ENTERING THE PROMISED LAND: WHEN THE PUNISHMENT IS THE REWARD
BEGIN WITH A GRIN
Private Jones was brought up before the unit commanding officer for some offense.
“You can take your choice, private – one month’s restriction to base or twenty day’s pay,” said the officer.
“All right, sir,” said the not very bright soldier, “I’ll take the money.”
REWARD OR PUNISHMENT?
Parshas Shelach tells us the sad story of the sin of the Spies. They were high caliber men who decided they knew better and this led to a rebellion against Hashem and Moshe His servant.
A quick reading of this story brings up a big question which the commentators seem to have overlooked. Ultimately, what did the Spies want already? They wanted to remain in the desert! And what was their punishment? They had to remain in the desert! [The Spies themselves died in a plague but the rest of their generation continued to live in the desert.]
Since when is a punishment precisely what you asked for? Is a child punished by giving him what he wants?! What sort of chinuch would that be?
If the Torah would tell us that the generation of the desert was lacking in food, that they no longer had manna and the well of Miriam stopped providing them with water, their child tax credits were cut, their retirement and pension funds shut down, the Clouds of Glory threw them out and for the next forty years they experienced the burning heat of the desert, we could understand the punishment. But none of that happened! They continued to live in the most comfortable of circumstances with manna from heaven and holy water, steady provisions and all of the creature comforts you can think of (if you ask me, if only we could live such a life!). Then what was the punishment? How is this just?
It is even more difficult to understand in light of the teachings of Chassidus which see the punishments of the Torah as rectification for the sin and the blemish caused by the sin. How was their stay in the desert a rectification for their desire to stay in the desert? If they were punished with a difficult existence in the desert, lacking everything, poor, hungry and thirsty, perhaps that would have rectified the desire to remain in the desert, but to remain in the desert free of any worries, war or lack?
In an enlightening sicha, the Rebbe explains the subject and teaches us an important message for our avodas Hashem and in bringing Moshiach. Every beginner student knows that Chassidus explains that the Spies wanting to remain in the desert had spiritual motivations. They did not want to be involved in material pursuits, a life of toil, plowing, planting, harvesting, for (as Rashbi put it), “What would be with Torah?”
They wanted to isolate themselves from the world and live without the worries of parnassa for one reason only – to learn Torah in tranquility, thus uniting with G-d. The Spies’ intentions were for the sake of heaven. They just wanted to connect to the Creator! Their mistake was that they did not understand (or did not want to understand) that by being involved in the world, refining and rectifying it, they would achieve a more genuine connection with G-d (as paradoxical as that might seem), because this is what G-d wants!
REWARD OF PUNISHMENT
The Rebbe shows us (through an amazing textual analysis in the Rambam) that there are two types of “lishma” (for the sake of heaven). There is “lishma” to attain a certain thing (albeit not a reward) and “lishma” for no other reason. There are people who fulfill mitzvos not for a material reward like a high salary and a penthouse in Manahattan, nor for a spiritual reward like an exclusive place in Gan Eden next to Moshe Rabbeinu and the Avos. They learn Torah and do mitzvos solely for G-d, to unite with the Creator.
Take for example the following quote (Rambam Hilchos Teshuva 9:2), “For these reasons, all Israel, [in particular,] their prophets and their Sages, have yearned for the Messianic age so they can rest from the [oppression of] the gentile kingdoms who do not allow them to occupy themselves with Torah and mitzvos properly and will find tranquility and increase in their wisdom in order to merit the World to Come.”
Did the Sages of Israel serve G-d for a reward?! Did they seek a payoff in the form of Olam Haba? Obviously not! Our Sages did not consider a reward, neither material nor spiritual. They wanted to attain an ultimate bond with G-d and this is only possible through life in the World to Come.
But there is a higher level than this, an altogether different level of “lishma” which the Rambam expresses with the words, “doing the truth because it’s the truth,” not because of any other motive and not even in order to connect with G-d, but to fulfill G-d’s will solely because this is G-d’s desire, period!
This is such a wondrous level that Rambam paskens “not every wise man merits this.” Even a serious Torah scholar who serves G-d in truth, would find it hard to live on such a level of giving one’s will over to G-d; such an absolute, uncompromising bittul with no personal desires. This is what it means to be a “chariot” to G-d like Avrohom Avinu and Moshe Rabbeinu.
The desire to remain in the desert represents the first level of “lishma,” while entering the land represents the second level.
Entering the land symbolizes (and requires) absolute bittul to G-d. It is very hard to be involved in material pursuits while doing it solely because this is G-d’s desire. It is very hard to plow and plant (or go to work every morning) and not think, even for a moment, about parnassa. It’s not at all easy. The Spies did not attain this level of bittul because to attain it you need endless love for G-d, a love devoid of personal calculations, love like that of Avrohom whom G-d Himself calls, “Avrohom who loves Me.”
Therefore, G-d left them in the desert! They had not yet attained the perfection of dveikus and absolute love so they needed a preparatory stage in a situation that advanced their spirituality. Through this preparation, with forty years of learning Torah together with Moshe, ‘the ultimate prototype of absolute bittul,’ the next generation would be able to enter the Promised Land in the right way with the right love and the right bittul! It wasn’t a punishment for the sake of a punishment. It was corrective punishment, a punishment whose purpose was to bring them to the spiritual perfection necessary to enter the land properly.
The Torah tells us this story in order for us to learn a lesson. Now, after the sin of the Spies, after the long years of preparation in the spiritual desert of galus, after G-d’s command in the Torah, “And you shall love the Lord your G-d … with all your might,” each of us can attain the sought after level of “lishma,” to truly want Moshiach not as a material reward, not as a spiritual reward, and not for the fulfillment of any other motivation; rather, wanting Moshiach because this is what G-d wants! And to learn Torah and do mitzvos in this way, living a life of true devotion to G-d!
TO CONCLUDE WITH A STORY
We will end with a story about the Chassid, R’ Nissan Nemenov who was a model of bittul and kabbolas ol. He was known for his approach to avoid taking pleasure even from divrei Torah. When he learned Nigleh and began to feel enjoyment in his learning, he would close the Gemara and open a volume of Chassidus. When he began to feel pleasure in learning Chassidus, he would close the maamar and open the Gemara again, all for the sake of fulfilling the divine will with no other considerations!
On 3 Tammuz 5687/1927, before the Rebbe Rayatz left by train from Leningrad to his city of exile in Kostroma, where he was exiled for three years, he asked the Chassidim not to come to the train station due to the danger involved. Despite this, many Chassidim went to the train station since they knew that they would probably not see the Rebbe for the next three years. R’ Nissan listened to the Rebbe and stayed home.
When the Rebbe saw the masses of Chassidim at the train station, he asked one of them where R’ Nissan was. The Chassid said: The Rebbe said not to come!
The Rebbe said, “Nissan is a sweet soldier.”
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