Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Free Will and G-D's Guidance

This week's Parsha is quite incredible. G-D tells us to send spies to the land and scout it out with Leaders of the tribes, supposedly great men. Then, when they fail and bring the rest of Bnei Yisroel to sin G-D tells Moshe, "I am going to wipe them out and just start all over with you." We were only saved because Moshe prayed for us, had anyone else been the leader we would have surely perished. However, if we take a closer look at this debacle we will be able to understand a much deeper lesson than that of the mistakes of our ancestores.

In Bamidbar (13:2) it says:

ב. שְׁלַח לְךָ אֲנָשִׁים וְיָתֻרוּ אֶת אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נֹתֵן לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אִישׁ אֶחָד אִישׁ אֶחָד לְמַטֵּה אֲבֹתָיו תִּשְׁלָחוּ כֹּל נָשִׂיא בָהֶם:
2. "Send out for yourself men who will scout the Land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel. You shall send one man each for his father's tribe; each one shall be a chieftain in their midst."

I know that almost everyone has been told that Shelach Licha (send for yourself) means that when Bnei Yisroel heard they were going into Israel they asked G-D if they could send people first before entering the land. However, I think this reveals an amazing gift from G-D to man. The gift: free will to do what we please. Think about it, G-D just performed all of these miracles to bring us out of Egypt and He gave us food and water through clear miracles and the Jewish people still ask Him if they can send people to scout out the land before entering?!?! Are they serious? And if they didn't like the land what were they gonna do? Nonetheless, G-D does not force anything upon man so He allowed them to scout out the land before entering it.

However, G-D knows the essence of man, He understands our nature. G-D knew that just letting the Jewish people decide on their own who they were going to send and how they were going to scout out the land would definitely lead to disaster. Therefore, G-D told Moshe, "If you are going to send anyone they must be the most righteous and humble among you." In this way G-D allowed the Jewish people to have their free will, but tried to guide them towards the proper path without hindering their free will.

This can also explain a very perplexing statement made in the very next verse (ibid:3):

ג. וַיִּשְׁלַח אֹתָם מֹשֶׁה מִמִּדְבַּר פָּארָן עַל פִּי יְ־הֹוָ־ה כֻּלָּם אֲנָשִׁים רָאשֵׁי בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הֵמָּה:
3. So Moses sent them from the desert of Paran by the word of the Lord. All of them were men of distinction; they were the heads of the children of Israel.

In case you missed that, this verse says that Moshe sent out the scouts BY THE WORD OF THE LORD. What??? If it was the word of the Lord why does it say in Devarim (1:22):

כב. וַתִּקְרְבוּן אֵלַי כֻּלְּכֶם וַתֹּאמְרוּ נִשְׁלְחָה אֲנָשִׁים לְפָנֵינוּ וְיַחְפְּרוּ לָנוּ אֶת הָאָרֶץ וְיָשִׁבוּ אֹתָנוּ דָּבָר אֶת הַדֶּרֶךְ אֲשֶׁר נַעֲלֶה בָּהּ וְאֵת הֶעָרִים אֲשֶׁר נָבֹא אֲלֵיהֶן:
22. And all of you approached me and said, "Let us send men ahead of us so that they will search out the land for us and bring us back word by which route we shall go up, and to which cities we shall come."

Also, all the Medrashim and commentators say this as well, that the Jewish people requested that these scouts go. How, then, could Moshe have sent the scouts by the word of G-D?

So, using what was explained above, that G-D gives guidance to man's free will, will help us explain this predicament. G-D allows man to have free choice, but once the Jewish people chose to send people as scouts, He was not allowing just anyone to go and they could not choose any path they wanted. They had to see the best of the land and, as we said before, only the most righteous among them were allowed on this scouting trip. Thereby, G-D gave the Jewish people the best possible chance to succeed. However, it was all for naught. Even these great men and even this path that showed the best that Israel had to offer could not overcome their desires.

The question remains, what was their desire? Well, I will put it this way, they were living in the desert where all of their needs were taken care of by G-D, they did not have to work or do anything for that matter. All of this right after being slaves where the labor was back breaking and when they entered the land they knew that life would go back to normal. People would have to plow their fields and they would have to fight the armies of Canaan. Gosh, why would they WANT to enter Israel? They thought they knew better than G-D. They thought their lives would be better in the desert than in the land of Israel and that is why they did not want to enter. Only once they heard that G-D's wrath would come down upon them and their comfortable lives would be altered did they then desire to go up and enter the land, but at that point it was too late.

Today, we are no better than the Jews of the desert. We are always looking for a way to avoid work. Toil is something that we despise and we are always looking for the easy way out. If I was living in a situation where all of my needs were taken care of and then I was told I had to start working again, I would try my hardest to stay where I was.

The most important thing that, I think, we can take away from this is that although we have free will G-D tries to guide us in the proper direction. He did not just allow the Jews to fall without fighting for them, that is probably why He was so angry with them to the extent that He "wanted" to destroy them. Today, we are guided by G-D through the Torah and mitzvos. They teach us that we must make our decisions with free will, but when we make those choices the Torah is there to guide us on how best to avoid temptations that lead to our downfall. People will look at the Torah as prohibitive, but I see it as an enhancer of life. Does the person who eats 50 steaks and throws up enjoy his steaks more, or does the person who has his steak with wine and spices enjoy it more? True, the person who has only one has less, but as the saying goes "sometimes less is more."

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