Shlach: Beware of Corrupt and Treacherous Leaders

We never cease to be amazed with each reading of Parshat Shlach as we expose the true colors of the leaders of the nation. This same leadership that was to lead the Jewish People to the Promised Land suddenly rejects the entire Jewish destiny and dream. They brazenly turn their backs on the Holy Land promised to us by G-d, and to our amazement, are even prepared to find a substitute for it.

How could these Jewish leaders do such a 360 degree turn around? How could they reject the most basic of goals, so central to the Jewish destiny, for which every Jew up to that point had been striving for – the entering into the Land of Israel. To compound the question, the sages tell us from the verse, “and they went and came” (13-26), that “just as their returning was with evil counsel, so was their going with evil counsel”. This is, the spies sudden “change of mind” had nothing to do with the negative report they brought back with them after spying out the land, for their minds were already made up to give an evil report even before setting foot in the land. So what happened to these Jewish leaders who so abruptly betrayed the Jewish destiny?

From here we learn that we must always examine the deeds of even the most righteous of men. We must not be robots, blindly trusting in the “gedolim” or “leaders” under the assumption that “they will take care of it”, and thus we can rest easy. Even the most reliable leaders can, at one point or another, betray himself and his ideology as a result of normal human weakness, as did Yochanan Cohen HaGadol, who became a heretic at the age of eighty. The Torah itself bears witness to the fact that the spies were “tzadeekim”, and their tragic mistake was brought on by all kinds of personal and flawed motives that festered inside them.

In similar fashion, we can now understand how once nationalistic parties on the Israeli political spectrum eventually became so ideologically bankrupt. The Knesset seat overwhelms any sense of sanity, and the “kavod” overcomes ideology. Sure they may have justifications and excuses for their treachery, but the bottom line is that greed and lust erases the glorious past they may have had.

Parshat Shlach teaches a vital lesson to the people and to their leaders. The people must beware of leaders who lead them around by the nose, from one corner to another. We must break off the shackles of such leadership, and not hesitate to defy them. In this orphaned generation where a “gadol” isn’t so gadol, and a leader isn’t so much of a leader, it is that much more our obligation to go to all those “gedolim” and ask them the difficult questions that need to be asked – and if they have no answers, then let us recognize this fact and start searching for the hard truth, the hard way. The leaders also must realize that as leaders, they bear a greater responsibility and must set the example and be a positive influence. The spies were punished so severely because they were in a position of power, and with it comes greater responsibility.

Lack of Faith

In addition to all sorts of alterior motives the spies had, the sagesattribute their sin to several other factors, all stemming from one basic deficiency – lack of faith. Afterall, how can grasshoppers stand up to giants? Yes, the same G-d of history who created heavens and earth promised something, and they didn’t believe He was capable of delivering the goods. Without question, the leaders of that generation piously read the “thirteen principles of faith”, and gave “shiurim” in Yeshiva on “emunah”. But when it came down to “tachlis” – when they had to actualize what they had been preaching every day; when their faith was put to the test: Who is stronger, G-d or Sichon and Og, they opted for Sichon and Og. For sure, a “psak halacha” of the “Badatz” was even given on this issue by the ten rabbis.

As the Israeli government hands over to the Arabs the Land of Israel piece by piece, it becomes all the more important to learn Parshat Shlach, for the sin of the spies, “and they despised the holy land”, is repeating itself in a big way. Once more, the basic sin is lack of faith. But it is likely that the sin today of despising the land is a lot more severe than it was then. After all, we are already sitting here in the land. We have already conquered it through great wonders and miracles. We should not need such enormous faith to understand what our eyes have already seen in past wars. In essence, the faith for us should not be such an abstract commodity. Yet, in spite of this we insist on groveling to the Asads and Arafats, continuing to perceive ourselves as grasshoppers instead of giants. May G-d give us the faith and “msirut nefesh” (self sacrifice) to save ourselves from awesome punishment.

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