By Rabbi Dovid Markel
Parshas Sh’lach begins by recounting the story of the spies that Moshe sent to the Land of Israel. It is a story of how ten out the twelve prestigious leaders of the Jewish people fell and caused calamity to the entire nation.
Twelve spies were sent with a mission to report on the strengths and weaknesses of the land for the purpose of determining the easiest way that it could be conquered. When they returned though, instead of reporting on its strengths and weaknesses as directed, they instead gave a disparaging account of the terrain and its inhabitants. Ultimately, they proclaimed that it could not be captured.
Their blasphemy was to the extent that not only did they say that the Jewish people were not powerful enough to capture it, but they insinuated that G-d as well was not able to.
The Children of Israel were punished. Those who had participated in the complaints did not enter the Land of Israel and died out throughout the next forty years of wandering in the desert.
What’s more is that this episode was a cataclysmic event in Jewish history whose effects are felt to this day.
The Torah says that when the Jewish people were told that the land was impossible to conquer, they cried, “Why is Hashem bringing us to this land to die by the sword?…Is it not better for us to return to Egypt?” They despaired from entering the Land of Israel and declared, “Let us appoint a leader and let us return to Egypt.”
G-d penalized them for their weeping and avowed: “They cried for nothing and I will make them cry for generations.” The day that the spies returned—the ninth day of Av—was destined to be a day of mourning for future generations. It was on that day that both Temples were destroyed and the date on which the Jewish people were twice sent into exile.
G-d forewarned Moshe of the calamity that was to ensue by the fact that He Himself did not command Moshe to send the spies. He rather told Moshe to send them on his own accord. The verse says: “Send forth men, if you please, and let them spy the Land of Canaan that I give to the Children of Israel; one man each from his father’s tribe shall you send, every one a leader among them.”
R’ Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz in his commentary on the Chumash entitled Kli Yakar, gives a fascinating explanation as to what G-d would rather have had Moshe do.
The verse says: “Send forth men, if you please.” The Kli Yakar explains that G-d had preferred that Moshe send women to scout out the land. It was because of the fact that the men were generally cynical towards the land that the spies reported a negative view. Had women been sent, their love of the land would have shown through and they would not have described a dreary depiction of its qualities.
The Torah relates how the women of that generation loved the Land of Israel, while the men despised it. The Medrash explains, “The virtue of women is superior to that of men; as the men said, ‘Give us a leader, and we shall return to Egypt.’ The women said, ‘Give us inheritance in the land.’”
Had Moshe sent women, perhaps this calamitous event in history could have been averted. The Jewish people would not have been sentenced to forty years of wandering and the ninth of Av would not have become a day of everlasting mourning.
The Torah is not merely a history book, but is pertinent to our lives in all times. The Torah, explains the Zohar, shares the same etymology as the word hora’ah, which means lesson. Every story in Torah is meant to be taken as a lesson on how we should act in our personal lives.
Spiritually speaking, entering the Land of Israel is expressive of our transforming the physical world around us into a G-dly place. Just as the Land of Israel is a holy land, where the physical earth is permeated with G-dliness, so too we are given the mandate to elevate the mundane world around us and turn it into a G-dly abode. When we do a mitzvah with a physical object or when we eat, drink or do other physical actions for a G-dly purpose, we are in a microcosmic way capturing the material world and transforming it into the Land of Israel.
Just as the spies that Moshe sent were tasked with the mission of investigating what the soundest manner of conquering the Land of Israel would be, so too each and every one of us must examine and explore what the most direct manner would be to transform the corporeal world we live in.
The way that we are to overturn the world from its jungle-like existence into a G-dly abode is not only through simply doing the mitzvos, but through performing them with energy and a specific G-dly intent. When we focus on the purpose of every mitzvah, we not only do the mitzvos physically, but breathe into them vitality and G-dly energy.
The intention that we are to have in mind when we do mitzvos is expressed in the blessing that we recite before the mitzvah is done: “That you sanctified us with the mitzvos and commanded us…” We should contemplate our goal, whereby through doing mitzvos we become sanctified and unified with G-d, even through our physicality.
The lesson that the Kli Yakar is teaching us is that when we want to transform the physical world around us we should look to a woman. It’s a mission so difficult that only women are able to properly accomplish it.
The men faltered when it came to investigating the methods of conquering the Land of Israel and they are forever rectifying that mistake. The women didn’t; they loved the land. In a spiritual sense the same thing can be said:
Men have a proclivity to say, “It is too strong for us”—that it is too difficult to transform the physical. Many times, a man would rather escape into a world of spirituality and theory rather than involve himself in the physical and the mundane. Women though, love the Land of Israel. They have a natural knack for being occupied with the physical world around them while making it holy at the same time. Not only do they not resent this mission, but they enjoy it!
Women are charged with this tremendous mission. It is specifically the women who are empowered to build the Jewish home. It is women, with their love of the Land of Israel, who have the special ability to make each of their homes into a holy place—a place that is not only a house of bricks and mortar, but a home full of warmth and love. A place where it is not only comfortable for her family to live in, but where G-d feels at home as well.