Our parasha, Shelach, begins with Moshe sending the tribal leaders to Eretz Yisrael to discover the beauty and bounty of the land. But what took place nearly brought Hashem’s plans for our people to a screeching halt.
These were mighty and prestigious men who seemed determined to carry out the task set before them. After all, the Torah calls the tribal princes anashim, a label Rashi suggests was an honorific appellation that bespoke their righteousness. Their duty was defined in pasukim 13:2, 13: 21, and 13:25, wherein we find the terms v’yaturu, vayaturu and mature, all expressions of exploration and discovery.
But something went terribly wrong. With the exception of Yehoshua and Kalev, these great leaders ceased to be anashim and morphed into something else entirely, namely, meraglim (spies).
As meraglim, they failed to maintain the proper spiritual perspective. Looking at everything through the lens of the laws of Nature, they seemed to forget that, as Hashem’s am hanivchar, our existence is solely dependent upon His hashgacha (divine providence). This resulted in their viewing their role solely in military terms, instead of as an opportunity to be mekadash shame shamayim (sanctify Hashem’s name) by wholeheartedly fulfilling Moshe’s mandate. Little wonder then, that their report focused on “the facts on the ground,” rather than the potential of what might be.
Their myopic vision prevented them from seeing a glorious, Hashem-suffused future.
Sadly, the people’s response to the report of the meraglim changed the course of history; their capitulation was met by swift and angry words from the Almighty: “I will strike them with a plague and annihilate them; then I will make you into a nation, greater and stronger than they’.” (14:11-12)
Fortunately, just as he had done at the time of the Golden Calf, Moshe interceded and saved our nation from extermination:
Now, please, let the strength of the L-rd be increased, as You spoke, saying. “The L-rd is slow to anger and abundantly kind, forgiving iniquity and transgression. … Please forgive the iniquity of this nation in accordance with your abounding kindness, as You have borne this people from Egypt until now.” And the L-rd said, “I have forgiven them in accordance with your word.” (14:17-20)
Mishnah Ta’anit 4:6, and the subsequent discussion in the Babylonian Talmud, teach us that the meraglim returned from their journey to Eretz Yisrael on the night of Tisha b’Av. Although the people were saved through Moshe’s pleading, their reaction to the meraglim’s report led directly to the divine decree that forbade the Dor Hamidbar (Generation of the Desert) from entering the Promised Land.
In pathos-packed prose, our Sages note that lail Tisha b’Av was set aside for destruction ever since that moment. Indeed, both batei mikdash were destroyed on this day (586 BCE and 70 CE respectively).
Then, too, the Spanish Expulsion (1492), as well as World War I (1914-1919), which arguably laid the foundations for World War II and the Holocaust, began on this most ill-fated of days.
May the time come soon and in our days when we are finally free of the meraglim, and the stirring words of Dovid HaMelech in Tehillim 115:9 will be fulfilled: “Yisrael ba’tach b’Hashem ezram u’maginam Hu (The Jewish people trust in Hashem; He is their help and their shield).” V’chane yihi ratzon.