Classics and Beyond Shelach — Climbing the Ladder

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    Shelach — Climbing the Ladder
    ויהס כלב את העם אל משה ויאמר עלה נעלה וירשנו אתה כי יכול נוכל לה
    Calev hushed the people toward Moshe and said, “We shall surely ascend and conquer it, for we can surely do it!” (Bamidbar 13:30).
    Why did Calev say, “Aloh naaleh ve’yarashnu,” with a repetitive phrase, rather than just saying, “Naaleh ve’yarashnu”? Based on Sotah (35a), Rashi tells us that Calev was saying to Bnei Yisrael, “We will surely go up, under any circumstances, regardless of where Moshe tells us to go. Even if he were to tell us to make ladders and go up to Heaven, we would be successful in fulfilling all he instructs us.”
    Rav Moshe Feinstein (Darash Moshe ad loc.) asks: If Calev was advocating climbing all the way up to the sky, a seemingly unattainable undertaking, how would ladders make the job any easier? Rav Moshe explains that the Torah added in the aspect of ladders to teach us that we must do whatever we can to complete any given task, as feeble as our attempts may be. Merely asking for Hashem’s help without being willing to do the hard work is insufficient. Only if we make a reasonable effort and show that we really desire to achieve a specified goal will Hashem enable our success, which would otherwise be beyond our grasp. As Rashi writes (Bamidbar 3:16), Hashem said to Moshe (when counting Shevet Levi), “Aseih atah shelcha va’Ani e’eseh es sheli — You do yours and I will do Mine.”
    Without Hashem’s help, the conquest of Eretz Yisrael was as ludicrous as ascending to Heaven. Yet when Bnei Yisrael committed to doing their part, Hashem completed the task and enabled them to conquer the Land.
    Rav Meir Yechiel HaLevi Halstock, the Ostrovtzer Rebbe (Beis Meir, Shelach; see also LeShaah ULeDoros from Rav Isser Frankel), takes the concept of ladders one step further. The Torah is teaching us that we can ascend to Heaven, we can conquer Eretz Yisrael, we can do what appears impossible — but only by building ladders and going step by step. Each rung on the ladder is arrived at by having stepped on the rung beneath it. Success comes at the end of hard, consistent progress; there are no shortcuts. But rung by rung, the distance is shortened. What at first seemed impossible can be accomplished.
    Bnei Yisrael had to realize that their conquest of the Land also required slow, steady, and deliberate steps. It would take time and it would not be easy, but at the end, they would settle the Land and even build the Beis HaMikdash.
    As Lao Tzu used to say, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
    The Meraglim had demoralized the nation, making them think that Eretz Yisrael was way beyond their reach. Calev, with his imagery of a ladder, counteracted the poison of the Spies by telling Bnei Yisrael that while there would be hardships and challenges, step by step, they would succeed.
    In Parashas Nitzavim (Devarim 30:12), Moshe told Klal Yisrael that the Torah is not in Heaven, and Rashi cites the Gemara (Eruvin 55a), where it says that if the Torah were in Heaven, it would be our obligation to climb up after it in order to learn it. When it comes to limud Torah, the ladder approach applies, as well; true success can only be achieved by progressing rung by rung. Attempting to learn at too fast a pace is a recipe for failure. As with any challenging endeavor of study and growth, it is a marathon and not a sprint.
    Shlomo HaMelech says in Mishlei (24:7), “Ramos le’evil chochmos ba’shaar lo yiftach pihu —To a foolish one, wisdom is an unattainable gem; he will not open his mouth at the gate.” The Midrash (Devarim 8:3) explains that the fool at the gate who does not open his mouth is the person unwilling to take the small rungs and baby steps necessary to learn Torah. This fool walks into the synagogue and sees people learning Torah. He asks them how to learn Torah, and they respond that it must be learned in stages. First one learns Chumash, then Navi, slowly progressing from one point to the next. When the fool hears this, he thinks it’s too much for him and gives up. He leaves the “shaar,” the gate mentioned in the pasuk, i.e., the shul where people are learning, because he can’t open his mouth; he can’t keep up with them — because he hasn’t even tried to reach the first rung.
    Rabbi Yannai gives a mashal to explain this. A loaf of bread is suspended in the air, and it is noticed by a foolish man and also a wise one. The fool says, “How on earth am I supposed to get that down? Forget it; it’s impossible.” The wise man, however, says, “It had to have gotten there somehow.” And he proceeds to figure out how to get the loaf down from midair. He then fetches a ladder, climbs up to the top, and retrieves the loaf of bread.
    Similarly, the fool says, “How on earth am I supposed to learn the entire Torah? Forget it; it’s impossible.” But the wise one uses the ladder approach. He learns one chapter one day, another one the next day, and continues to climb higher until he reaches his goal of finishing the entire Torah.
    A very similar thought is brought by Rav Chaim Mordechai Katz, rosh yeshivah of Yeshivas Telz (Beer Mechokeik, #12). On his way to Lavan, Yaakov had a dream in which he envisioned (Bereishis 28:12): “Sulam mutzav artzah ve’rosho magia haShamayimah — A ladder was set earthward and its top reached Heavenward.” Rav Katz tells us that this specific dream of Yaakov was in answer to his lifelong quest to achieve ever greater understanding and recognition of Hashem, and to be revealed the ethereal mysteries of Heaven. As Chazal (Berachos 55b) tell us, one is only shown in his dreams the thoughts of his own heart. To that end, he was shown — via the ladder that reached the Heavens — that one can indeed ascend to Hheaeaven and that nothing is beyond our grasp.
    This path to greatness takes the shape of none other than a ladder, a metaphor of the constant need of a burning ambition — sheifah — to keep taking step after step and not being satisfied with remaining in place. Nothing happens at once, and nothing happens without work; one cannot will himself to greatness. To the extent that one is prepared to toil with temidus, constancy, so will Hashem assist him.
    The Tanna Devei Eliyahu (Ch.23) states that every Jew must say, “Masai yagi’u maasai le’maasei Avraham Yitzchak ve’Yaakov — When will my actions reach the level of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov?” While one may never truly reach the level of the Avos, we can learn from and pattern ourselves after Yaakov Avinu in this nevuah. Though we may not make it to the very height that he was capable of, we can take those same tools in hand. And with a sheifah to not settle for mediocrity but to keep climbing the ladder, the dream of Yaakov can be ours. (See Maharsha Succah 49b for a similar discussion.)

