Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Shelach: Was Sending the Spies a Good Thing?

The command to send the spies in parshas Shlach seems to stem from Hashem, yet in Moshe's criticism in sefer Devarim it seems to have been the idea of the Benei Yisrael. I've already addressed this issue in the past, I think nicely.

Probably spurred on by this issue, Rashi notes:
Send for yourself According to your own understanding. I am not commanding you, but if you wish, you may send. Since the Israelites had come [to Moses] and said, “Let us send men ahead of us,” as it says, “All of you approached me…” (Deut. 1:22), Moses took counsel with the Shechinah . He [God] said, “I told them that it is good, as it says, ‘I will bring you up from the affliction of Egypt…’ (Exod. 3:17). By their lives! Now I will give them the opportunity to err through the words of the spies, so that they will not inherit it.” - [Midrash Tanchuma 5]
Thus, first the Jews asked and then Hashem agreed and told them to do it. And the word lecha is taken as being "for yourselves," not as a command.

Of course, elsewhere in Midrash the word lecha is taken as being for your benefit. One famous example is Lech Lecha, which was for Avraham Avinu's benefit.

Of course, on a peshat level, I am not sure one should be making derashot on the word lecha, but should just say that this is Biblical style and grammar. "Take yourself a muffin."

Other meforshim, besides Rashi, take up this issue. Thus Shadal writes:

שלח לך : לטובתך, שידעו ענין הארץ והעם מתחילה, ולא יערערו עליך לבסוף. שלח לך אנשים: בדברים (א' כ"ב) כתוב כי ישראל אמרו נשלחה אנשים לפנינו, וכאן הוא אומר כי ה' דיבר אל משה שלח לך אנשים, ונראה כי הם שאלו וה' הסכים וציוה למשה שיעשו כדבריהם, וכאן לא הזכיר שהם שאלו, כדי שלא יהא נראה שחטאו בשאלתם. ונראה כי הכל היה סבה מאת ה', וכמו שכתב הרמב"ם (מורה ח"ב פרק ל"ב), אלא שהוא אומר שהיה מחכמת ה' להסב אותם במדבר עד שלימדו גבורה, כמו שנודע שההליכה במדבר ומיעוט הנאות הגוף מרחיצה וכיוצא בהם יולידו הגבורה ונולדו ג"כ (באותם ארבעים שנה) אנשים שלא הורגלו בשפלות ובעבדות; ואני אומר שלא היתה כוונת האל שיקנו גבורה, כי לא בחרבם ירשו ארץ וזרועם לא הושיעה למו, אבל סבב שיתעכבו במדבר, למען יעמדו במשך ימים רבים אצל משה, שאם היה משה מביאם אל הארץ, היו מתפזרים איש בנחלתו ולא היה משה יכול ללמדם דעת, גם לא היו צריכים להתפרנס דרך נס, ולא היתה האמונה בתורת משה נקבעת בלבותם לדורות עולם, כמו שהיה הענין על ידי שישבו ארבעים שנה במדבר, ומשה מנהיגם ומפרנסם באותות ובמופתים ומלמדם דרכי ה'; והחינוך הזה אשר לא היה כמוהו בכל הארץ שיהיו מאתים ריבוא נפשות יושבים אצל מלמדם במשך ארבעים שנה, בלי שיהיו טרודים בבקשת מזונותיהם, זה הוא שהעמיק האמונה בלב בני ישראל, באופן שבתעות כל יושבי הארץ אחרי האלילים, נשארו תלמידי משה גוי אחד ויחיד בארץ, שומר האמונה הטהורה, וממנו התפשטה והתפשט לטובת המין האנושי כולו, ומלאה הארץ דעה את ה'.
Thus, he has two separate comments. First, he takes a natural explanation of the words shelach lecha: שלח לך : לטובתך, שידעו ענין הארץ והעם מתחילה, ולא יערערו עליך לבסוף. Does he indeed take this in its midrashic spirit, that lecha means letovatecha? I would like to see how Shadal handles the general case of lecha throughout Tanach. For example, he makes no such comment in parshat Lech Lecha. Perhaps this is a stylistic way of responding to Rashi, who makes the derasha in the opposite direction, that Hashem does not agree with the decision, and that it is going to be bad.

In the second comment, he is not considering the pretext of lecha per se, but rather the contrast between Devarim in which it the Israelites idea and in sefer Bemidbar where it appears to be Hashem's idea. He answers that it appears they asked and Hashem agreed, and it does not mention the asking so that it would not appear that there was a sin in their asking.

Further, Shadal opposes the idea, brought by Rashi, that Hashem now thought He would mess up bnei Yisrael, giving them opportunity to sin, because of the sin of asking to send spies. Rather, he says that Hashem did know that they would end up caught in the midbar for 40 years, but this was a good thing for them. (And this could be read into שלח לך : לטובתך, though Shadal does not explicitly do this.)

He cites Rambam that this was a good thing because staying in the midbar for 40 years hardened the bnei Yisrael, and made them stronger, to bring about people not used to lowliness and servitude.

Shadal also agreed this stay was planned, and good for the Israelites, but specifically because they would have 40 years to stay with Moshe, and learn Torah and internalize the faith. Had the entered Eretz Yisrael immediately, they would have spread out to settle the land, and been concerned with worldly things such as parnassa.

This idea is similar though not identical to the idea suggested by Rabbenu Bachya {ben Asher}. First he cites Rashi. But then suggests (citing "yesh mefarshim") that lecha means "to your benefit," as in other places. The purpose here is as follows: Had they entered Israel immediately, Moshe would have died 40 years sooner, for this fate of dying and not entering the land had already been decreed upon him. I am not sure if this is regarded as to the benefit of Moshe himself (which it surely is) or to the benefit of klal Yisrael (who get the benefit of hanging out with Moshe for an additional 40 years).

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