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Learning from the Sin of the Spies in Parashat Devarim

Calling out to God in prayer and knowing that we really do not know what lies ahead are two opposing concepts can be found in various places in the Talmud. They were as relevant in the time of the writing as they are now, but how does this relate to this week’s parsha, Parashat Devarim?

As we approach Tisha B’av, Rabbi Dr. Reb Mimi Feigelson ties all of this together with one of the most tragic teachings in the Torah, the sin of the spies and how we tried to outsmart God.

Read the full article below:

Here we are, standing where we were left in last week’s parasha, at the border of the Land of Israel.

Moses exclaims at the start of Parashat Devarim “I cannot do this alone.” He then tells the story of the spies and says, “bring forth distinguished men who are wise, understanding and well known.” Moses repeats this but without the word “understanding.” Why did he omit this?

The Ishbitzer Rebbe explains: The spies knew in the Talmud, in tractate Avoda Zara, a thousand years later, that a student can only comprehend the depth of their teacher after 40 years. They knew Moses would not enter the land with them. They had to figure out a plan: How can we outsmart God and have Moses for 40 years? The spies! What happens? 

Here we are, in the outskirts of the land of Israel and Moses says, “I cannot do this alone.” What he wants them to hear is: ‘Ok we will pray for you and we will tell God that we won’t go without you.’’ But, they do not hear this. 

That’s why this teaching, for me, is the most tragic in this whole book. He tried to outsmart God, 40 years in the desert with Moses and still he says, ‘I cannot do this alone.’ You don’t hear his request for you to pray on his behalf. That’s what’s so tragic. You had your teacher for 40 years and you still don’t understand.

Here we are in the time of Corona, and here we are between adults calling out to God. We are all calling out to God, in prayer with uncertainty.

I pray for all of us to hold on to these prayers, as we move forward into another chapter of life. 

Calling out in prayer, not knowing and outsmarting God? Being in a relationship with God? Negotiating with God? Listening to our heart? Where are we on this Shabbat? A Shabbat leading us towards Tisha B’av, a Shabbat holding light and darkness together.

I pray that we pray and that we live with the unknown. And I pray that we hear the questions that need to be asked.

Reb Mimi serves as the Mashpiah Ruchanit (spiritual mentor) of the Rabbinical School, and  teaches Talmud and Hassidic Thought. She will guide and walk with the rabbinical students on their personal-spiritual journeys. She served as the Mashpiah Ruchanit of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles for the last 16 years. Prior to this Reb Mimi was one of the founding administration and faculty members of the “Yakar” Beit Midrash and community.

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