    Reb Eliezer

    The climbing of the ladder as Yaakov Avinu saw the ladder stretching from earth to the heavens. The Ksav Sofer explains that it reflects the potential of a Jew. He can climb from the ground to the heavens and malachim originally are above him but later they end up below him. He should always keep in mind the question to Adam Harishon ayeko, where is he on the ladder? Sulom molei is gematria 136 kol, tzom and momon together 408, bezos yavo Aharon. These are the means to climb the ladder which are teshuva, tefila and tzadakah by which Yaakov Avinu prepared himself to fight Eisov. Tefila, milchama of the yetzer hara, and the present, tzadakah.


    Parshas Shelach

    The parsha begins with the preparations for the Jewish nation to enter Eretz Yisrael. “שלח לך אנשים” Send forth righteous men, to Israel and survey the land. What began as excitement ended in tragedy, as the decree to wander the desert for 40 years came as a direct result of the once righteous men who reported ill of the land and brought 40 years of exile upon the entire nation.

    The Maggid, the malach chevrusa of Rav Yosef Karo, author the Beis Yosef and Shulchan Aruch, explains what happened as follows:

    When the spies returned they were not content with slandering the land before Moshe, they sent representatives to every member of their tribe, tent by tent, saying over all that we know, they said Amalek is waiting to crush them, the Emori are huge and powerful, and we saw giants that towered the heavens and made us feel like grasshoppers.

