Parashat Shelach tells of cheit ha-meragelim, the story of the spies who scouted the Land of Israel and then persuaded Benei Yisrael that the land was unconquerable. Benei Yisrael accepted the scouts’ report, whereupon God decreed that the generation would perish in the wilderness, and only their children would enter Eretz Yisrael.
Several sources in Chassidic thought view the scouts’ sin as mistakenly preferring the supernatural existence of the wilderness over the natural lifestyle that Benei Yisrael would need to lead once they entered the land. The Chuddushei Ha-Rim, for example, taught that the scouts did not want to lose the miraculous conditions of the wilderness which afforded the people the opportunity to devote themselves entirely to Torah. They did not need to work to sustain themselves, as they were cared for miraculously, and so they spent their time learning from Moshe. This was going to change once Benei Yisrael enter the land and begin building homes and developing an agrarian economy. They would be busy tending to their farms and herds, and would not have the luxury to devote themselves exclusively to spirituality as they did in the wilderness. For this reason, the scouts chose to dissuade the people from proceeding into the land. But they were mistaken, the Chiddushei Ha-Rim explained, because God made it clear that this is what He wanted – that Benei Yisrael should enter the land and live a normal, natural existence. The Chiddushim Ha-Rim writes that we are to submit to God’s laws and demands unconditionally, without deciding how we should serve Him. If He determined that the miraculous existence in the wilderness should be only temporary, and that the people should immediately enter the land and begin their natural mode of existence, then they should accept it, without claiming to know better than God does how they should serve Him and what kind of lives they should live.
In a sense, this Chassidic reading of the events bears a certain resemblance to the plain meaning, whereby cheit ha-meragelim involved a lack of faith in God’s ability to lead the nation to victory over the Canaanite nations. Benei Yisrael wanted to realize their destiny as God’s treasured nation on their own terms – in a smooth, straightforward and simple manner. They did not want to have challenges and struggles to overcome, to face the large, well-equipped militaries of Canaan and place their trust in God who assured them of victory. And thus once they realized what was entailed in the process of the conquest and settlement of Eretz Yisrael, they rejected this process and the destiny for which they were freed from Egypt.
This mistake is essentially the same mistake described by the Chiddushei Ha-Rim. He speaks of people who want to serve God in one particular way, who have an idea in their minds of what religious life is meant to look like, and they are unwilling to accept, or have difficulty accepting, realities that require making adjustments. We might dream of the kind of idyllic spiritual life that Benei Yisrael experienced in the desert, as explained by the Chiddushei Ha-Rim, but sometimes circumstances require us to serve the Almighty under trying and challenging conditions. We need to accept these realities and remain committed to serving God by doing what He wants us to do under any set of circumstances that come our way, even if we had expected or hoped for something very different, for something simpler and for something less challenging. Serving God means standing prepared for whatever He demands of us, even if it is not a task that we would have ideally wanted to undertake.