Traveling the desert
Traveling the desertiStock
We read in Parashat Shlach of the awesome decree, that the people who accepted the evil tidings of the spies as to the Land, would die in the wilderness, ‘and’ their ‘young children..they shall know the Land that you have despised’, and the people would roam the wilderness for forty years, ‘like the number of days that you spied out the Land, a day for a year’.

Therefore:’Tomorrow, turn and journey towards the wilderness in the direction of the Sea of Reeds’.

On hearing this decree, ‘the people mourned exceedingly’ BUT acted immediately:’They awoke early in the morning and ascended towards the mountain saying: ‘We are ready, and we shall ascend to the place of which Hashem has spoken, for we have sinned’.

‘Moshe said:’Why do you transgress the word of Hashem? It will not succeed. Do not ascend, for Hashem is not in your midst..and you will fall by the sword, because you have turned away from Hashem, and Hashem will not be with you’.

‘But they defiantly ascended to the mountaintop’ and, as they had been forewarned, their enemies ‘struck them and pounded them until Hormah’.

Asks Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl:’Why was their תשובה: repentance, not accepted? there could not be a more complete act of repentance! Immediately after Moshe transmits to then in the name of Hashen, that, as a result of their transgression, only their sons - and not they - would enter the Land, the entire people were aroused to repent.

‘If we pay heed, we find that the people’s act of repentance, comprised all three elements for complete repentance laid down by the Rambam: Regret: ‘they mourned exceedingly); ‘parting’ from the transgression: :we shall ascend to the place of which Hashem has spoken’; and, the third component: וידוי: ‘confession of transgression’: we sinned in wishing to return to Egypt, and in the credence we gave to the reports of the spies.

‘Despite this, we read that their repentance - as complete as it seems - was not accepted; in Mishneh Torah, Moshe, when recounting these events, says: ‘You rebelled against Hashem, and you were wilful and climbed the mountain’.

‘How could their well-intentioned attempts to atone for their original transgression, be so construed?

‘Because it was - in itself - a transgression of Hashem’s command:’turn and journey toward the Sea of Reeds’!

‘Had they acted before this new command was given, they may well have been forgiven; but that which, until that command, would have been a Mitzvah - in fulfillment of the orginal Mitzvah to enter the Land - once the command to ‘turn around’ had been given, became a transgression - and a transgression clearly could not be an acceptable act of reperntance.

‘Indeed, their act ‘of repentance’ was a continuation of the mistaken basis of their original transgression: they then erred grievously, by ascribing to the giants whom they found in the Land, as an independent force, beyond the absolute control of Hashem; true, they surmised, the Will of Hashem was an important force in the world, but there were other forces, apart from His Will, which affected what happened in the world.

‘When they were notified of the decree that they would not enter the Land, they understood that they had erred, but did not appreciate the true nature of their error - they thought that they erred by not sufficiently appreciating the Land - whereas their error was a more fundamental one: they did not give sufficient credence to Hashem’s Word.

‘Therefore, their actions the following morning, were flawed by the same error - and were a continuation of it - Hashem tells them not to ascend, but they decide that it is more important to ascend to the Holy Land; so important, that it transcends even Hashem’s Word.

‘Thus, there was not, in reality, repentance, as they did not ‘leave’ their earlier transgression - originally they deemed the might of the giants as a factor independent of Hashem’s Will, but now, they still failed to understand that, just as the giants have no relevance against Hashem’s Will, so too, ascending to the Land - with all its great importance - is of ‘no consequence’, when the ascent is against Hashem’s Will’.

The Abarbanel adds:’Moshe’s admonition not to ascend, because ‘it will not succeed’, is that they would thereby ‘transgress the word of Hashem’ - meaning: in doing so, you will again be transgressing the word of Hashem.

‘When I said to you:(Devarim 1:21) ‘See , your G-d has placed the Land before you, go up and not fear and do not lose resolve’, you did not heed my words; and yet now, that Hashem has said to you:’turn and journey toward the wilderness, in the direction of the Sea of Reeds’, you say:’we shall ascend to the place of which Hashem has spoken’!

‘Do not do so, ‘because you have turned away from Hashem, and Hashem will not be with you’.

‘There is no doubt that they did not truly repent; they should have said to Moshe:’Pray for your servants, for we have sinned to Hashem’ - instead, they placed their trust in their strength, to succeed.

‘Had they followed the example of the transgressors who, when bitten by the serpents as punishment for their transgression, admitted their wrong-doing, saying to Moshe:’We have sinned, in speaking against you’ - their repentance was therefore accepted, and they were healed’.

Rav Zalman Sorozkin offers a different insight, saying:’In their words:’We are ready, and we shall ascend to the place of which Hashem has spoken’, they were saying:’True, the land of Egypt is like a paradise, and better than the Land of Canaan, a land which ‘eats’ its inhabitants, and not worthy of going to war for, when we can easily conquer the land of Egypt, which is better than the Land.

‘Nevertheless, since the Land is the place that Hashem has chosen for his ‘dwelling’, and He wishes that we go and conquer it, ‘we are ready, and we shall ascend to’ it.

‘We find that they did not repent for their main transgression: speaking badly against the Land of Israel, nor did they have faith in Hashem’s ability or in his praise of the Land, and therefore their repentance was not accepted’.

The Ramban elucidates:’In saying:’Why do you transgress the word of Hashem?’, Moshe is not referring to the decree that they were all to die in the wilderness’, but to Hashem’s command:’Do not ascend.. and do not be smitten before your enemies’.

‘The reason that ‘It will not succeed’, is because there can be no success, in transgressing the word of Hashem’.

The Netziv adds:’Whilst it is meritorious to atone for a transgression by rectifying that very thing, this cannot be effected by transgressing Hashem’s Word.

‘Thus, when they said:’we shall ascend to the place of which Hashem has spoken’ - which they previously refused to do - cannot be accepted as repentance, because by doing so now, they transgressed Hashem’s decree that they not enter the Land’.

Rav Moshe Schwab adds a parting lesson in hashkafa:’In Parashat Beha’alotcha, we read that (9:23):’At the Lord’s bidding they would encamp, and at the Lord’s bidding they would travel; they kept the charge of the Lord by the word of the Lord through Moshe’.

‘Throughout their travails through the wilderness, this principle guided them; they forewent any personal wishes whatsoever, and it was in the merit of this, that they would enter the Land.

‘Even though it might appear ‘good’, to ‘ascend to the place of which Hashem has spoken’, without being commanded to do so by Hashem - be the motives as laudable as they might appear - is, in fact, not a Mitzvah, but a חילול ה׳: a desecration of Hashem’s Name’.

לרפואת נועם עליזה בת זהבה רבקה ונחום אלימלך רפאל בן זהבה רבקה, בתוך שאר חולי עמנו.