The Zohar Hakodosh commenting on this parsha
reports the rationale of the meraglim, who were the
tribal heads, as follows: If the Jews enter the land, we
will stop serving as the leaders and Moshe Rabbenu will
appoint new heads, since our only merit and justification to
this office existed in the desert. When we come to Eretz
Yisroel, we will no longer be considered worthy
Because they schemed this wicked counsel, they all died,
along with all those who heard their evil reports and
Our initial reaction to this account is that of shock. Could
this be true? And of those very men who were chosen by Moshe
Rabbenu to serve as the heads of their tribes, in the
generation of the desert, which was considered an exalted
dor dei'a? Why, these men brought a terrible tragedy
upon an entire people, and all because of their desire for
kovod? Is this not despicable, an injustice of the
highest degree that no common person would dream of -- to
promote one's self interest during a mission involving the
welfare of the entire nation, and to cause great damage
thereby, instead of benefit?
Yet, these men, it must be remembered, were men of stature,
in a period when the entire people was elevated and ennobled.
How, indeed, could the ten princes plot such a nefarious
scheme without any one of them rising up to loudly protest
this terrible, grievous evil that screams villainy to the
Perhaps we should study the commentaries who try to answer
Rabbenu, Maran HaRav Shach shlita presented the most
simple aspect of this issue and clarified it in basic, solid
terms for all time.
He points to a chain of errors in our conception of the
problematic involvement of the personal interests of their
deliberations. It seems that the hidden motive constitutes an
injustice, a problem, a deviation. But here is where the
Our basic premise must be that everything written in the
Torah is absolute truth. A living reality. The Torah states
that bribery, shochad, blinds the eyes of the wise. We
must internalize this axiom and apply it literally. Graft
blinds. An intelligent, seeing person one moment, is
transformed to a blind, sightless person. Virtually blind and
even worse -- intellectually blinded. And from hereon in,
every attempt to expect him to see and understand, to weigh
things correctly in his mind's eye, is abortive and futile
and no less than expecting a blind man to locate a needle in
We are no longer dealing with right and wrong, fairness and
chicanery but with an insurmountable reality. Blindness. The
bribery forms an actual barrier between the retina and
everything reflected upon it from all around. From that
moment on the subject may see, but his vision is colored by
the tinted glasses of bribery, contact lenses. Every image
reflected upon the lenses will assume the `color' -- the tint
and taint -- of blackmail.
The question is, how the tribal princes were able to entangle
and compromise an entire nation for their own personal
benefit alone? But this question is not a valid one. If there
are national heads who can be swayed by personal benefit, if
personal prestige occupies any place whatsoever in their
calculations, in any form, if their ego exists as an entity,
and not as a nonentity of, "My soul shall be like dust for
all purposes," then the consequences are unavoidable.
Even a result as ugly as that, for in their gradation of
motives there lurks a personal virus which wreaks havoc. It
distorts and blinds; it conceals and leaves intact only that
consideration which succeeds in being reflected beyond the
sheath of personal interest.
HaGaon R' Shach highlights another place in Tanach to
illuminate his penetrating grasp of the matter of personal
interest and benefit as a form of blinding shochad.
And if the subject is different, the conclusion is
We turn to the episode of Shaul and the battle of Amolek,
that painful chapter which concludes with Shmuel's prophecy,
"Hashem has rent the kingdom asunder from you." Shaul then
pleads, "Honor me, please, before the elders of my
There, too, we are at a loss to understand Shaul's error in
not having destroyed all of the Amolekites, but having shown
mercy upon the sheep, in spite of Shmuel's very explicit
command: "Go and confiscate Amolek and slay all that belongs
to it and show no mercy upon it. From man to woman, from
infant to suckling, from ox to sheep, from camel to donkey."
A complete listing. What else should he have added?
We are too puny to understand the error of the anointed of
Hashem, who was free from sin like a yearling. But whoever
reads the dialogue between Shmuel and Shaul immediately
realizes that this does not involve a mistake in judgment,
but a far more basic misunderstanding.
We find that Shaul, of his own initiative, turns to Shmuel
and declares, "I have fulfilled the word of Hashem!" And
Shmuel immediately asks, "So what is the sound of the sheep
that I hear?" Shaul replies with confidence, "Oh, that is
what the people took pity on." Shmuel immediately prophesies
in harsh terms, "Why didn't you heed the voice of Hashem but
pounced upon the plunder to do what is evil in the sight of
Hashem?" Shaul maintains his position, regardless. "But I
listened to the voice of Hashem and I followed the path upon
which He sent me. The people took [these] for sacrificing."
And Shmuel wonders aloud, "Does Hashem desire these
offerings? Is not obedience preferable to a good sacrifice?"
Only then does Shaul finally admit his wrong, "And Shaul said
to Shmuel: I have sinned."
True, we cannot fathom it. We are too puny, too little. But
it is clear that the dialogue is not an argument of
understanding and misunderstanding. It is an argument of
hearing. Shaul heard things that caused him to be confident
that he had done the right thing, that "I have fulfilled the
word of Hashem." At the very same time, Shmuel repeats the
explicit wording, but Shaul still does not discern the
obvious error. He does not begin to see a terrible error or
even a simple discrepancy. His hearing is blinded, so to
The answer is incorporated in Shmuel's rebuke, "And why did
you not hear . . . and pounced upon the plunder." Rashi
explains, "Like flying, like the vulture."
Shmuel saw him flying to the booty, not merely taking it
through running, lusting, but leaping into the air. This was
his tendency. And this caused him to be blinded. His very
sense of hearing was distorted. Why did you not hear the
voice of Hashem but flew vulture-like to the plunder? This is
both the reason and the result. The very propensity plugged
up his ears so that he could not hear the very explicit
And if we still cannot understand the dynamics and mechanics
of this phenomenon of shochad, let us take the Torah's
word for it that it is so.