Thursday, June 30, 2016

Yehoshua and Kalev's irrational argument

1) Parshas Shelach opens with a "machlokes" between the majority of scouts and the minority of Kalev and Yehoshua. The majority delivered a report saying the land was unconquerable – the inhabitants were too mighty, the cities too fortified, there were giants living there. Kalev presented the dissenting view – “Aloh na’aleh v’yarashnu osah,” we can go up and conquer. We can imagine the same scene being played out in any number of other contexts: before battle, generals gather, plans are presented, risk are weighed. Do we invade? Can we succeed? It doesn’t matter if we are speaking about Canaan, D-Day, or Fallujah, it’s all the same story. 

The debate seems to end with the majority view winning the day, and the people reacting with tears and complaints to Moshe as to why they left Egypt. But the debate was apparently not over. A few pesukim later Yehoshua and Kalev speak up again, saying the land is good, and, “Im chafeitz banu Hashem v’havi osanu el ha’aretz ha’zos… eretz asher hi zavas chalav u’devash.” (15:8) If G-d desires, he can bring us to the land of milk and honey. The generals/scouts had already sat down at the table and debated, assessed, and came to a conclusion. The people had reacted and weighed in as well. What were Yehoshua and Kalev adding? Why did they think these words would carry any more weight than Kalev’s previous impassioned speech?

Shem m’Shmuel explains that they key to Yehoshua and Kalev’s argument is one word – “chafeitz,” desire. You can argue with me from today till tomorrow that vanilla ice cream is better than chocolate, that the Yankees are better than the Mets, that Picasso is better than Rembrandt, but it won’t make any difference. Reason is irrelevant when you are talking about a like, a desire, a cheifetz. This is what I like – I can’t explain why, I can’t justify why, and I don’t need to.

The generals sitting around the table before any battle in history can weigh the merits of “go” vs. “no go, ” but the fight for Eretz Yisrael is different. In this argument, the side arguing “go” always holds the winning trump card because in this argument, it’s not about risk/benefit analyses or tactics or strategy. B’derech ha’teva all those play a role, but only in so far as determining the “how” – not the “if.” At the end of the day, the conquest of Eretz Yisrael is about one thing: “im chafetz banu” – Hashem's desire. Yehosua and Kalev were telling the people that ain hachi nami, based on logic and reason and strategy their argument may appear to be weaker than that of the majority view – they can even concede that part of the debate -- but their point of view is still right, because logic and reason go out the window when the issue is “im chafetz banu Hashem,” what Hashem wants. Even the question of whether or not we deserve it goes out the window.

2) Many meforshim read the parshiyos of mitzvos that follow the cheit ha’meraglim as a response to their sin. Seforno explains that originally, no korbanos needed nesachim. After the cheit ha’eigel, Bnei Yisrael were given the mitzvah of bringing nesachim with korbanos tzibur to make these offerings acceptable. Now, after cheit ha’meraglim, nesachim were needed even with korbanos yachid to make then acceptable.

Shem m’Shmuel sees the nesachim not as a corrective measure for some deficiency or failure, but as an opportunity. Pre-mattan Torah, korbanos did not have the power to include the ingredients of nesachim in their tikun. After mattan-Torah, Hashem gave us a bonus and we were given the privilege of bringing nesachim. Because the tzibur was united, the nesachim of korbanos tzibur worked on behalf of everyone. The cheit ha’meraglim splintered the community and that unity was lost. Therefore, nesachim had to be brought by each individual on his own behalf.

He doesn't spell it out, but it seems that what broke the unity of the nation was the rejection of Eretz Yisrael.  One of the defining features of a nation is having a homeland.  Since Klal Yisrael rejected Eretz Yisrael, they were reduced to a collection of individuals, a bunch of tribes wandering around together.  Erertz Yisrael is the glue that binds us together as one.

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