was omitted in Moshe's presentation of the initial words of the spies. It is this precise point that Gur Aryeh (Maharal) raises in defense of Rashi's position.

Ramban, in defending Rashi's interpretation, explains that since Hashem had promised a "good land" and "the greatest and most righteous of the messengers" verified this, they should have believed that the others submitted a negative report because of their lack of courage. Maharal (Gur Aryeh) proposes that Yehoshua's and Kalev's positive report was a milsa d'avidei l'agluyei, a matter which would be proven to be true upon entry into the Land and, therefore, was more likely to represent the truth. By contrast, the other spies' negative report, intended to prevent entry into the land would never be subject to proof as to its veracity and hence was more likely to be false.

The explanations of these commentaries teach a fundamental principle in the workings of free choice. On the one hand, people are certainly influenced by others' arguments and opinions especially concerning matters about which they are personally unaware or not fully aware. But on the other hand, our Creator has implanted within us a sense of moral truth. Chazal (Nidda 30b) teach us that Hashem provides an angel to teach us the whole Torah before our birth. At times in history, Hashem himself, through his prophets, directly informs us as to the correct path. This was the case in the midbar and specifically regarding the goodness of the Land of Israel.

However, since this internal sense is often clouded by the yeitzer hara confusing us into thinking that bad is good and good is bad - sometimes manifested by misguided individuals who attempt to convince us of falsehood - there is often a need to seek righteous individuals' input in arriving at correct decisions. Fascinatingly, the above commentaries imply that even the explicit word of G-d itself would not be considered sufficient to expect those hearing it to follow its dictates had there not been a human "voice of truth" verifying it. If Yehoshua and Kalev had not brought back a positive report, the implication is that the Jewish people would not be held accountable for rejecting the Promised Land even though Hashem assured them of its goodness! Mesillas Yesharim presents his well-known analogy of the one who already navigated a horticultural maze being in a uniquely qualified position to guide others as to how to traverse it. Each in their own way, the above commentaries explain exactly why Yeshoshua's and Kalev's report - or even the evil spies initial statement itself - should have been more convincing in verifying the Divine promise over the contradictory reports negating it.

Even at times that there is no explicit Divine prophecy concerning a course of action, oftentimes the internal voice engraved into us by our Creator directs us to the truth. But in order to avoid the confusion created by the yeitzer hara, Hashem always provides an outside voice of truth verifying what we already internally know to be true. In rebuking the nation for rejecting Eretz Yisrael, Moshe sharply makes this point by presenting only the positive report concerning the Land. To be sure, the majority presented a negative report, but as long as there was a "voice of truth", however small, verifying that which was already known to be true through the word of G-d - here made explicit but sometimes more subtly internally known by us, the people could be expected to accept the truth.[1]

In a related manner, Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev teaches that the name of Shabbos Chazon alludes to a deep concept. On this Shabbos, each Jew is shown a vision of the third Temple in all of its glory. He explains with an analogy: After a king provided his young, wild son with royal clothing, the prince promptly tore them to shreds. Again, the king gave his beloved son an additional set of garments which were also promptly ripped. Finally, the king, after arranging for a third, even more magnificent outfit to be tailored, did not give it to his son but merely showed it to him at different times distant from each other. This caused the son to excitedly await the opportunity to wear those garments. Eventually he matured, and the garments were finally presented to him which he wore regally without further ado. So too, explains Rav Levi Yitzchak, due to our sins we destroyed the first and second Temples. To assure that the third and final one would be fully appreciated and enjoyed as the ultimate place for us to meet the Divine presence in this world, during the lengthy period of exile we are merely shown a vision of this magnificent entity each year. Rav Menachem Mendel Shneerson zt"l, the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, explains this teaching based on the Gemara (Megilla 3a) that even though most are not aware of this vision, but mazlei chazi, our neshama shel ma'ala, heavenly soul, is fully aware of it, and through the soul, the vision "rings" to the rest of our personality and existence. A faint echo of that pre-Tisha B'Av exalted vision helps keep the Jew connected to his Creator with a sense of longing to return to the former glory of nisuin with Hakadosh Baruch Hu (see Ta'anis 26b). But, as mentioned above, negative influences can suppress this magnificent internal vision. It is our mission to listen to the Yehoshua's and Kalev's of the world, the Torah and our chachmei haTorah to reawaken the internal truth which lies inside each of us. May we merit the outward manifestation of the kisei kavod marom merishon, mekom mikdashenu (Yirmiyahu 17:12), the glorious Throne of G-d exalted from the beginning of time, the place of our Temple, speedily in our days!


[1]Also see Kovetz Ma'amarim, by Rav Elchanan Wassermen zt"l, in his crucial essay "Ma'amar al HaEmuna".

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