God does not want us living a 100% spiritual existence in this world. Certainly not on a permanent basis.
The week’s Torah portion is Shlach (Numbers 13:1-15:41), and in it we read about the spies that Moses sent to check out the Land of Israel. Ten of the 12 spies returned with a slanderous report about the Land. They said there would be no way they could conquer the land, life would be difficult, the inhabitants would kill them, and other such agenda-driven fairy tales. This report caused most of the nation to want to return to Egypt or stay where they were, in the dessert – anything not to enter the Land of Israel.
There are a number of interpretations as to why the spies gave the slanderous report, and more important, why they themselves didn’t want to enter the land. Most such interpretations portray the spies in a negative light, but I want to share with you a lesser-known interpretation that allows us to look upon the spies a little more favorably, with a message that allows us to learn from their mistake.
According to this interpretation, the spies didn’t want to go to the Land of Israel due to their righteousness. Because they were righteous, they wanted to continue the desert life. Think about it. Life in the desert was actually the most spiritual existence possible. The people did not need to worry about food; bread came down from heaven each day, and eventually meat as well. They had a well that followed them around the desert and provided them with fresh, cool water whenever needed, they were protected from the elements, and even their clothes were cleaned and grew with them. Heaven on Earth!
But once they would enter the Promised Land, that would be it! They would have to work the land for their existence – plowing, sowing, pruning, reaping and more. Indeed, there are dozens and dozens of land-based mitzvot (Torah commandments) that would become relevant. They would have to earn their living. The people didn’t want their Heaven on Earth to cease, which is why they didn’t want to enter the Holy Land.
The Mistake of the Spies
Their mistake: That’s not how God wants us to live! God does not want us living a 100% spiritual existence in this world. Certainly not on a permanent basis. God wants to us to live a life where we have to deal with all the challenges of the modern world and making a living, while remaining spiritual. The spies wanted a lifestyle, albeit for the right reasons, that God does not endorse.
Perhaps it was precisely to prove that the philosophy of the spies is wrong that God included in this same Torah portion three mitzvot that emphasize the need to live in the material world (yet remain spiritual). These three mitzvot are: to bring wine libations along with certain sacrifices, to separate a portion of the dough for the Priests when baking bread, and to wear tzitzit, a four-cornered fringed garment.
Why these three?
All three of these mitzvot represent living in the material and working within it for our spiritual goals. To bring a wine libation, one needs grapes, and to get grapes one must work hard to grow a vineyard. To be able to perform the mitzva of separating the dough for the Priest, one must work the land to get flour. And to make clothes and fulfill the related mitzvot, such as wearing a tzitzit garment, someone has to raise sheep that give wool, and so on and so forth. Frankly, it is not possible for a person to live in a spiritual hermitage and fulfill the mitzvot of the Torah! A person must live in the “real world” in order to be a fulfilled person.
This is what Judaism is all about. We don’t believe in favoring the spiritual over the material. We don’t believe in separating the physical and spiritual worlds. We believe in combining them as one. It’s all one God-designed package.
To read more insights by Rabbi Ari Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.
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