The Torah portion Sh’lach relates how the men sent to spy out Eretz Yisrael returned and reported that the country was unconquerable. The Jewish people, they said, would be unable to enter the land, since “the inhabitants of the land are mighty” (Bamidbar 13:28).
Furthermore, say our Sages, the spies went so far as to say that even G‑d would not be able to wrest the land from its inhabitants (Sotah 35a). Their words caused great consternation among the Jews, who feared that they would be unable to enter Eretz Yisrael.
How was it possible for the spies to mislead the Jewish people and convince them that even G‑d could not help them, when the Jews themselves had constantly witnessed the miracles performed on their behalf. G‑d provided their daily food and drink in a miraculous manner — manna from heaven and water from Miriam’s well
The Jewish people also experienced supernatural victories over their enemies: when they were pursued by the Egyptians, G‑d Himself split the sea for them. They should have understood that just as G‑d had performed miracles for them in their war with Egypt, He would also perform miracles for them in their battle for Canaan.
Chassidus explains that the spies did not want to enter Eretz Yisrael, preferring to remain in the desert, because they did not want to descend into the realm of the material and occupy themselves with the mundane (Likkutei Torah, beginning of Parashas Sh’lach).
While the Jews were in the desert, they were cut off from the material world; even their food and drink transcended materialism, and their clothing grew along with them (Yalkut Shimoni, Devarim 8:4).
However, upon entry into Eretz Yisrael, the manna ceased and they were forced to eat bread, which involved physical labor such as plowing, sowing, etc. At that time they also ceased receiving their water from Miriam’s well. The spies preferred the wholly spiritual lifestyle of the desert.
Despite their lofty idealism, the spies’ aspirations were misplaced: The intent of the Jew’s creation is to make a dwelling place for G‑d within the nethermost level by transforming the physical into a vessel for G‑dliness. This they could only do in Eretz Yisrael, for it was only there that the primary manner of spiritual service consisted of performing physical mitzvos.
The change in lifestyle which the Jews would have to undergo in order to enter Eretz Yisrael explains the logic underlying the spies’ claim that even G‑d could not conquer the land for them: They reasoned that the miracles G‑d had performed on behalf of the Jewish people while they lived in a supranatural state would not continue should they embark on a lifestyle that deals with the material world in a natural manner.
Seemingly, the logic of the spies was impeccable; where did they err?
The spies mistakenly thought that only two kinds of conduct are possible — the natural and the supernatural — and that these are mutually exclusive.
In truth, G‑d is not bound to these two paths, for He equally transcends both the natural and the supernatural; furthermore, He is quite capable of combining the two.
Therefore, since G‑d desired that the Jews provide Him a dwelling place by performing physical mitzvos in Eretz Yisrael, the Jews had nothing to fear from the inhabitants; although the world retains its natural characteristics, G‑d would guarantee the Jewish people — as they exist in a natural state — success that is truly supernatural. (Based on Likkutei Sichos Volume IV, pp. 1041–1044.)
Increasing The Might Of The Divine Name
The Torah portion Sh’lach relates that G‑d was upset with the Jewish people for believing the report of the spies (Bamidbar 14:12; Sotah 35a).
The portion then goes on to relate that Moshe sought to obtain forgiveness for the nation by saying to G‑d: “And now, G‑d, increase the might of Your Divine Name Adnay” (ibid. 14:17) so that — as the Midrash explains — “Your Attribute of Mercy will overwhelm Your Attribute of Justice” (Bamidbar Rabbah 16:22).
Since Moshe was trying to arouse G‑d’s Attribute of Mercy, he should have asked G‑d to increase the might of the Divine Name Havayah (the name that symbolizes Mercy), rather than seeking to increase the power of the name Adnay — L‑rd — which is related to the Attribute of Justice.
Also, how could the spies and the Jewish people think that G‑d could not help them conquer the land, when they had already been the beneficiaries of many miracles?
The spies argued as follows: G‑d’s supernatural manner of conduct with regard to the Jewish people could only continue while the Jews found themselves in the desert, where their whole manner of existence was beyond the bounds of nature — manna from heaven, etc.
They therefore reasoned that the miracles performed on behalf of the Jewish people while they existed in this state could not be expected to continue when the Jews entered Eretz Yisrael, where they were to embark on a lifestyle that would deal with the material world in a natural manner.
The spies were tragically mistaken. Although G‑d ordained that the world should exist in a natural manner, He is in no way bound to this manner. He can change the course of nature at will.
Moreover, since Jews are “truly a part of G‑d above” (Tanya, beginning of ch. 2), they are not either bound by the limitations of nature, and when necessary can position themselves above and beyond its constraints.
The Divine name Adnay — “L‑rd of the whole earth” — governs the conduct of nature, as this name and attribute of Kingship is responsible for creating and sustaining the world in a manner whereby the world appears to be a wholly separate and independent entity, entirely governed by the laws of nature (see Tanya II, ch. 7).
At the same time, the Divine name Adnay, “L‑rd of the whole earth,” indicates that G‑d is master of the planet, and as such is able to change nature’s rules whenever He so desires.
Thus, when the spies claimed that G‑d was limited by the constraints of nature, they were in effect casting aspersions on the Divine name Adnay, which refers to G‑d’s mastery over creation.
Moshe therefore beseeched G‑d to increase the might of the Divine Name Adnay — that the true power of Adnay be revealed — to show that G‑d has full and complete control over nature.
The spies’ lack of understanding of Adnay — G‑d’s mastery over creation — stemmed in part from their inability to recognize the qualities of the Jewish people—that even though Jews find themselves within the world, they are not shackled by its laws.
The spies mistakenly thought that the Jews’ relationship with G‑d was limited to their otherworldly actions: Praying, studying Torah, and performing mitzvos. While occupied in normal, natural affairs they thought there would be no difference between Jew and non-Jew.
Since they failed to realize that the Jewish people exist supernaturally even while functioning in the natural world, they also failed to perceive how a G‑dliness that transcends nature exists within nature. By “increasing” — i.e., revealing — the might of the Divine Name Adnay, their mistake was rectified. (Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XVIII, pp. 171–174.)
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, zt’l; adapted by R’ Sholom B. Wineberg. Find more Torah articles for the whole family at www.chabad.org/parshah.