- Rabbi Isaac Roussel
Being Content With Where We Are
Our parsha this week speaks of the 12 spies being sent into the Land. Two of them, Yehoshuah and Kalev, give an encouraging report. But the other ten focus on all of the challenges in the Land; the people are like giants, the cities are fortified, the land devours its inhabitants! The people listened to the ten and wailed all night long. “If only we had died in Egypt! If only we had perished in this wilderness!” And they make plans to return to Egypt. Yehoshuah and Kalev attempt to persuade them, but they only threaten to stone them. God becomes angry and decrees that they will wander the wilderness for 40 years.
This was indeed a very grievous sin. Some commentators even go so far as to say that it is greater than the sin of the Golden Calf. Tradition says that this happened on Tisha B’Av, that great day of calamity where not only the two temples were destroyed but many other disasters have befallen our people.
But what exactly was their sin? Some say that it was a lack of faith in Hashem. And this is certainly the case. Benei Israel has demonstrated this lack of faith many times already; complaining about lack of water and food. Indeed the sin of the Golden Calf is rooted in their fear that God is unable to return Moses to them as he delays on the mountain. Again and again God supplies their needs, but they continue in their unfaith.
Others say that it was a lack of faith in themselves. They say that they were like grasshoppers in their own eyes when they saw the inhabitants of the Land. Others say that it is because they spoke against Hashem’s Holy Land and yet others say that it is because the people committed lashon hara, evil speech, against Moshe.
While all of these reasons given are valid, I’d like to propose two alternative reasons for your consideration today.
First, Benei Israel were not content that God had them exactly where they needed to be. When they were at the shore of the Red Sea with the Egyptian army bearing down on them, they were exactly where they needed to be. And yet they cried out in fear. When they were moving towards Sinai, experiencing enemies and privations, they were exactly where they needed to be. And yet they kvetched and complained. When they were at the foot of Mt. Sinai, waiting for Moses to descend with the Torah, they were exactly were God wanted them to be, and yet they built an idol to worship. And finally here in today’s parsha, they are about to enter into the Land, the ultimate goal of the Exodus and yet they are unable to accept that this is exactly where they needed to be at that moment. Fearful and dismayed at the challenges before them, they mourn their loss and even wish that they had died in Egypt!
Second, their perspective was wrong. They assumed that the goal of life is to be happy and content. If the Egyptians had carried them out of their bondage on panoplies, feeding them fine meats and wine all the way to Sinai, they would not have uttered a peep in complaint. If Moses just got the Torah automatically downloaded to his tablet over wifi, they wouldn’t have had to fear that he had abandoned them. And if the inhabitants of the Land welcomed them with garlands of flowers and cheers of joy, all would have been good. But this is a wrong assumption. The goal of life is not to face no challenges, to always be fat and happy. The goal of life is for us to live in communion with Hashem! He even states that the reason for the Exodus is so that He can be their God and they can be His people.
We can fall into these two traps as well. We all face challenges of every sort in life. Illnesses, financial straits, job loss, trouble with family members, social and political turmoil, wars, and plagues like the one we are in now. We live in a broken and unredeemed world that is full of tsuris. In the midst of these, we can be like Benei Israel, and not trust that Hashem has us exactly where He wants us to be. It is not that He always generates these situations, but if we are in them, He at least is willing for us to be there, to learn and grow from the challenges.
We can also believe the lie that we are meant to always be fat and happy. Living under this presumption, we freak out, panic, worry, and have anxiety attacks when troubles assail us. This assumption is so ingrained in our thinking that it is a real challenge to overcome. I know that I myself have struggled with the threat of COVID-19 and the security of my job. I really, really want to be fat and happy! (Well, I’d like to be plump and happy, anyway). I like my nice house, my lovely Beetle convertible, and my Xbox. I don’t want to lose them. It is therefore hard for me to accept that my real goal in life is to be in communion with Hashem and serve Him. No matter what the circumstances are.
When we are consumed with fear and anxiety we also are much more likely to mistreat others and ourselves. We can even become angry at God because He is not giving us what we perceive will make us happy.
The solution to both of these besetting sins is Bitachon, Trust in God. This word is not meant to convey just that we give lip service to “God is in control”, but to truly, completely believe it and order our lives by it. Those who understand the true goal of life and that they are right where they need to be, in the words of Rabbi Ibn Pakuda, “neither worry nor lament”. They live “free of worldly cares” and “live lives in perpetual repose, security, and tranquility.”
Yeshua taught us this as well. He admonishes us to not run after world securities, but to seek first the Kingdom of Heaven. And he lived a life of total bitachon, even unto the point of death. We do see him struggling with his lot in the Garden before his arrest, but he ultimately concludes that the trials and difficulties facing him are within his Father’s will and that he is exactly where he needs to be. He also accepted that his life was not about comfort and ease, but living in communion with Hashem and accomplishing His will.
I have shared an amazing meditative experience that I had years ago with you before. I was struggling with a difficulty with my boss at the time and was really upset for weeks. I went thru a guided meditation on the passage of Yeshua dying on the cross and I suddenly found myself hanging up there next to him. I was the accusing thief upset and hurling invectives because I was suffering there. But then I looked at him and saw very clearly in my mind’s eye. He was battered, bruised and bleeding. One eye swollen shut he looks at me and smiles. He is missing teeth from the beating. I asked him, “How can you smile during this ordeal”. And he replied to me, “Because I’m exactly where I need to be right now. And it is a place of true freedom!”
In that instant all of my anxiety and anger melted away. I understood that he was telling me that I was suffering because I wasn’t willing to accept where I was and what I was going through. And that true freedom lies in bitachon, trust that God has me exactly where I need to be and that my goal in life is Him and not happiness, prosperity, health, or wealth. It is a lesson that I have had to learn repeatedly in my life and am relearning now in the midst of the present turmoil. It is a hard lesson though.
The question that we should ask ourselves is not “Why is this happening to me?” but “Father, what do you have for me in this?” And we need to practice letting go and not clinging to particular wants, desires, or outcomes. We need to avoid the rebellion of the spies and accept that, though we may be in a wilderness, or facing mighty enemies, we are exactly where we need to be.
Our parsha this week ends with the command to look at our tzit-tzit. It uses the verb Tur which can mean not only to look but to seek out or explore. This is the antidote. The spies searched out and explored the Land in anxiety and fear. They instead needed to seek Hashem’s face in the midst of daunting challenges. This is the antidote. Likewise, we need to seek and explore our tzit-tzit, that reminder that we are exactly where we need to be and that we are meant for living in communion with Him and nothing else.
In the midst of many challenges facing us right now...
May we not fall into the trap of the 10 spies. Let us instead have the peace and confidence of Yeshoshuah and Kalev.
May we live a life of bitachon, trust that Hashem has something for us in every situation that will draw us closer to Him and give us freedom.
May we look upon the tzit-tzit of Yeshua, the one who lived a life of total bitachon.
Thereby, we will be free to live a life of acceptance and serenity, free to love God, others, and ourselves.