This week we read the Torah portion of Shelach. It tells us, strangely enough, a story of espionage. Moshe sends 12 spies, one from each tribe, to scout out the land of Israel. This was the land which Hashem had promised us. It is the land which we were to conquer and inhabit. The Torah lists the names of each of the scouts, telling us the tribe which they represented (Bamidbar 13:4-15). It then tells us that (Bamidbar 13:16) “These are the names of the men which Moshe sent to scout the Land. Moshe called Hoshea the son of Nun Yehoshua.” In other words the name of the spy from the tribe of Ephraim was Hoshea. Moshe changed his name to Yehoshua. Why did Moshe perform such a strange act at that time? Rashi comments on the verse that “He prayed on his behalf, ‘May Hashem save you from the counsel of the (other) spies.’” The meaning of the Hebrew name Yehoshua is that G-d shall save you.
This is quite difficult to understand. Rashi himself taught us (Bamidbar 13:3) that at the time that Moshe sent them each of the 12 spies was virtuous. This being the case what need was there to pray for any of them. On the other hand, if Moshe foresaw that a problem would arise from the spies’ mission, why only pray for Yehoshua? He should have prayed on behalf of all of them!
This can be understood based on the way in which Chassidic philosophy explains the sin of the spies. Being that they were all virtuous why did they present Israel to the Jews in such a negative manner? The explanation is that they loved living in the wilderness. Their entire existence was spiritual. All they were occupied in was studying Torah from the greatest teacher of all time; Moshe Rabbeinu himself! They had no physical or material concerns whatsoever. Hashem took good care of them. They ate “Mon – Manna” which fell from heaven on a daily basis. They drank water from Miriam’s well. G-d protected them. Contrast that with entering Israel. They knew that they would have to plant and harvest their own food. They would spend most of their time “making a living.” Hence their time for Torah study and being occupied with the spiritual would be limited. They had no desire to exchange their spiritual existence for a human one.
What they overlooked was the fact that a physical existence in a physical world is what Hashem wanted. Hashem desired “a dwelling place below,” in this world. Israel would be the epitome of this. There we would ultimately build the Bais Hamikdosh; G-d’s “palace” in this world.
Their mistake was actually quite “noble.” The only one who could not make such a mistake was Yehoshua. He was destined to succeed Moshe as the leader of the Jewish Nation. He was the one who was chosen to bring the Jews into Israel as Hashem desires.
May we merit to return to Israel under the leadership of our righteous Moshiach!
Wishing one and all a wonderful Shabbos,
Rabbi Shmuel Mendelsohn