Locusts and Ants
…ונהי בעינינו כחגבים וכן היינו בעיניהם (יג:לג).
“…And we appeared to them as locust and so we were small in their eyes” (13:33).
The miraglim, spies, came back from their mission to gather intelligence regarding the Land and reported their famous disheartening words. Klal Yisroel would suffer from this event for generations. Let us look at a famous question and find a new insight as to what was happening here.
Multiple Vantage Points
The verse states explicitly that the Miraglim viewed themselves as locust insects, but Rashi brings down (based on Sotah 35a) that when they were seen by the giant inhabiters of the Land, they were called by a different name. They heard the people saying, “there are ants in the fields!” What is going on with the varied animals here, locusts and ants?
I suggest the following explanation. The first Rashi in Bereishis tells us that Hashem began the Torah enumerating all of the details of His creation of the world in order to make known that everything belongs to Him! If anyone would complain and ask what right do the Jews have to possess Eretz Yisrael, the answer is already stated. Hashem created the entire world and He gives the lands to whom He sees fit! The nations of the world saw the grandeur and might of Hashem since the time that He took His Nation out of Egypt with great miracles. They feared Him and His Nation and they knew that they would soon be removed from the Land that was rightfully the property of the Jews. It was the spies that questioned Hashem’s abilities, they did not believe that Hashem was capable of bringing them there! Thus, the gentiles realized the truth that the Jews would soon be taking their Land by Hashem’s desire, but the meraglim did not see themselves as rightful owners.
Ants versus Locust
This is all hinted by the two animals mentioned. Each perspective is represented by the insect which was used to describe them. The Gemara in Eruvin (100b) states that had the Torah not been given, one could have logically deduced the prohibition of stealing by observing the ant. Rashi explains that the ant will not touch any food which belongs to its friend! Parenthetically, it is precisely from this insect that Shlomo HaMelech advised us to learn how to be productive and not lazy! One who does not steal and take shortcuts must work hard to earn an honest living!
The Gemara in Shabbos (32b) states that as a punishment for stealing Hashem sends locust to destroy the crops! It is a simple measure for measure formula. If you steal from others, then Hashem will send the crop-stealing machines to pay you back! Thus, ants represent rightful and honest ownership and locusts represent theft! The gentiles of the land described the Jews as ants, because they recognized that just as ants do not rob, so too the land is rightfully the Jewish inheritance. The miraglim on the other hand, questioned Hashem’s abilities. They viewed their takeover as an illegal theft, accordingly, they termed themselves as the stealing locust. Hashem indeed is All Capable and we wait anxiously for Him to redeem us and bring us back to the Land which is rightfully ours by His choice!
In The Eye of the Beholder
שלח לך אנשים ויתרו את ארץ כנען (יג:ב).
“Send for yourself men to spy out the land of Canaan” (13:2).
The incident of the Meraglim is always illuminating. There are many questions which need to be answered. First on my list has always been their very name. The Torah says that their job was “ויתרו, to spy out” and repeats this phrase numerous times. The only time that we find them called “Meraglim” is in Devarim (1:23) when Moshe recounts the incident. What is going on here? They should be called “Turim”? Secondly, the most famous question is, what did they do wrong? They reported what they saw, these were undeniable facts, and more so, Hashem sent them to spy? They simply did their job?!
A beautiful answer is given by the Kli Yakar. This idea is very precious and meaningful to me as I believe it puts life into perspective. I have developed it according to my understanding.
What is the difference between “ויתרו” and “מרגל”? The word “ויתרו” comes from the root “יתר, benefit/advantage”. The word “מרגל”, comes from the root of “tale-barer, fault-finder”.
In every situation in life, there are two ways to look at things. Some choose to view the good and others focus on the bad. This is not a matter of vision, it is a matter of outlook. Some people train themselves to find growth, benefit and positivity in life’s situations; others only allow themselves to see the worst! The positive perspective is called “לתור, to see the good”. The negative outlook is called, “לרגל, to see the bad”.
The Kli Yakar explains that when Hashem commanded to send the spies He made it clear and repeated numerous times that their job was to make sure that they went with a positive outlook, “ויתורו, go see the good”! However, they went and only focused on the negative, they downgraded to become “מרגלים, negative reporters”. They are called Meraglim because that was their exact sin! By having the wrong perspective, they were not the spies which Hashem endorsed.
The negative things which they described were all provided by Hashem either in order to distract the inhabitants from catching them (mass death toll) or to provide Klal Yisrael with luscious fruit in Eretz Yisrael. They however came with a negative agenda and thus refused to see anything positive. Instead, they used it as fuel to prove their negative outlook.
