To succeed in any task, the first thing that one needs is to understand what the task is or isn’t. Often it happens that young children don’t do what we ask them to do because they misunderstand what it was that we actually requested. Schoolchildren may make mistakes in school when they know the material that they are being tested on but misunderstand the question or instruction on a test. In this week’s Torah portion, we encounter exactly this situation. The parsha tells us the story of the spies, who sinned because they did not understand the mission to which they were sent.
In order to understand the mistake of the spies, we need to first look at Moshe’s direction to them, as the Torah tells us: "You should go up into the Negev and climb the mountain and see how the land is and the people dwelling in it – are they strong or weak, are they few or many… and how are the cities in which they dwell - are they open or fortified and how is the land, is it fertile or lean, are there trees in it or not.”
The spies thought that Moshe was asking them to check whether it was indeed possible and worthwhile to enter and conquer the Land of Israel. But the truth is that this was not at all their mission. The task assigned to the spies was to examine how the country could be conquered. G-d charged the Jewish nation with entering the Land of Israel and conquer it. If G-d so directed us, it is incumbent on us to fulfill His commandment and it is also the best thing for us. Since G-d is the One leading us to the Land of Israel, then surely we will succeed in doing so, with His help. All that Moshe requested is that through the spying, the Jews figure out the best route in order to successfully enter and conquer the land of Israel.
But that's not what the spies understood and their mistake came at a heavy price. The spies' lack of understanding of their mission led to the great tragedy of the nation remaining in the desert for an additional 38 years, and to the fact that the generation who were redeemed from Egypt would not live to enter the Land of Israel.
Even today, like in the days of the spies, there are those who unfortunately debate the question of whether the people of Israel have the right to exercise their sovereignty to the land. We need to rectify the sin of the spies by not asking ourselves if we have rights to the land of Israel, but rather dealing with the question of how we exercise our right to the land. G-d's command that the Land of Israel belongs to us creates a fact, henceforth our job is to put it into action, with G-d's help.
We need to adopt this view of reality in all areas related to service of G-d. Our role is not to create the methods through which we serve G-d. We receive instruction of how to worship G-d through both the written and the oral Torah. Our job is to reflect on how we can succeed practically both in our personal and national lives to best serve G-d according to his commandments.
Rabbi Shlomo Sobol is the head of the Barkai Rabbinical Organization and the rabbi of the Shaarei Yonah Menachem community in Modi'in