    So the slander was carried to each and every member of clal Yisrael. This is why they cried that night, the 9th of Av, and why it was enshrined as a day of weeping for our nation.

    The Ramban discusses the pesukim surrounding the spies as proof that the mitzva to conquer and live in Israel is one of the 613 mitzvos. He uses the verse “ותמרו את פי הי” to prove it was a bitul mitzvas asei, or negation of a positive commandment to not ascend to Eretz Yisrael, no short of rebellion against the word of G-d.

    The spies were considered the elite, the most righteous of each tribe, yet they were more inclined to exile than to conquering the land. The comfortable exile of mann, and Moshe Rabbeinu where our enemies fell before us and all wars were won, where shoes never wore out their soles and clothes never soiled, the water was miraculous and the clouds of glory surrounded them as a shield. Why rock the boat, in essence. It is more important to learn Torah from Moshe than to keep it in Israel without him…… This was their error.

    The Gemara in Brochos tells over the story of Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi who encountered Eliyahu HaNavi and asked him where is Mashiach and when is he coming? Eliyahu said, he is at the gates of Rome, and go ask him yourself. So Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi went to Mashiach at the gates of Rome and asked him, when will you come? Mashiach answered “today”. Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi waited all day, and Mashiach did not come. He saw Eliyahu HaNavi the next day and said “Mashiach lied to me” . Eliyahu asked “What did he say to you” ? Rabbi Yehoshua answered “today”. Eliyahu answered, “today, if you listen to my voice”.

    What this means is that when we do not listen to his voice…..the voice of G-d via his fulfilling his mitzvos, Mashiach is delayed. This means the spies, who violated the fulfilliment of Torah, delayed the redemption in Eretz Yisrael until the time of David HaMelech, a loss of hundreds of years. Why wasn’t learning Torah with Moshe in the exile enough? Why did it cause a decree of death to the entire generation above 20 and 40 years of exile?

    The answer is learning Torah without the mitzva of living in Israel is pasul, a rebellion against G-d’s will, and results in death and exile for our people.

    This is why today, when the mitzva of our generation, without doubt, is the mitzva of aliyah and kibutz galiyous, the spies are alive and well, and they will have simanim. They will be chashuvim, anshei shem, people of tremendous prestige and well respected in your neighborhood, and they will despise the land of Israel, saying “Better to stay in exile and learn Torah, than to risk not keeping it in Israel”. They will say Eretz Yisrael is a land that will destroy your children….. ארץ אוכלת ילדיה. They will have dozens or hundreds or thousands hang on their every word, and be great names known throughout the world. These are the spies of today, extending death and exile to the nation once again. They will teach you every dvar Torah on this weeks parsha, and not mention aliyah once, and it will sound beautiful and mirror truth to all those who hear it. It will not be the Torah we need to hear today. Let me say it clearly without hesitation for all to see.

    The mitzva of living in Israel, mentioned in the Gemara Kesuvos is equal to all the other mitzvos combined. The desire to leave exile must become a voice inside, a distant voice at first, that becomes louder and louder, until it pierces the walls of inaction and becomes a passion that nothing can stop you from achieving. It is that passion that is the key to successful aliyah, the knowledge that you are truly keeping Torah, the moment you set your eyes and your heart towards Yerushalayim, and every step you take from here on in will be towards reuniting with our nation home in Israel. This is the lesson of Parshas Shelach we must hear, it is time to leave the exile and come home where we belong, it is time to come home.

    Gut Shabbos

    Peretz Teller

    Reb Eliezer

    The Rav Abarbanel and the Maasei Hashem says that they should not have publicized their findings as they were sent by Moshe Rabbenu, so they should have imparted it to him alone. There is an argument between Minchas Elozor, Munkatcher Rav and the Aim Habanim Semacha, Rav Teichtal, Hy’d if the redemption currently will come spontaneously or slowly by our contribution as ani rochev al chamor not being worthy of it similarly like there was the same argument at the time of the meraglim.

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