A prominent rabbi from Israel needed a lift from Santa Clara to visit his wife who was being treated in Stanford University Hospital. I was about to go north toward Palo Alto when he yelled, "No! Go south!" I was trained to obey those older and wiser than I, but facts are facts, and Palo Alto is north of Santa Clara. He was furious with me as I headed north. "My wife is dying and I won't be there because you are so chutzpahdik!" He was apoplectic, his face bright red. He was yelling at the top of his lungs, sweating profusely, and, concerned that he was having a heart attack, I pulled over to the shoulder. A policeman pulled up behind us and when he heard the rabbi screaming so desperately in Yiddish and Hebrew, asked me to step out of the car and refused to allow me to say a word. Once he realized that it was impossible to communicate with the rabbi, other than hearing a single English word, "kidnap," he approached me to explain, "quickly, before I put you in the back of my car!" "His wife is seriously ill in Stanford. I'm driving him there and will serve as translator, but he's convinced that I'm going in the wrong direction and he won't be there when she dies." He didn't crack a smile. "Follow me," he said, the rabbi was convinced that we were being arrested. "Look at what you've done," he wept, until we made it to the hospital in record time. The woman recovered. All was right with the world. I didn't expect an apology, but was shocked by the smiling pat on the cheek, "Nu! I told you it was south!"
I was shaken to the core by his inability to acknowledge facts. I was telling myself, "The poor man is in a strange country, his wife seriously ill, unable to communicate; just forget it!" However, my father zt"l, upon hearing the story, chuckled, then sighed, "If this 'great rabbi' has written anything," he said, "you'll find this trait in his learning! It's a good warning to watch that you don't make the same mistake."
I picture Joshua and Caleb listening to the report of the ten spies, and feeling just as I felt on the way to Palo Alto. They couldn't argue the facts because the people had already decided that north was south, and it would be a disaster to enter Canaan.
Joshua and Caleb needed this type of experience. The Sinai desert was a place for facts. Moshe spoke for God. No one could argue. Things would be different once the nation settled in Canaan and began to build a country. My facts would no longer be yours. People would choose "facts" that fit their beliefs. Future leaders would not speak with Moshe's authority. They would have to lead without relying only on the facts. All the prophets spoke the truth, but the people didn't want the truth; they wanted facts that fit their beliefs. The story of the spies is the story of transition from leading with facts to teaching people to examine their beliefs. Caleb and Joshua were being trained in leading even when north is south, beginning with understanding how easily all of us find ways to choose the facts that support our beliefs.
No wonder the story of the spies is followed by the law of atonement when the Great Sanhedrin makes a serious error in judgment (Numbers 15:22-26); It's inevitable that even the greatest teachers will make mistakes. We don't live in a world of pure facts. The key is to acknowledge mistakes. Not, "Nu! I told you it was south," but, "I'm sorry. You were right and I was wrong!" Those who want to teach us to examine our beliefs must begin by examining their own.
The portion ends with the Mitzvah of Tzitzit, a reminder of how too look without, "Turning after our hearts and eyes (15:39)," or, adjusting the facts to fit our beliefs and desires. Tzitzit are an exercise in evaluating how we are using "facts."
I find it increasingly difficult to debate "the facts." Whether discussing the economy, Israel, religion, or relationships, the facts adjust to what people have already chosen to believe. The scariest part is when we can't even discuss the past and acknowledge mistakes. I look at my Tzitzit and consider my "facts," examine my beliefs, ready to acknowledge my mistakes. I may not be able to argue the facts, but must do all I can to examine mine.
Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg
If you are interested in sponsoring our
winning Newsletter, please email firstname.lastname@example.org Go to our Blog
Follow us on Twitter
Become a Fan