Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Parashat Shelach Lecha - The Hidden Torah

by Elli Sacks

A chassidic text study followed by a short d'var Torah

The Sin of Superficiality

Text: Mei ha-Shiloah (Shelah Lekha; 1995 ed. B’nai Berak, Vol. II, p. 96.):

In our first posting, we look at a teaching of the Mei ha-Shiloah that accounts the sin of the Spies to their failure to look for the deeper meanings of the Land of Israel that they were sent to scout out. One of the basic tenets of the Ishbitzer's worldview is encapsulated here: that the physical world we see and interact with on a daily basis is a necessarily distorted representation of the true hidden inner essence and the deeper meanings contained within all physical things. This almost Platonic view of a bifurcated world is similarly reflected in two of God's crowning creations - humankind and the Torah.
The Torah too has a double existence, composed of the physical written words that "clothe" and necessarily obscure somewhat the meanings of the inner, essential Torah -- known in the Ishbitzer's nomenclature as Divrei Torah. Divrei Torah reflect the thoughts of God, thoughts which are too deep for humans to grasp, and thus can only be approached through the mediating influence of words. Likewise, humankind is a bifurcated species. Humans have both a physical surface-existence and a deeper "root"-existence imprinted upon their being by God, their Creator. The challenge in life, according to the Ishbitzer, is for humans to to connect with their own inner selves, the root of their existence, which is unique for each individual. According to the Ishbitzer, by shedding all the trappings of personal self-interest and walking in simplicity and humility, we can attune ourselves to the voice of God that calls upon each of us to fulfill His will. And because each of us has a different root existence, God will call on each of us to fulfill His Will in slightly different ways. Without any further introduction, here is the text:

"And the LORD spoke to Moshe saying: ""Send out for yourself men who will spy on the Land of Canaan,... and they returned from spying the Land at the end of forty days...." This is likened unto scripture (Psalms 119:18) "Uncover my eyes and I shall gaze at hidden things from Your Torah" and in the Zohar (Behaalotechah 152a) "Those things which are hidden underneath the garments of the Torah."
Commentary: The Ishbitzer Rebbe begins, as he so often does, by using a verse from Psalms as the springboard for explaining the deeper meaning of a verse within Torah. We see that he is particularly interested the words "spying" in the passage from Numbers, and in "uncovering" in the passage from Psalms. In effect, he is drawing a parallel between the secrets of the Land -- those things which must be spied upon to be revealed -- and the secrets of the Torah which can be uncovered when one properly prepares his or her soul to hear the word of God.

"The root of Eretz Yisrael is explicit in Divrei Torah*, and there it is revealed that Israel is a land which is always in Hashem's thoughts and intentions. That is why the Samaritans had no assured existence in the Land until they learned the law of the God of the Land and started upholding Divrei Torah.
The "root" of Eretz Yisrael, the source of its existence, is one of those hidden things, one of those secrets of the Land. This is not superfluous, as until now it has been referred to in the written Torah as the Land of Canaan. But the Land, no matter its written name, is always Eretz Yisrael in the thoughts of God, in what the Ishbitzer terms "Divrei Torah"* . Throughout the Mei ha-Shiloah, he uses this term to mean something akin to "the essence of Torah", something that goes beyond the mere halakhic import of the written words. Here, the term seems to indicate a hidden, primordial first principle synonymous with a blueprint for the world. The Land of Israel is already present in this blueprint, indeed God will always be preoccupied with it. Further expanding upon his initial metaphor, the Ishbitzer notes the deep connection between the "Law" and the "Land". Those who wish to permanently settle in the Land, must understand its Law.

But these Divrei Torah (which were established in secrecy) are utterly concealed by the outer garments and can't be readily seen. Even in the explicated Divrei Torah, one cannot fully penetrate the garments to see to the depth of their essence, because the outer garments appear like a yoke and a heavy burden. Nevertheless, the one who seeks Hashem and prays to his Exalted Name to uncover his eyes, he will gaze upon the wonders of the Torah, those things that are called the hidden inner garments of Torah, and he will realize that it's entire nature is one of love!

