As the Jewish nation stood at the threshold of entering Eretz Yisroel, Moshe Rabbeinu took the opportunity to remind the Jewish nation of the sin of the Spies, whose sin was what prevented them from entering Eretz Yisroel in the first place. He implored them, and in a deeper sense, every Jew in the future, to never to repeat the Spies’ mistake.
What exactly did the Jews do wrong in the episode of sending the spies? The Jewish nation was following the normal practice of combat by sending them. Furthermore, can we blame them for hesitating from entering the land? The spies reported truthfully that the land was filled with powerful giants. Furthermore, they reported that everywhere they went, the populace was dying in droves from some sort of plague. Even the righteous Kalev and Yehoshua did not argue with this. Can we really blame them for fearing to enter the land?
Furthermore, the Midrash relates that every event of suffering that we experience in exile until today, in some way, is a result of the sin of the Spies. Why? What does their sin have to do with US?
Let’s answer this question by addressing another question: In Parshas Massei, the Torah lists every single journey that the Jewish nation took from Egypt to Eretz Yisroel. Now, the Jewish nation was traveling in the barren desert. Why in the world does the Torah, which is not a history book, spend 49 verses to tell us exactly which sand-dunes in the barren desert the Jews traveled from on their journey to Eretz Yisroel? What difference could their exact location of encampment in the desolate desert possibly make?
One day, a Rabbi was on a flight and got up to ask one of the flight attendants for a drink. To his amazement, he saw the stewardess standing in the back, praying intensely with a siddur (prayer book) in her hand. After she finished, he said, "I guess you were praying. I never met a religious stewardess before." She said, "Actually, I converted to Judaism," and she proceeded to tell the Rabbi about her journey to Judaism. She was very sincere and had a real passion for her Judaism.
A short while later, she approached the Rabbi's seat and asked him if he could possibly help her. After she had been Jewish for some time, her friend set her up with a nice religious man. After a few dates, it was obvious that they were perfect for each other. However, when his parents found out that she was a convert, they forbade their son from seeing her anymore.
The rabbi asked, "what could I do to help?”. She replied, "Maybe if you give his father a call, you could change his mind." When he called, the father heard the suggestion and immediately responded, "It is not subject to discussion. I have only one son, and because I went through the war, I have a responsibility to my family who perished to carry on our tradition in the best way possible. This does not include my son marrying a girl who just became Jewish a few months ago. I don't know her intentions. I just want my son to marry a Jewish girl from a regular Jewish family like us”. The Rabbi tried his best to convince the father, offering to verify that she was truly sincere. Nonetheless, he was not successful. It seemed that the case was closed.
Several months later, the Rabbi received a phone call from the stewardess, explaining that there were some new developments. Two days before, she received a phone call informing her that her mother was on her deathbed. They had not been in touch since she made the decision to change her life, and she did not even know that her mother was sick. When she arrived, her mother made a strange request. "Please promise to bury me in Jewish cemetery”. The request didn’t make any sense. She asked her mother, "Why? And why are you asking me? Ask Dad to do it." The mother replied, "I can't trust him to do it. You see, we never told you, but really, we are Jewish. After we survived the Holocaust and made it to America, we made a firm commitment never to reveal that we were Jewish. Your father was always worried that there would come a time when it would happen again here. We raised you the way we did because we thought it would be for your benefit. However, it ended up being a mistake. Please, bury me like a Jew".
Now, she asked the Rabbi to please call back that father and explain to him that she was, in fact, Jewish from birth. The Rabbi called, but the father was very skeptical. "She's making this whole thing up just to marry my son. I'm not falling for this." "Please," said the Rabbi, "Let's be reasonable. What if I come to your house with her and her father? This way you will be able to meet them and I am sure you will be convinced." The father agreed and the three of them arrived at the house. When the door opened, the two fathers looked at each other in utter shock. "Yaakov is that really you?" the stewardess's father whispered. "Moshe?" whispered the boy's father. Suddenly, they were in each other's arms, laughing and crying, hardly daring to believe what had just transpired. These two men had been childhood friends who grew up together in the same shtetl (town). "Yaakov," said Moshe, "Do you remember our pact?". "Remind me." "We promised one another that when we get married and have children of our own...", "Oh yes," interrupted Yaakov. "We promised that if one of us had a boy and the other a girl, we would marry them off to each other." "Well then," Yaakov laughed, "It looks like it's time to keep our promise”. (This remarkable story was told by Rabbi Nachman Seltzer)
The reason why in Parshas Massei Hashem listed every single journey that the Jewish nation took, was to make us aware that even the “random” places that the Jews encamped were actually pre-ordained, orchestrated by Hashem, and were done with Divine Providence. It was teaching US that even when it feels like WE are wandering in the desert of life and are vulnerable, and when we feel that the events in our lives are like random encampments in the desert, we should be very aware that EVERY step is the result of benevolent hasgacha pratiyos (Divine Providence). We are never alone, and always guided by our loving Father in Heaven.
The sin of the Spies is closely related to this message and it is arguably for this very reason that our Parshah directly follows Parshas Massei. The root of the sin of the Spies laid in the fact that they completely lost faith in Hashem’s Providence as soon as they were faced with a challenge. They should have realized that if Hashem told them to go to Eretz Yisroel, they would be fine and shouldn’t have felt that it was necessary to send Spies. Furthermore, even after they were told of the Giants and the plague, they should have realized that even these were all the results of Hashem’s Divine Providence. Indeed, the Midrash teaches that Hashem caused a plague specifically to HELP the Jewish nation. The giants were so preoccupied with the plague and tending to its victims that they barely noticed the Jewish nation. It served as the perfect cover for them and was a result of Hashem’s KINDNESS. In fact, even the fact that there were giants was Divine Providence. If the Jewish nation marched into the Promised Land and defeated an army of midgets, it wouldn’t exactly have made headlines. By placing giants in Eretz Yisroel, it made the Jewish nation’s miraculous victory over them that much greater of a sanctification of Hashem’s name.
The essence of the sin of the Spies was that the Jewish nation had only succeeded in trusting in Hashem while things were going well. However, in the face of danger, their trust in Hashem utterly disintegrated. This challenge is as relevant today as ever before. Although it is relatively easy to believe in Hashem when things go well (which is still a big accomplishment), when we are faced with “giant” problems it is quite easy to forget that Hashem is really orchestrating EVERYTHING with kindness; but He is. A great method to internalize this is to take to heart every single time that you experience even the “smallest” episode of Divine Providence - that Hashem is intimately involved in your life, is in full control, and that His only desire is to do good for you (Derech Hashem ch.2). Additionally, every time you succeed with something, even when it seems that it was due to your own talent, say “thank you Hashem for this success”. Tell people “Hashem helped me with this”. For our external actions is what has the strongest influence on our internal thoughts. You may not notice it at first, but after doing this for a while your belief in those words will become that much stronger. Internalizing Hashem’s constant, benevolent involvement in our lives, in essence, rectifies the sins of the Spies and brings us one step closer to Moshiach, which we so desperately need. When things get tough, let us make an extra effort to recognize that the same loving Hashem Who has given us so much good is always in absolute control of our present situation, and strengthen ourselves in this area by internalizing His Providence as often as possible.