Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

25 Sivan 5760 - June 28, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
They Have Eyes But Cannot See

by L. Jungerman

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 enough.

Because they schemed this wicked counsel, they all died, along with all those who heard their evil reports and believed them.

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 high heavens.

Perhaps we should study the commentaries who try to answer our questions.


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 error lies!

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 a haystack.

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 similar.

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 people."

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 speak.

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 instructions.

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.

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