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When G-d Took A Risk

06/08/2018 11:00:27 AM


Some episodes are true turning points in history.

This week's Torah portion records one of them. The Jews were preparing to soon enter Israel. They would be led into Israel by Moses, and begin to build and settle their land under his guidance. One can just imagine how glorious that might have been.

However, before entering Israel Moses decided to send 12 spies to scout the land first. He sent 12 prominent communal leaders, hoping they would return with keen insight into the land's dynamics and how to best conquer its inhabitants.

Alas, when they returned, 10 of them came back with fearful reports about the huge giants and fortified cities. They concluded that entering Israel would be a suicide mission, and that its best not to even try.

Understandably, their report wreaked havoc among the Jewish community. Everyone began to cry, and complained to Moses that they wished they hadn't left Egypt.

G-d became so upset by the reaction of the Jews, that He decided to punish them by not allowing any of them enter Israel. Instead they will roam the desert for 40 years, and their children will be the ones to eventually enter Israel. Moses and Aharon also died in the desert.

Again, one can just imagine how different their final entry was in comparison to how it was intended to be.

How could such great men fall so low? A fledgling nation was about to experience the ultimate deliverance from G-d's hand and receive their own land in which to build their destiny, and who better to trust than righteous communal leaders to help prepare them for their mission. How could they - of all people - lose their faith in G-d so quickly? Were the Canaanite giants any more powerful than Pharaoh and the superpower Egypt?

Herein lies the profound concept of the risk we call ‘life’.

On a macro level, the spies’ mission to Israel can be paralleled to the mission of each one of us here in this world. G-d sends our soul down to earth to live our life, and He assigns to each one of us a unique and important mission.

The mission is an altruistic one. We are summoned to live our lives purposefully, in accordance with the will of G-d. We are intended to bring repair and healing – to ourselves, to others, and to the world around us. When we complete our mission here on this world, it is expected that improvements have been made - by us - to G-d’s world.

But G-d took a huge risk when He created our world. There is no guarantee that humans, with their freedom of choice, will indeed succeed in their mission. In fact, the mission is a very difficult one, because it requires immense amounts of courage and willpower.

Will a person succeed in raising up those around him? Or will he be pulled down by those who surround him? Will he succeed in influencing his environment with dignified morals and goodness? Or will he become swayed by the corrupt and narcissistic surroundings? Will he remain faithful to his mission, or will he get caught up by the other side?

Sadly, not everyone succeeds. The pressures of social environs can be very demanding and alluring. And that, for G-d, was a huge risk.

Why did G-d take the risk? It would have been much safer not to create the world or human life – then there would be no possibility of disaster. Indeed, the great Talmudic sage Shammai argued, “it is better not to be born than to be born.”

But safer isn’t always better.

When John Bardeen – the great American physicist and electrical engineer, and the only person to have won the Nobel Prize twice – argued strongly against the space program, Neil Armstrong responded, “There can be no great accomplishment without risk.”

If G-d were to not have created the world, things would have indeed been rosy. In Heaven. But G-d wasn’t satisfied with Heaven. He wanted more. He envisioned a world of free-thinking people (instead of robotic angels) who would deliberately choose right from wrong and voluntarily build a kind and just world. True, it won’t always work out as planned; it won’t always look so rosy; and it will come with much grief and failure. But G-d decided it was worth it. As the Talmudic sage Hillel argued back to Shammai, “it is better to be born than not to be born.”  

Now we can also understand how most of Moses’ spies failed. The possibility of failure was inherently written into the script. At that time, Israel was a land filled with degenerate idolaters. What happens when you send a devout and faithful person into a spiritually hostile environment? The answer is ‘we don’t know’. Anything can happen. We hope that their inner strength will help them survive and even win over their surroundings. But it could turn out the opposite way.

On another occasion I’ll discuss how we can better assure our mission’s success. But for now, it is important that we appreciate the huge leap-of-faith that G-d took when He created us. Let us take lesson and inspiration from Joshua & Caleb, the only 2 spies who remained faithful to their mission. Yes, it is indeed possible!

Shabbat Shalom!

Fri, December 3 2021 29 Kislev 5782