Judaism: A Tragedy of Errors
The fundamental issue raised in this week’s parsha is how could so many wise and ostensibly pious leaders of Israel make such a fundamental error in vision and judgment and thereby condemn them and their constituents to death and ignominy? All of the commentators to Torah from the Talmud and Midrash forward in history have attempted to unravel this mystery for us.
Human beings are prone to error, even great and noble human beings. Man proposes but only God disposes. Rashi, based on Midrash, comments that even Moshe misunderstood the situation and sent the leaders of the tribes to spy out the land even though the Lord had never specifically told him to do so and left the final decision to do so to his judgment.
We cannot live without leadership and direction, opinion and advice. But we should always be aware that human beings by definition are not omniscient and all knowing. The gift of prophecy no longer resides with our community. Because of this, caution is always advisable in matters of trust of others. The Psalmist cautions us not to trust the great, generous, noble and mighty blindly for they too are only mortal and subject to the decay of dust.
The strength of the survival of the Jewish people throughout the ages has been its ability to dissent from majority opinions and ruling cultures. Cultures change and opinions shift with time and circumstances. But Godly truth never wavers and changes. Democracy may represent the will of the majority. But even democracy is never infallibly right on major crucial issues.