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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Shlach: The Sins of Humility, Faith, and Scrupulosity

Brought in the name of Rav Kook in Chaim Sabato's Ahavat Torah:

Only with humility is Eretz Yisroel conquered: it says “tovah ha’aretz me’ohd me’ohd,” and in Pirkei Avos it says “me’ohd me’ohd hevei shefal ru’ach.” This unusual expression, "me'od me'od", shows a relationship between humility and our ability to acquire the land of Israel.

Rav Kook adds that this is what it means in Tehillim 37:11 “ve’anavim yirshu eretz,” the meek shall inherit the earth; Aretz, in this passuk, means Eretz Yisrael. (Also quoted by the Nesivos Shalom from the Rebbe of Lechowitz. Also, see Reb Isaac Sher's similar approach to the mistake of the Meraglim.)

So it was known to the Meraglim that humility was a central ingredient in Yerushas Eretz Yisrael, and no doubt they prepared themselves accordingly; they learned mussar with hispa'alus, they did a cheshbon hanefesh, a spiritual audit. They went on their mission well prepared, with the requisite shiflus haru'ach. But it seems that this good thought was misapplied, and was ultimately counterproductive. They felt that the hanhaga of lema'ala miderech hateva, the supernatural protection of the Jewish people, would stop upon entering Eretz Yisrael, and Hashem would leave them to their own zechusim and abilities: they said they felt like chagavim, that bederech hateva they had no hope of conquering the land, even if Hashem would help in a derech hateva way. Their sin was misapplied humility.

Scrupulosity is the conviction of spiritual uncleanliness, of unworthiness, the inflation of trivial failings into major catastrophes. Scrupulosity, and its brother, unctuousness, perhaps are, perhaps are not, sinful. I've known several people who were classically unctuous as young men, but who ended up becoming successful and influential Mashgichim. (By the way; the etymology of unctuous is the Latin word for oily, or greasy, because these people often walk around rubbing their hands around each other as if the are rubbing oil into their hands. Thus, the epithet 'greaseball' in the Yeshiveshe jargon. This phenomenon, evidently, is not exclusive to our yeshivos.) But these traits, unless carefully controlled, certainly can become counter-productive.  Think about Reb Zecharia ben Avkilus!

After the disaster of the Meraglim, a group of contrite men decided that they would take their lives into their hands and march into Eretz Yisrael- the Ma'apilim.  They were all killed.  The sin of the ma’apilim was misapplied bitachon. They believed that if they bravely put themselves into danger, if they did like Nachshon ben Aminadav at the Yam Suf, Hashem would step in in recognition of their faith in Him. (The Netziv there says that they hoped their bravery and trust would elicit Hashem's help; and if it didn't, it was better to die ahl kiddush Hashem in the attempt than to live through the forty years of the Midbar.) They, and the Meraglim, made the mistake of applying middos tovos without constant appraisal of whether the middos were serving Hashem’s will.

You can’t let a midda tova run away with you; you need to constantly reassess whether the middah is being used correctly.  This is what Rava (Sotah 5a) means when he says, regarding humility,  בשמתא דאית ביה ובשמתא דלית ביה.  Excommunicated in whom it is, excommunicated in whom not.

How, you wonder, can a person be liable for well-intentioned mistakes? Beyond the issue of punishing intellectually sincere non-believers, here the question is more serious: here, the sins stemmed from anivus and bitachon; shouldn't they have been rewarded for good faith? Even if they didn't deserve reward, did they deserve such serious punishment for what must have been well-motivated errors? And similarly, why did Hashem punish the generation of the Midbar for what Hashem said was a sin of "Lo he'eminu." If you don't believe, you don't believe. Belief is, after all, an inevitable outgrowth of experience: you trust those who earn your trust, and nobody else. If you don't trust someone, whose fault is it? If Klal Yisrael didn't believe, whose fault was it?

The answer seems to be that much of what we consider well-reasoned decisions are post-facto rationalizations of base motivations that we are unwilling to explicitly consider. These true motives, which embarrass us because they are hedonistic, or solipsistic, or infantile, are hidden in the closet, and we self-servingly create rationalizations that not only hide the dark truth, but even make our decisions appear, superficially, honorable and self-sacrificing. The thing is, you can lie to your friends, and you can lie to yourself, but you can't get away with it when you're dealing with the Bochen Levavos.

