Yesterday, we noted the unusual word “va-tahinu” with which Moshe describes the ill-fated attempted made by a group among Benei Yisrael to wage war against the residents of Canaan in response to God’s decree following the sin of the spies (1:41). After the people heard the spies’ report, and decided they were incapable of capturing Eretz Yisrael from the powerful Canaanite tribes, God decreed that the nation would journey in the wilderness until that entire generation died, and their children would enter the land. The people – or one group – approached Moshe and confessed that they were wrong, and they expressed their determination to go and fight against the Canaanites, in direct defiance of God’s decree. Ignoring Moshe’s warnings, this group proceeded to Eretz Yisrael and fell in battle. Moshe described their decision to proceed with the verb “va-tahinu,” a difficult word to translate, and which has been interpreted in different ways by the commentators.
Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch suggests associating this word with the word “hon” which is used in a pair of verses in Sefer Mishlei (30:15-16) to mean “sufficient.” In those verses, King Shlomo speaks of several people and things that never say “hon” – that are never contented and always desire more. Accordingly, Rav Hirsch writes, the word “va-tahinu” could be understood to mean “you deemed sufficient” – referring to the fact that the people felt themselves independently capable of successfully waging war against the Canaanites. Moshe here tells the people, in Rav Hirsch’s words, “…you went from criminal cowardice to criminal conceit. That which you doubted you would be able to accomplish with God, you then believed you could do without Him. You imagined your swords were more than sufficient to conquer the Land.” At first, upon hearing the scouts’ frightening report, the people were convinced that even with God’s involvement, they could not possibly succeed in battle. The powerful armies of Canaan, as the spies described, seemed so intimidating that even God’s assistance did not appear to them sufficient to overcome them. But then, after hearing God’s decree, Benei Yisrael made the precise opposite mistake – assuming that they could succeed even without God’s assistance. Although God had made it clear that He would not allow them to enter Eretz Yisrael, the people insisted that they could – expressing what Rav Hirsch calls “criminal conceit,” the belief that they were independently capable and did not require God’s help.
This episode, then, teaches us to avoid these opposite mistakes, to firmly believe that God’s help enables us to succeed in any endeavor, and to humbly acknowledge that we are incapable of succeeding in any endeavor without His help.