Thursday, June 19, 2008

shlach lecha - spies: good idea or bad?

If you don’t speed up your daf yomi you are liable to miss a beautiful Maharasha on the episode of the spies. Reish Lakish darshens (Sotah 34b) the words “shlach lecha” as a message to Moshe that sending spies is “l’da’atcha”, based on your decision alone. Rashi explains that Moshe was never commanded to send spies; Hashem does not command something that will lead to wrong. Hashem left the choice in Moshe’s hands, and Moshe reacted positively to the people’s suggestion. “Vayitav b’einey” (Devarim 1:23) – Moshe tells us that he approved of the plan, but the gemara darshens “v’lo b’einey haMakom”, G-d did not.

(It is tempting to see significance in the juxtaposition of the episode of Miriam’s critique of Moshe where he acted “me’da’ato” by separating from his wife and “hiskim Hashem al yado”, Hashem concurred with his decision, and this case where Moshe acted “me’da’ato” and it led to tragic results. Da’as Torah is evidently not infallible, even where a Moshe Rabeinu involved.)

Ramban disagrees with Rashi’s approach. Firstly, Ramban disagrees with understanding the word “lecha” as diminishing the force of the imperative command “shlach”. Also, if Moshe approved of a plan which was unfavorable in G-d’s eyes, should he not share some of the culpability for the outcome? It was not the sending of spies itself which was unfavorable, argues the Ramban, but the outcome which was tragic. (You may want to read parshablog’s take on this issue.)

The Maharasha sees the question of whether sending the spies was a good idea or not as one of motivation. Sending spies is part and parcel of preparation for war. Yehoshua sent spies before waging war on Yericho and was not criticized for his efforts; there is no reason to think such efforts would be inappropriate for Moshe. Aderaba - “Va’yitav b’eini”, Moshe thought it was a good idea. However, this planning was not what motivated Bnei Yisrael’s request. This was not simply a scouting mission to prepare for war, but this was a mission designed to investigate whether there was truth to the claim that Eretz Yisrael was “Eretz hanivcheres”. That agenda was inappropriate and would lead inevitable to sin.

The Maharasha has a beautiful diyuk. The Ramban is right – “shlach” is a command – but at the same time we can say Hashem did not approve the mission. Hashem told Moshe if he must send spies he should make sure they go “l’da’atcha” – in accordance with your (Moshe’s) agenda, in accordance with your plan and motivation, but not in accordance with their own aims. Unfortunately, the wrong agenda won out, leading to tragic consequences.

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