Just as Chazal say we can love Hashem "bi'shnei yetzirecha," that we can use the Yetzer Hara- Ga'ava, Azus, Kin'ah, Nekama- in the service of Hashem, it turns out that we can rebel against Hashem with our Yetzer Hatov- Anivus, Bitachon, and Yir'ah.

Mei'inyan le'inyan be'oso inyan:
The Tefillah of Moshe on the sin of the Meraglim: the Gemora in Shabbos 89a. “Reb Yehoshua ben Levi: when Moshe came up to Hashem, he found Him tying crowns on the letters. Hashem told him, “Don’t they say “Shalom” where you come from? Moshe answered, “Is it right for a slave to greet his Master?” Hashem said, “You should help Me.” Moshe said, “Ve’atah, yigdal nah Koach Hashem....” What does “ve’atah yigdal no Ko’ach Hashem” mean? And what was it that Moshe realized when Hashem told him to say Shalom?

Rav Freidlander in his Sifsei Chaim on Mo’adim, vol 1 page 276 or something, brings the Maharal in the Ohr Hagolah, and explains the dialogue. 'Crowns on letters' means perfection of the Torah, the absolute power and inherent sufficiency of the Torah and the Middos of Hashem. Hashem asked Moshe, don’t you say hello where you come from? That is, don’t you say Shalom, which is a brachah that Hashem’s power be increased in your world of Gashmius? Moshe answered, what good is my brachah on the Middos of Hashem? Hashem answered, (just as we have in Brochos 6a with Yishmaeil ben Elisha in the Kodesh Kadashim– barcheini be'ni– ), that this is the secret of tefillah. The middos are a reality. But, just as was the case with the rain that gave life to Gan Eden, to actuate them, to bring them to fruition in our world, they need to be unlocked, and Hashem wants mankind to hold that key. The key is tefillah. As I have said from the Alshich on the Middos, the 13 Middos are infinitely potent; but in order for the middos to be given effectiveness, man has to become a proper conduit for the power of the middos, and this is only through tefillah AND through BECOMING the middos. A water pipe can carry water, a gas pipe carries gas, a copper wire carries electricity. A person who is ra’ui to carry the middos of Hashem can invoke them through his tefillah.

So: this parsha teaches us about the sin of humility, the sin of faith, and the power of Tefillah. How on earth can a mortal man know that he is fooling himself through his ostensible application of middos tovos and pursuit of good? There is only one answer. What distinguished Yehosuha and Kalev? They were not greater than the others. Why didn't they fall into the trap that destroyed the other meraglim? What distinguished them was tefilla. The other meraglim were the greatest of the great; they were paragons of Mussar and self-sacrifice and middos tovos, and after careful meditation and thought, they made their fateful decisions. But-- Yehoshua and Kalev had one advantage- and that made the difference between life and death. The difference was tefilla. Moshe prayed for Yeshoshua, and Kalev went to Chevron to lie prostrate on the kevarim of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. No matter how great one is, no matter what he has achieved in life, it is only through tefilla for siyata dishmaya can we hope to accurately discern when our middos tovos are being used letov or ch'v the opposite. Pick up that Tehilllim and pay attention to what you are saying in davening, or you might, Ch'V, follow the path of the meraglim.



LkwdGuy said...

No comment (yet) on the tochen, but a big welcome back. You had us worried.

Anonymous said...

Good to see you are back in the saddle again!

Barzilai said...

(Edited by siteowner)

Dear Rabbi ******, Shlita

After reading your comments about titles and Kavod HaTorah, I figured I better start the comment properly!

Thank you for using the word unctuous in your post. I have had the fortune of hearing you use it before in a different, but related context. I can only thank you for this thought provoking and timely post. I have been struggling with an issue and am not sure if certain actions I may take-which category will they fall into.

Barzilai said...

Past accomplishment is not a guarantee of future performance, but that's where the smart money is. In your case, I would say you should be careful not to second guess yourself too much.