It’s Solely G-d’s World

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By Rabbi Naftoly Bier

The episode of the מרגלים, the twelve “spies” sent by משה רבינו to scout the land of present-day Israel is fraught with many perplexing questions.

They are introduced by the Torah as, “ראשי בני ישראל המה” (יג:ג) , “כולם אנשים “they are all distinguished people, the leaders of the Jewish people, they are.” Included in them are יהושע בן נון, the successor to משה רבינו, Moses, and כלב בן יפונה, one of the greatest of ours in history.

The Ramban points out that they are only mentioned as the 3rd and 5th – the 1st and 2nd were greater!

How is it possible that ten of these spiritual giants could err in their judgement? How is it possible that in order to convince the Jewish people to follow them and rebel against Moshe Rabbeinu they would resort to blatant lies? The רמב “ן, Nachmanides, explains that they died in a horrible, ignoble manner due to the most detrimental action one can do – to be dishonest. How is it possible that despite that Hashem promised them the land and Klal Yisrael was waiting with great anticipation to settle it, that they could be led astray?

The מדרש רבה במדבר ט“ז:א states that if one travels by boat through any ocean or a sea, where one can encounter life-threatening conditions, one is not allowed to embark on a journey less than three days before Shabbos ( מסכת שבת דף יט ). If one is a שליח מצוה, a person who is involved with a mission of a mitzvah, he can start to travel on any weekday, “for there isn’t anything as dear to Hashem as a person who is designated to accomplish a mitzvah and dedicates his ‘whole being’ to be successful in accomplishing the mission”. The Medrash says that the ten spies who gave a terrible report were “רשעים”, wicked people.

The fundamental underpinning of עבודת ה‘י is to completely subjugate one’s total focus to carry out Hashem’s will. Even when performing a mitzvah such as tefillin or tzitzis, it is possible to be focused on one thing, but at the same time to perform the mitzvah. A person who is embarking on a mission is totally subjugating their total self to the will of Hashem and therefore has the liberty to travel at any time. (הרב נתן זצ“ל)

The מרגלים, spies, for whatever reason didn’t completely abnegate themselves to Hashem’s will, but retained a modicum of “it’s about me, I am the master of this situation”. They were ecstatic about their new position of prominence and didn’t develop the level of pure allegiance to Hashem, causing themselves the ability to err in their judgement.

“בדרך שאדם רוצה לילך מוליכין אותו”, “the path which one chooses is the one that Hashem enables one to pursue”. We are being taught that one’s capacity to develop their life’s path is solely defined by their ambition. Success or failure is determined by their choice; only when one recognizes that all is determined by Hashem’s desire can one with clarity selflessly dedicate themselves to Hashem’s ubiquitousness.

A story! In the 1980’s, when I lived in Pittsburgh, I received a call at 11:30 p.m. to travel to the University of Pittsburgh hospital to pray for a woman who was to undergo a liver transplant the following morning. Little did I know that Dr. Earl Starzl, “the father of modern transplantation”, originator of liver transplantation, would not attempt surgery on a Jewish patient unless a rabbi first came and gave a blessing. Why was this so? After all, Dr. Starzl was an Italian!

A couple of years prior, there was an eighteen-year-old yeshiva bochur who had undergone an attempted transplant. After ten hours, the doctor had “given up” and told the father, “I tried everything possible”. The father begged the doctor, “Please try the surgery from another position in his body, after all, I am a butcher, and if I need to, I cut the meat from another angle.” The doctor acquiesced and four hours later came out from the operating room and exclaimed, “The surgery was successful, but it was G-d that held my hand the whole time, it wasn’t me whatsoever!”

Recognizing with humility and clarity the miracle, he insisted from then on, that G-d is the surgeon, I am but His extended hands; therefore I insist that a rabbi bless the patient to gain His assistance! What a lesson!

The Talmud, Kedushin 30b states: “The evil inclination of a person naturally dominates a person” The desire for comfort, fame, materialism, hedonism are all a reflection of self-absorption and a lack of commitment and responsibility. “If not for the assistance of our loving Creator, it would be impossible to truly develop one’s spiritual, selfless, subservient personality”. But don’t we have בחירה, free will to choose our path in life? Isn’t that the challenge of life?

The Vilna Gaon explains: We are being taught that it is impossible to overcome one’s natural, self-centered mode of living. Hashem empowered us with a choice of self-determination, that will define our life. Do we totally with relentless determination, pure clarity and self-negation subjugate our focus totally to Hashem (due to our absolute appreciation of all He gives us)?

If one recognizes that Hashem is the One that is the absolute cause of all that exists and transpires, then one is blessed with extraordinary success. Moreso, due to the clarity that we are “observers on His stage”, one will accept His will as immutable. Even when one has to make a decision, invariably one will assess a situation selflessly and therefore correctly.

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