Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 22 June 2008

The Meraglim - Who Do They Remind You Of?

Lots of people ask what kind of problem the Meraglim had? After all, we are told they were upright leaders and they were tasked for their job by Moshe Reinu himself, yet they wound up creating a disaster for our ancestors and indirectly inaugurating the first Tisha B'av.
An answer to the reason for their behavious can be found if one recalls certain things about the condition of Bnei Yisrael at the time. Remember how our ancestors lived in the desert. Shielded from the sun and the environment by the ananei hakavod, God's clouds of glory, they recieved man to eat and had a limitless supply of water to drink. They lived within proximity of the Mishkan above which glowed the Shechinah, the physical manifestation of God's glory. They had Moshe Rabeinu and Aharon HaKohen to guide and teach them. And because all their physical needs were taken care of by God Himself, they were free to spend the day immersed in the study of Torah.
Now, keeping that in mind, imagine the change the entering Eretz Yisrael would create for them. No longer sheltered from the outside world, no longer provided with free and ready food and water, they would have to engage in a life full of material needs. They would have to build homes for shelter, develop farms for food, and build a system of transportation and commerce.
Our ancestors were surely aware that the highest mitzvah of all is the learning of Torah. Certainly the Meraglim were aware of this when they set out on their mission. A clue to their behaviour can be found in contradictory comments by Rashi describing them. On one verse, Rashi notes they are called anashim because before leaving for Israel they were still upright, "real men" as it were. Yet when they return Rashi uses a seemingly superfluous phrase to comment that just as their return was for an evil purpose, so was their going. Well which was it? Were they upright or evil?
Or might they have been both?
Imagine you are one of the Meraglim. You live a life soaked through and through with Torah. From the moment the Tamid is offered in the morning to the minute you close your eyes at night, it's all about learning and feeling a palpable closeness to God.
Then you take a tour of Eretz Yisrael and quickly realize a few things. Instead of a well-organized and completely centralized community, the Bnei Yisrael will now scatter from one end of the Land to the other. The Shechinah will be seen only on Yom Tovim or other visits to the Mishkan but otherwise will cease to be a daily feature of life. What's more, work for daily survival will become a standard. Not only will planting and building now take time but for the next while war will dominate life because of the need to drive out the inhabitants of the Land as per God's orders. With so much to do, how will you have time to study as much Torah as you do now?
Now think in a linear fashion for a moment. Given a choice between two mitzvos, one of which is considered more significant than the other, which one would you choose to perform each time? Certainly the more significant.
Thus you have two choices. You can lead the people into Eretz Yisrael where they will have the opportunity to perform many mitzvos or you can stay right where you are in Kadesh Barnea and learn Torah all day. Is any mitzvah you perform in Eretz Yisrael as important as the Limud Torah you're engaged in now? Well, of course not. By definition, nothing is more important than learning so going into Israel is to actually take a spiritual step back!
With that in mind, it could be suggested that the reason the Meraglim worked to sabotage the forward march into Eretz Yisrael was because they wanted to remain on the high spiritual level they were at in the desert without letting the necessities of life in the real world bog them down.
But what was the response of the people? "Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt." The Meraglim, with their desire for spiritual greatness, may have been anashim, but the average member of the unwashed masses wanted to live a normal, physical life. Permanent abode in the preternatural environment provided by God's visible presence wasn't something they could endure forever. And, given the choice between moving forward into a hopeless lost cause and going backwards to the physical slavery of Egypt, they chose to move back. A huge miscalculation on the part of the Meraglim.
What the Meraglim failed to understand is what the misnha in Avos tells us: the purpose of learning is to perform the mitzvos, not just to theorize about them. God gave us rules about planting, lending and building because He wants us to engage the physical world in all its complexities through the guidance of Torah. The ultimate Jew is the one who lives a complete life in line with the dictates of Torah thus showing that God's Law can guide civilization in this world. it's not one who cloisters himself away to enjoy the proximity of God's Shechinah while ignoring the opportunities to actually fulfill the commandments.

Hmmmm.... a group of leaders who thought that all Jews should spend their day learning and not working, expected to receive food and drink for free forever, and who, through their high spiritual ideals, wound up alienating the vast majority of Bnei Yisrael away from God and Torah because they didn't realize that a pure Torah-learning lifestyle may be for a select few but not for the vast majority of us. Remind you of any group you know?


Anonymous said...

I am curious about the standard of living for charedi scholars. Do they get just the most basic food and shelter? Is there a sense of variety and exploration in their dietary consumption?

If I were to only work enough hours to live at the meridian between the poverty line and the average Canadian income, conceivably I would be left with plenty of time to study Torah. I work those extra hours because I like to try different wines, cheeses, and meats. They are not necessary for survival, but they make life more interesting.

Perhaps these Charedi satisficer attitudes bear investigation. I would assume the Charedi carbon footprint would be much lighter than the ones left by the afternoon streams of BMW crossovers on Dow at 3:45 PM.

Thank you for the muse,

Incalcitrant Behemoth.

Dr Mike said...

Probably not. Chareidim generally tend to want decent standards of living. Yes, there is far less emphasis on frills and luxuries like fancy cheeses and wine while it is obviously understood that their entertainment budget is minimal but on the other hand their kids (13.9 per family) all go to expensive private schools so there is a demand for money in their lives.
As for carbon footprint, don't get me started on that.