Torah study builds faith, strength to sustain us through difficulties

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Shelach

Numbers 13:1 – 15:41

Joshua 2:1-24

Many of us fervently wish that G-d would just once reveal Himself to us, personally, in a miraculous way. We long for a voice from heaven or some such phenomenon, believing that this would solidify our faith and erase our doubts once and for all. Experience, at least Jewish experience, belies this belief. It just doesn't seem to work that way.

In Shelach, 10 of the 12 spies returned to the desert with a negative and discouraging report after 40 days of scouting out the land of Canaan. The Jewish people immediately accepted their analysis that the Canaanite forces were too powerful to overcome and that this adventure should not even be attempted.

Although two of the 12, Joshua and Caleb, refuted this report, the Jewish people dismissed the minority opinion, wailing in despair and actually considering returning to Egypt. They apparently didn't believe that the Almighty was truly almighty, that He could actually enable them to conquer the land and to overcome the formidable forces they would face upon entering Canaan.

Their disbelief is truly amazing because that generation had witnessed untold mind-boggling miracles. They had seen the plagues in Egypt, the splitting of the Red Sea, the manna falling from heaven, the revelation at Mount Sinai and so many more such events. Yet when confronted with the pessimistic words of the 10 spies, their memories of all those miracles went essentially out the window. They did not suffice to bolster the people's faith or preclude their doubts. Miracles, it would appear, are limited and ephemeral. Their effects don't last.

I recall very well that after the incredible victory of the Six-Day War in 1967, there was a great deal of talk about the miracle that had taken place. Indeed, there were some who began a sincere religious journey as a result. But the victory was ultimately not the foundation for wholesale philosophical or religious conversion.

The lack of faith on the part of the spies and the nation resulted from the fact that they had not achieved their faith by working on it or struggling with it, but only by witnessing the wondrous miracles G-d had performed for them. Therefore, their faith was very much limited to that which they had actually viewed and no more. They reasoned that G-d was certainly mightier than Pharaoh. Still, they supposed that He did not necessarily have dominion over the 31 kings of Canaan and the giants who inhabited the land.

They had not, after all, experienced G-d's subjugation of the Canaanite kings. Therefore, they were prepared to accept the idea that the people of Canaan were stronger than Him.

To some extent, their disbelief may explain why G-d permitted Moses to send out spies to begin with. Even though many might sin, still, it was hoped that there would remain many righteous men who would realize that G-d could do whatever He desires. The 31 kings presented no greater obstacle than did Pharaoh. We see that after the initial disastrous reaction of the Jewish nation, they all admitted that they had sinned (Numbers 14:40.) Many even persisted unsuccessfully in going into the Promised Land, demonstrating their newly acquired faith (if not their contrition).

Sadly, a decree had already been pronounced that they would have to wander in the desert for 40 years until that generation died out. During those 40 years a new generation would have the opportunity to develop. They would grow up and be nurtured on the words of Torah. A critical lesson emerges here. Not miracles, but intensive Torah study results in full and lasting faith in G-d. This and only this enabled the new generation to dispel any doubts about G-d's omnipotence and His intentions to bring the Jewish people successfully into the land of their inheritance.

That approach is strongly supported by the observation that while positive mitzvot are generally commanded once or twice in the Torah, the commandment obligating us to study Torah appears 48 times, as is enumerated in the book Maalot Hatorah, written by Reb Avraham, brother of the Vilna Gaon. It is intensive Torah study that enabled our people to survive thousands of years of trials and tribulations with their beliefs intact and it will continue to be the strongest foundation of our faith.

Shabbat shalom.