The Ishbitzer uses the kabbalistic metaphor of "garments" to note the difficulty of penetrating the words of Torah to their deeper import. Garments symbolize the outer aspect of Torah (the words) that conceal the true essence of Torah (the deeper internal meanings). And yet, the garments are the medium through which the essence of Torah is expressed in the world -- they are both the filters and mediators of human understanding of Torah.
In the quest to find God, "one must reach beyond the externals to the true inner nature of things." The outward appearance of the Torah contains strict laws and harsh judgments, which often seem like heavy burdens for those who bear the yoke of mitzvot. But when one prays to Hashem for understanding, s/he will realize that the inner, true meaning of Torah is singularly about Love! Once again, the metaphor extends to the Land of Israel, whose outer appearance seems so harsh, but whose internal paths are paved with love.

Thus Moshe our Teacher commanded the Spies to look to the innermost depths, indicated by the use of the verb "ve -yaturu" -- to spy upon. If they had only done so, they would have seen that the essential nature of the land was very good, indeed. But the Spies only looked superficially at the outer garments and it appeared to them like a "land that devours its inhabitants." If only they hadn't waxed angry and instead had prayed to Hashem to uncover their eyes, they would would have seen the wonders of the Torah. They would have recognized that the innermost depths are populated by explicit Divrei Torah, and that beneath the garments, all is fraught with love.
Having layed the conceptual groundwork, the Ishbitzer can now return to the initial verse and expound upon the leitmotif of this teaching, the verb "ve-yaturu" -- to spy upon -- which, the Ishbitzer tells us, means to look to the inner essence of things. He subtly hints as to a double meaning in the word. The root of this verb (t.o.r.) is similar to the word "Torah", which literally means "instruction." Thus, the he identifies the verb "spying" with "seeking instruction", i.e. looking for the deeper meanings within.
The Spies looked at the external trappings of the Land, and saw only the difficulty in taking possession of this "land that devours its inhabitants." Had only the Spies looked inward, they would have seen the intrinsic connection between the Land of Israel and love that Hashem had cultivated for them there.

So, according to the Mei ha-Shiloah in his radical re-reading of this episode, what is the sin of the Spies?

Amazingly enough, the sin of the Spies, the sin for which the Children of Israel were nearly eradicated and consigned to wander the desert for the next 39 years, was the sin of superficiality! The Spies are not singled out for a lack of faith, nor for turning their backs on the destiny that Hashem had prepared them for when He took them out of Egypt!! They are not even criticized for weakening the courage and morale of their brethren when they make their devastating report!!!

All that is secondary. For the Ishbitzer, the primary mitzva (especially when we are faced with difficult choices) is to be able to look into our souls and find these Divrei Torah -- the inner meanings of Torah -- within the Tselem Elokim, the Divine Image that is housed deep inside each of us. The goal of religious experience is to connect with these Divrei Torah, and when we do the paradoxes of the universe unravel before us, the antimonies of life become harmonized, and we are finally able to hear the voice of Hashem - the voice that calls on us constantly to fulfill our appointed mission.

The Spies did not understand their mission. They looked neither inside themselves, nor for the deeper inner meanings of the Land of Israel. Rather they came, they saw, they gawked at some giants, took a few mental snapshots, snipped a few enormous grapes as souvenirs, and returned 40 days later with trinkets in hand and ready to present their slide-show to the Children of Israel. They were, in every sense of the word, TOURISTS. The modern Hebrew word for tourist "tayar" is derived from the same root as "ve-yaturu", but when Hashem used the verb he had an entirely different definition in mind. He meant the "ve-yaturu" consistent with the word "Torah", the command to look inwardly with depth.

By failing to look inward, the Spies failed their own calling. And in failing their calling, they doomed not only themselves but their followers to lives of superficiality and disconnection with the Land that was meant to support them -- the land that was supposed to connect them through love to both Hashem and to their brethren.

In our own lives, this teaching should be seen as a serious wake-up call. In the game of life, Hashem demands that we be TORAHISTS and not TOURISTS! Each of us is commanded to look deep within and to heed our own individual callings, for that is the reason we were created. If we fail to do so, as in the case of the Spies, the results can be devastating!

Shabbat shalom,



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