Each time that we look at people, situations and events we chose our perspective. Those that chose to see in the positive light, live more meaningful and enjoyable lives!
When the Meraglim returned, they prefaced their evil report with words of undeniable truth. “Indeed, the land is flowing with milk and honey, but…. we are doomed….”
The commentators point out that in order for them to give credence to their slanderous report they needed to start with some truth. Chazal teach us that “falsehood has no feet”. Only when some truth is mixed in can a lie take off the ground… Thus, the Meraglim had to begin with a partial truth.
Rashi explains the words of the Gemara (Shabbos 104a) to state: the letters that comprise the word “שקר, falsehood” are all pointed at their base of one leg, in stark contrast with the letters of “אמת, truth” which all stand on two firm legs. This signifies that truth has its own base to stand on, however, falsehood, will quickly tumble over!
The Maharsha (there) adds an additional insight. The letters ofשקר are not all on the same baseline. The leg of the “ק” protrudes downward, whereas in אמת, all of the letters are on the same level. This signifies that truth is congruent and respectful, but falsehood is divided and uneven.
May our words only stand on absolute truth!
One of the most challenging episodes in the Torah to understand is that of the Meraglim, the Spies. Let us begin with three basic questions.
Hashem commanded Moshe to send spies in the first place, the first words of the Parsha say, “Send men to spy out (Viyasuru) the land,” why does Hashem seem to say that He never agreed to send them?
Why are they called Meraglim, the first words of the Parsha command the Jews to send “Yeesurim, spies,” the word Meragel is only introduced in Devarim (1:24) when Moshe describes the fiasco.
What did they do wrong in their report, they simply stated the facts of what they saw. This was their exact job? They reported that the land produced giants and was impenetrable.
The Kli Yakar sheds beautiful light on this entire matter with one answer that resolves and brings together everything. The difference between Yeesurim and Miraglim is the crux of the matter. Yeesurim are spies that seek out the Yeser, benefit and good, of the land that they are exploring. Meraglim are spies that are “Holchei Rachil, tale-bearers, who seek out the negative in everything. The root of the word Meraglim represents an evil gossiper who expresses only negativity and criticism.
So the explanation is:
Hashem agreed to send Yeesurim, an envoy that would seek out the good and benefit of the land, but they on their own volition became Meraglim, slanderers, this was exactly what they did wrong. Hence, the first command of the Parsha was never fulfilled and their negative envoy represented Klal Yisrael’s own negativity. The night they came back became the most tragic day of Jewish history, Tisha B’Av.
They were told to be Yeesurim and look for the good, but they chose to be Meraglim and focus on the bad.
Their job was to look at the benefits of the land, instead they made a slanderous report against Hashem and disheartened the entire nation. It thus ends up that there were 10 Meraglim who saw the bad and only two Yeesurim (Yehoshua and Kalev) who focused on the positive and were thus rewarded.
In life, we have a choice as to how we look at every situation and every person that we interact with. We can see the positive and uniqueness of people or we can become distracted by the negative. The difference in focus determines how much success and happiness we will experience.
The questions are compelling. What was the mission itinerary intended for the Miraglim, spies, as they were sent to check out the land of Israel. Why were they sent in the first place? What is all the doubling found in the parsha.
The theme of doubles seem dominant in the parsha. It states, (Shelach 13:2) “…one man one man (twice, ish echad ish echad) from each tribe should be sent (to spy)…” After the spies returned and gave their disheartening report, Yehoshua and Kalev told the nation, (ibid. 14:7) “…the land is really very very (twice, meod meod) good.” They continued to state, (ibid. 14:9) “Do not rebel against Hashem, do not fear….. do not fear (twice).” Notably, when Kalev countered the slanderous reports they stated (13:30), “we will go up, we will go up (twice)… He (Hashem) can do it (conquer the land), He can do it (twice).”
Hashem was enraged about the nation’s lack of trust and He swore that the spies and the people who cried would not merit to enter the land. It states, (14:23) “they will not see (the land)… they will not see it (twice).” The Jews were punished that for every one of the forty days that the spies were in Israel, they would have to wander in the desert for one year, thus totalling forty years. Once again this is expressed as (14:34) “a day for a year; a day for a year (twice)”.
When some of the people realized their mistake they tried to repent. Instead of following Moshe’s advice about repenting in their hearts, they came together and tried to go up to the land immediately. Moshe warned them not to proceed but they do not heed. The result was, (14:45) “The Amaleki and Canaani inhabitants destroyed and decimated them (two expressions of death)”.
