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Friday - Shabbat, June 17 - 18 Parshat Shelach 

Torah Reading:  Shelach (Numbers 13:1 - 15:41) 
Candle Lighting  8:11 PM
Shabbat ends 9:21 PM

Go South

The Debacle

This week’s parsha features one of the most tragic events to have occurred to the Jewish people in their journey towards the Promised Land: Ten of the twelve spies sent by Moses return with a slanderous report of the Land of Israel. This debacle was responsible for delaying their entry into the Promised Land by close to forty years.

The tragedy began when ten of the twelve spies decided that their commission as spies was a license for them to also voice their opinion as to whether it was possible to conquer the Promised Land. The very fact that G‑d accepted the notion of sending scouts to survey the land was sufficient proof to them that this conquest was intended to be a natural process. If it were a miraculous conquest then there would certainly be no need to survey the land first. Since G‑d acceded to their request to send the spies to scout the land it “demonstrated” to them that G‑d wanted them to determine if it was possible for the fledgling Jewish nation to succeed in this conquest. They drew the conclusion that there was no natural basis for them to succeed.

They were clearly mistaken. They exaggerated their role. They were never charged with the mission to make decisions. Their job was to simply report back as to the strengths and weaknesses of the Canaanites, and nothing else.

Thus, when they returned and instilled fear in the hearts of the Jewish nation who cried, they were punished severely and as a consequence of the Jewish people’s reliance on the ten spies and not on G‑d, they were kept in the desert for almost another 40 years. Only the new generation would live to see the Promised Land.

This entire episode which occurred in the formative years of the Jewish people must serve as a lesson for us in our final years on our journey towards the future redemption and our return to the Promised Land.

A Table or A Menorah; Wealth or Wisdom?

In the instructions Moses gave the spies he told them to “go up to the south and go up to the mountain.”

Clearly, Moses’ opening instructions to the spies about “going up to the south etc” must contain an important lesson for us in our own journey. Moses’ introductory words to them conveyed a message that if heeded it would have prevented the spies from perverting and subverting their mission – a mission that ultimately brought disaster upon themselves and the entire Jewish people.
What does “going up to the south” imply?

The Talmud (Bava Batra 25b) states: “One who wishes to become knowledgeable should face south [while praying]; whereas one who wishes to be become wealthy should face north.” The Talmud then states that these different directions parallel the location of two of the vessels in the Temple Sanctuary.

On the north side of the Temple Sanctuary the Shulchan was situated. The Shulchan was a special table upon which twelve loaves of bread were placed each week. This table symbolized the material blessings that G‑d provides. These blessings were generated specifically by the service in the Temple that involved the placing and eating of these twelve loaves that were placed in the north side of the Sanctuary.

On the south side of the Temple, the Menorah—the seven branched Candelabrum—was  placed and kindled. The light generated by the Menorah symbolized the knowledge of Torah, which is compared to light.

Therefore, if one directs their mind and heart to the north; i.e., if their focus in prayer that expresses their aspiration is to achieve material prosperity—albeit, in the context of the Holy Temple, which means that the one’s material acquisitions are obtained legally and ethically and that they will be utilized  to support the spiritual institutions of the Jewish people— G‑d will grant them their wish.
If their focus is on the “south”, i.e., the pursuit of knowledge, G‑d will grant them their request and they will achieve a higher level of Torah understanding that will enable them to bring light and enlightenment to others as well.           

Breathing Intelligence

With this introduction we can understand what Moses had in mind when he told them first to go up to the south. He was intimating to them that they should direct their energies not towards the material benefits that the Promised Land will certainly yield, but they should focus instead on living in Israel for the purpose of acquiring a heightened level of spiritual awareness. This is consistent with the statement in the Talmud (Bava Batra 138b): “The air of Israel makes one wise.”

However, Moses was careful to add the caveat, “go up to the south.” There are two ways of going south, up or down. When one sees intellectual pursuits as the goal and not simply the means to live an ideal moral and spiritual life, the intellect can actually drag the person down. Moses was quite aware of the pitfall of allowing these intellectual giants to make decisions based solely on their own theories with regard to the geo-political situation in the land of Cana’an. He knew that they were capable of using their brilliant minds to find ways of rationalizing a conclusion that called for nothing less than rebellion against G‑d.

Thus Moses exhorts them: “Go up to the south.” By all means go south; use your intellect to the fullest. But make sure that it will take you up to a higher spiritual plane. Make sure that the intellect is in sync with G‑d’s will and not with your own preconceived notions of what is conquerable and what is not.     
Two Scenarios

We are living in a most crucial period of history, poised to enter into the ultimate Promised Land. This is meant not only in the geographical sense of the word; that we will all return to the Land of Israel with Moshiach who will rebuild the Holy Temple. It is also intended to describe a new spiritual reality that has been promised to us. We are about to enter into a world that is good beyond anything we can imagine.

There are two valid scenarios for the future redemption.

One scenario is that we will have a world of peace and prosperity.

The other scenario is that we will attain the highest level of spiritual enlightenment.
Our desire for Moshiach may be based on either consideration. One can crave for the Redemption because it will solve all of our physical problems and satisfy our material needs. Alternatively, we ought to yearn for the coming of Moshiach because we will be able to reach unimagined levels of Torah knowledge.

Maimonides describes these two scenarios in the following manner:

“The Sages and prophets did not yearn for the Messianic Era in order to rule over the entire world, nor in order that they have dominion over the gentiles, nor that they be exalted by them, nor in order that they eat, drink and celebrate. Rather, their aspiration was that [the Jewish people] be free [to involve themselves] in the Torah and its wisdom, without anyone to oppress or disturb them…”

Maimonides continues—and with these words he concludes his monumental work of Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah: “In that Era there will be neither famine nor war, neither envy nor competition, for good things will flow in abundance and all the delicacies will be as freely available as dust. The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G‑d. The Jews will therefore be great sages and know the hidden matters, and will attain an understanding of their Creator to the [full] extent of mortal potential; as it is written, "For the world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the ocean bed."

From the above it is clear that there will be material gain and even abundant delicacies. And if the prospect of enjoying these delicacies motivates us to work towards Redemption, it is still acceptable. Nevertheless, our primary reason for desiring the Messianic Redemption is for the new vistas of knowledge that will be open to us.
And this is the timely message conveyed to us in Moses’ first instructions to the spies: In our quest for a better world it behooves us to aspire to the higher motivation—“go south!” Our desire should be for the knowledge.

But, the follow up message should be that in our quest for greater knowledge, we must realize that the knowledge is subordinate to the way we live our lives.

By all means, “Go south!” However, make sure that you are not descending into the valley in that pursuit, but climbing the mountain.

Moshiach Matters 

"The field will exult and everything in it." The Alshich comments that when Adam sinned, G‑d cursed the earth which Adam would thereafter have to cultivate for his sustenance. In the future, however, this curse will be nullified and the fields will exult when they return to their original blessed state.
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