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Your bags are at least mostly packed, and your shirts are either rolled or folded neatly in your suitcase. The ticket says that your flight is only a few hours away, but there’s still so much more to do.
Before embarking on a journey, especially one that takes you into a different country, there’s preparations that go into every aspect of the trip. From the type of toothbrush you take, to deciding whether everything can neatly fit in your carry on. But not detracting from the importance of proper physical hygiene, there’s also some more spiritual preparations at play as well.
The nature of this topic is compounded especially when we consider the business traveler. In today’s fast-paced world of information technology, the ability to video chat with co-workers or business partners overseas, is usually only a few clicks away. But planes still seem to fill up even though we have Skype and Google Hangout. Wouldn’t it be much easier to just virtually travel where we needed to go, and virtually meet who we needed to see?
All Passengers Please Take Your Seats
Being as we booked the non-refundable ticket already, we had some motivation to look for a pro-travel source in the Torah (although we will discuss pro-virtual as well). This then brings us back to the beginning of last week’s Torah portion of Shelach.
The portion begins with the words, “Send yourself men to survey the land of Canaan…”. What was the purpose of this assignment? There is obviously no doubt that the Jewish people were intent on entering the land of Israel, as God had promised Abraham, and had told Moses at the Burning Bush. There is also no doubt that the land is good, “A land flowing with milk and honey,” and that it is the most fitting place for the Jewish people to live. Why then was it necessary to send men to examine the land’s quality?
Some commentaries explain that nonetheless, the main purpose of the spies’ assignment was to see that the land was good, and by doing so increase the people’s motivation; joyfully raising their spirits as they came into the land. This is why Moses told the spies to “Be strong and take of the land’s fruit,” so that they would see the land’s worth with their own eyes. But Moses himself did not need this, because he fully believed in God’s promise. While he could envision the goodly land in the mind’s eye; not everyone was on such a high level. This is why the people required a visual confirmation of the land’s fruitfulness for it to make an impression on them.
So the first lesson is that if we were all like Moses, maybe we wouldn’t need to physically travel about. We would be able to envision the goodly land (or goodly people) in the mind’s eye. But because most of us currently are at the “Be strong and take of the land’s fruit” level, we buy the ticket, and board that physical plane. Perhaps this also explains why kids everywhere expect their parents to bring home gifts from their travels. Bringing gifts is a sign that the trip was a sweet one. So it’s a good idea for parents to tell their kids before the trip, that they hope to bring home something for them.
The second lesson is that a Moses-like person may still do things for the benefit of the rest of the us. He may still board planes even though he didn’t need to. Even the video-conferencing is for our sake because he could haven’t just pictured each of his students in his mind. These thoughts are a bit more progressive than the advice to bringing home gifts, but its a good idea to try and bring a few different levels of interpretation in these articles.
This all answers our question concerning Moses’ objective in sending the spies, but it leaves us with another. Why was it so important to enter the land of Israel joyfully? Obviously we are commanded to “Serve God with joy,” but usually this refers to the joy attained while actually performing a mitzvah. In this case, however, the joy stems from the land of Israel’s physical goodness, and from the benefits we gain from the land. But there is a general principle regarding all the mitzvot that someone who performs a mitzvah for personal fulfillment is missing the point of what a mitzvah is. The emphasis should be on obediently performing the mitzvah because the Almighty commanded us to do so.
Of course mitzvot should be performed with joy. The joy accompanying a mitzvah is what adorns our observance of God’s commandments. But this joy is spiritual in nature. It follows then that the mitzvah of settling the land of Israel is unlike any other mitzvot. It is unique in that its performance certainly includes the benefit and joy gained from living in the land.
However, this very point—that the settling of the land of Israel is beneficial and pleasurable—introduces a certain hazard. To perform any other mitzvah, an individual must set aside his feeling of self in order to perform it solely for Heaven’s sake. But, entering the land of Israel requires our total personal involvement. We should savor the pleasant tastes of the “land flowing with milk and honey,” enjoying it and rejoicing in it. Therefore, in this case, there is a definite danger that we will place our self in the center, declaring that it is, “My power and the strength of my hand that has made me successful.” How then could the spies have guarded their judgement?
When receiving pleasure or benefit is part of an experience, we should suspect that they might play off our unrefined ego. In fact, the Hebrew words for “benefit” (הַנָאָה) and “ego” (אֲנִי) share the same numerical value, 61. This is exactly what happened to the ten spies. Their judgment was tainted by their egos. This helps explain the opinion that Joshua and Caleb did not carry any fruit back (the fruit representing the benefits of the land), even though Moses had commanded it, because they understood that by doing so they would in fact act against Moses’ implicit intentions.
The Torah also states that Moses “was the humblest of all men,” yet he is the one that also encouraged the spies to take fruits back from the land. How then can we have both? The fruits or enjoyment from the land, yet a faithfulness to the mission at hand?
While entering the land does indeed occupy one’s total involvement, the physical nature of the land should not override one’s spiritual awareness. In modern terms, even if you need to physically fly into and walk the land, a person should always stay connected to the source of their explorations.
We discussed the “start-up nation” term previously, but now we’d like to explain it as a desire to remain virtual. It used to be, that entrepreneurs were content growing their businesses into successful enterprises. Now it is much more interesting to be an entrepreneur that started and sold many businesses; or at least became successful enough to become a venture capitalist for other businesses.
If the land of Israel is full of potential entrepreneurs, then the “fruit” that they are showing to the world, was not intended to be a one time thing. They brought grapes back because they entered the land at the start of the grape harvest season. But maybe if they went in on a different day, they would have brought back olives or figs?
What Joshua and Caleb realized was that when it comes to either staying true to the mission or taking fruits back, it was better that they shouldn’t be swayed by their own personal enjoyment. So too the lesson for all of us, is that even as we enter the land, we should have in mind to harvest and publicize the lands “fruits” on a daily basis.
The spies should have nullified themselves completely before Moses, “the humblest of all men,” who himself was absolutely nullified before God. Had the ten spies been totally faithful to Moses (as Joshua and Caleb were), they would have been able to experience the benefit and great joy associated with entering the land of Israel, while simultaneously remaining connected to Moses and the Almighty.
In order to rectify the sins of the spies then in our days, we need to be like Joshua and Caleb. But instead of not bringing the fruit lest we be swayed, we need to train ourselves to harvest it on a daily basis.
We spoke in the beginning whether its really necessary to board a plane at all. But while Moses himself doesn’t need to gather fruits, he wants that each of us should. The main distinction, though, is that he also wants that we shouldn’t feel full and satiated from this physical abundance. This is in order that we fill each day with new accomplishments and initiatives.
So had Moses not commanded the spies to actually enter the land, Joshua and Caleb probably would have stayed home. After all, they weren’t planning on taking the physical fruits. So maybe the “surveying” could have been done in some virtual way?
But the fact that Moses wanted them to enter, also meant that it would have been preferable if they had gathered physical fruit as well. While Moses understood in the end why they didn’t bring back fruit, the whole mission still became predicated upon actually “buying the ticket” and venturing forth into the physical land of Israel.
Excerpted and freely adapted from “Rectifying the sin of the spies” from RabbiGinsburgh.com.