SALT - Friday, 18 Sivan 5779 - June 21, 2019

  • Rav David Silverberg
            When the spies returned from their forty-day excursion in the Land of Israel, and presented their findings to Benei Yisrael, they began by showing the people samples of the land’s fruits which they brought with them (13:26), and briefly extolling the land’s agricultural benefits (13:27).  Only then did they describe the military might of the nations in Canaan, in an effort to dissuade the people from continuing into Eretz Yisrael.
            The Gemara (Sota 35a), as cited by Rashi (13:27), famously comments that the spies began by praising the land’s abundant and high-quality produce because lies must be accompanied by some degree of truth in order to sound convincing.  The spies cleverly understood that their gloomy depiction of the land would sound unpersuasive unless it included some kernel of truth, and so they began by specifically speaking in praise of the land – thereby making the rest of their report sound more compelling.
            Ketav Sofer, however, proposes that the spies’ effusive praise of the agriculture of Eretz Yisrael might have actually been intended to strengthen their argument that the land could not be conquered.  The unique material benefits offered by Eretz Yisrael, the spies contended, undoubtedly made it appealing to all the nations in the regions.  Necessarily, then, the nations who managed to control and reside in the land must have been powerful enough to stave off attacks by other peoples seeking the enjoy the land.  The special quality and abundance of food in Eretz Yisrael thus reinforced – in the minds of the scouts – the belief that the land is not conquerable, for only the most powerful nations could successfully defend an area that is so desirable.
            Of course, this argument was wrong for one simple reason – God promised the Land of Israel to the descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, and He would ensure their ability to take possession of it.  The fact that other people were unsuccessful in trying to control the land, or were deterred from even trying, due to the inhabitants’ military power, was entirely irrelevant, because the land is especially destined for Am Yisrael, and not for other nations.  We might suggest that this is the meaning of the famous tradition (Sota 34b, cited by Rashi to 13:22) that Kaleiv, one of the two dissenting spies, had gone to Me’arat Ha-makhpeila, the Tomb of the Patriarchs, during the excursion in the land.  The response to the spies’ claim is that the Land of Israel belongs to Am Yisrael by virtue of God’s promise to the patriarchs, and thus the inability of other peoples to conquer the land in no way indicated Benei Yisrael’s inability to do so.
            This insight is perhaps relevant on the personal level, as well.  We each have a unique set of qualities that make us uniquely suited for certain roles and uniquely capable of certain achievements.  Therefore, the fact that other people have not achieved a certain goal, or have not attempted to do so, does not necessarily mean that we are unable to.  Just as Eretz Yisrael is uniquely suited for Am Yisrael, making it irrelevant that other nations could not capture it, similarly, there are roles that are uniquely suited for each and every one of us, such that we must not be deterred by the fact that we do not see others filling these roles.  We are all to work to discover our unique talents and how to best apply them to fill the unique roles that we – and nobody else – are able and expected to fill.