Parashat Shelach: Righteous on an Individual Level, Wicked in Public Matters

[Tal Chermon, first edition, p. 437]

The Spies were distinguished and upright persons: "All of them [important] men, they were the heads of Bnei Israel" (Bemidbar 13:3). Rashi comments: "Anytime the term 'men' [anashim] is used in the Torah, it denotes important men, for at that time they were [still] righteous" (His source is Midrash Raba.). Our Sages teach, however, that at the same time they were also wicked. Rashi asks why the Torah repeats itself by writing, "And they went and they came" (Bemidbar 13:26). He deduces from this that their return was analogous to their departure - "Just as they returned [from their mission] with evil intentions, so did they depart with evil intentions." How can we reconcile these comments?

We must answer that they were righteous on a personal, individual level, but wicked in public matters. They did not believe that the Nation's Kedusha (sanctity) was powerful enough to pervade all of the Land of Israel. They did not distinguish between the status of the Nation of Israel in exile and the status of the Nation of Israel in the Land of Israel. Sanctity in exile is limited to spiritual matter; in the Land of Israel it diffuses throughout everything. In the Land of Israel, every physical matter has Divine value. The Spies said, "He is stronger than we are/He is ('memenu' can refer to either 'we' or 'He')" (ibid. 13:31), and Rashi, following the Gemara in Sotah, comments: "They were referring to Hashem." They meant: "It's too hard for us, and too hard for Hashem. The sanctity will not be powerful enough to pervade all aspects of life in the Land of Israel."

The Spies were giants of the spirit, but they were still unfit to form the Divine leadership of the Nation of Israel in the Land of Israel. The Zohar tells us that they said, "In the desert we were worthy of being the leaders, but in the Land of Israel, we will not be the leaders." On a personal, individual level, they were outstandingly righteous, and this was sufficient to make them leaders in the Exile. However, they were wicked insofar as their inability to raise the People of Israel to spiritual perfection in the Land of Israel (see Rabbi A. Kook, Chavash Pe'er, Drush Aleph, p.24). This sin has followed us ever since, until today, when we are beginning to learn how to function on a national level of Kedusha, thanks to the wonders which G-d has performed for His Nation.