Finally, at the end of the parsha, after all of the tragedies, the Jews asked Hashem for a reminder by which they could easily recall the mitzvos and Hashem’s constant presence so that they would not sin. They were commanded to wear tzitzis on their garments. Interestingly, it states doubles once again (15:37 – 41), “…place tzitzis on their garments, place tzizis on their garments (twice)… so they shall see them and remember the miztvos… so they shall see them and remember the mitzvos (twice)… I am Hashem their God… I am Hashem their God (twice)…”
There are many others examples of this advent throughout parshas Shelach which can by found by a careful reading. All of this needs to be explained. These questions are very strong and cannot be ignored. Let us present one principle to explain everything. But first one more advent of double…
Ben Bag Bag teaches us that one should delve deeply into Torah knowledge. As he stated in Avos (5:22), “delve into it and delve into it (twice), for all is in it…” Rabbeinu Bechayah (lived around 1340) explains that the double expression in the Mishnah is stressing the fact that Torah study has both a hidden and revealed benefit. Torah study helps one succeed in this world (revealed) and it also brings one success in the next world (hidden and internal benefit). There is nothing greater than the study of Torah.
With this in mind, it is simple to explain the entire parshas Shelach. Hashem cared deeply about the Jewish nation and wished to bring them into the land of Israel. The land had two immense benefits, that of physical richness and that of spiritual growth. The Jews did not believe fully in Hashem and so Hashem commanded that spies be sent. They were given the opportunity to see the physical and spiritual qualities of the land, but they refused to acknowledge it. They had their own agenda and they ended up exacerbating the nation’s fears and causing much pain and suffering to the nation.
Yehoshua and Kalev were the only people who saw that the land was indeed very very (twice) good. They knew that Hashem’s gift was the greatest physical and spiritual blessing that the Jews could be given by Hashem. We too strive to live life in recognition of the fact that Torah and Eretz Yisrael bring us the greatest physical and spiritual riches in the world.
When the twelve meraglim, spies, were chosen, the tribe of Yosef was broken into Efraim and Menashe as Levi did not send a spy. What is interesting is that Efraim, the younger son is mentioned first in the verse and it states (Bamidbar 13:8), “From Efraim, Hoshai ben Nun.” Later it states, “From the sons of Yosef, from Menashe Gadi ben Susi” Why is Yosef’s name only mentioned in the context of Menashe and omitted by Efraim? This is a blaring question.
Rabbeinu Bechaya explains that Efraim comes before Menashe just as Yaakov had placed Efraim, who was greater, first. The spy who came from Efraim was Yehoshua ben Nun who was one of only two spies to come back untainted (Yehoshua and Kalev). All of the other spies said negative lashon harah, evil slander, against God and about the Land. Rabbeinu Bechaya points out that the tribe leader of Menashe joined the negativity and sinned by saying slander. He unfortunately is equated with Yosef, his ancestor, because they both spread slander (against his brothers, see Bereishis 37:2). These words are quiet harsh and need to be understood. What does Rabbeinu Bechaya mean with this?
We invest our strengths into our families. We show by example the legacy and lessons that we wish to instill in them. Some of the qualities we have can be intrinsically positive and some intrinsically negative. Others, and probably most of them, can be used for either the good or the bad. We can be outgoing, leaders, soft-spoken, stubborn or have a sense of humor. The question is what we do with these attributes. If we focus them on positive pursuits we can bring great things out in this world, but if we do not channel them, then we can bring great damage to the world. The question is what we do with that power.
Yosef HaTzadik wanted to help perfect his brothers and thus he reported their wrongdoings to their shared father, Yaakov. Yaakov was in a position of leadership, Yosef gave over the reports with noble intentions and thus this was the correct manner of action. At the same time, Yosef instilled this trait of recounting in his family and when Menashe’s leader borrowed the trait, he expressed it in a most perverted manner. We must pass on positive traits to our children and we must show and educate them about how to channel these skills in the proper times and places.
If we have a beautiful voice and musical talent, this often gets transferred. What the child will do with his talents is to be determined by his or her own freewill. The possibilities are endless. We see from our parsha and Rabbeinu Bechaya’s harsh expression that we must try our best to show our children how to utilize their talents for Hashem and to bring about only the Will of Hashem. The Torah only writes the name of Yosef by Menashe to teach us to have sensitivity towards the traits that we share with our children and how they must be properly guided to serve Hashem.