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M I S G U I D E D   S C O U T S

Based on a discourse of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi

Send for you men… (Numbers 13:2)

In the following essay we will discuss why the spies, who were leaders of the congregation and distinguished personalities, did not want to enter the Land of Israel.


Almost all mitzvot that involve deed are applicable only in the Land of Israel. This is especially true of all the mitzvot that relate to agriculture and sacrifices. (The sacrifices that were offered in the desert were a temporary phenomenon—Tzemach  Tzedek.)

We can understand this by explaining a perplexing matter. Why is it that man receives sustenance from bread? The answer is because the Divine energy that is present in the lower elements of reality—mineral, vegetable and animal—contains sparks of holiness that transcend the root of man. [See our essay on Vayishlach.]

The advantage of the lowly is seen also in the descent of the soul into this lowly world for the purpose of suppressing the “other side.” This results in the increase of light through the challenge of darkness.

This is similar to a seed that is planted in the ground and through rotting and disintegrating in the ground it is able to subsequently grow with great increase like the increase of light, etc.


Elijah says in the introduction to Tikunim [this section is read on Friday before Mincha. See Tehilat Hashem Sidur p. 125]:

“You are the One who emanated ten tikunim and called them ten sefirot with which to conduct hidden worlds that are not revealed, etc.”

In the Zohar, worlds are called heichalot (palaces; chambers)—the heichal of Chesed (kindness), the heichal of Gevura (strength), the heichal of Zechut (merit), etc.

These heichalot contain souls that take pleasure in the splendor of the Divine presence as well as angels that are standing with love and awe, etc. The camp of Michoel is in a state of love, while the camp of Gavriel is in a state of awe, as our sages say (Chagiga 13b, end), “The river of Dinor emerges from the sweat of the beasts [i.e., the angels of Gavriel’s camp, who ‘perspire’ in their trembling awe].” Each set of angels sings praise according to its apprehension of the Divine.

The word heichal connotes inclusion, since the heichal includes within it all of the particulars. For example, the general spirit of the heichal of Chesed is Chesed, while its particulars are chochma of chesed, chesed of chesed, etc.—all of the ten sefirot. It is like a circle or a house, which includes all the particulars within it.

This is the meaning of to conduct worlds with them. Worlds are the heichalot—i.e., the “circle” or “house” that includes within it all the particulars—while to conduct with them refers to the particulars that exist within the heichalot.[1]

Now the word for world, olam, connotes concealment, he’lem.[2] For the heichalot serve to conceal the Divine light from the particulars and ensure that their existence is not eliminated by a revelation of the Infinite that would nullify their finite being. The heichalot ensure that the revelation exposed to the particulars is limited enough for them to retain their being even as they apprehend this revelation.

This concealment is progressively increased in the lower worlds until after much degradation, physical heaven and earth come into being. On this level, Divinity is completely obscured. All one sees is what appears to be something independent of the Divine reality.

The soul descends into this environment for the purpose of an ascent. By suppressing the “other side” and fulfilling Torah in the realm of “turn from evil” (as in the verse, you shall not stray after your hearts and eyes[3]) the soul causes the heichalot to no longer conceal the Divine—they become vessels to receive greater Divine revelation. This revelation is brought through the soul’s fulfillment of Torah in the realm of “do good.”

Mistake of the Spies

Now the spies were on a very lofty spiritual level. They therefore did not wish to lower themselves to the level of physical mitzvot, which would draw forth Divine revelation to the lower worlds. They said that the land was one that “consumed its inhabitants,” i.e., if we fulfill the mitzvot on the physical level in the Land of Israel, the Divine revelation that will ensue will totally eliminate our existence. They wished for all the Divine revelation to reach only the supernal Land of Israel and the supernal Jerusalem.[4]

[In the subsequent maamar in Likutei Torah, the Alter Rebbe cites Rabbi Chaim Vital in Etz Chaim who states that the root of the spies is the World of Thought, which is called Leah. For they were of the “desert generation,” which is called a “knowing generation.” They therefore did not wish to lower themselves to enter the land, which is the World of Speech and called Rochel. [Leah, the older sister, is Binah; Rochel, the younger sister, is Malchut. See our essay on Vayeitzei: Daughters of Laban.[5]

The spies therefore claimed that there was no need to enter the world of Speech and that one could fulfill Torah on the level of Thought, since all that exists in the realm of Speech exists in the realm of Thought, whence speech is derived. So every physical mitzvah can be fulfilled in a spiritual way. As an example, the Alter Rebbe refers to Abraham, who the sages say fulfilled the entire Torah although it had not yet been given. The Alter Rebbe says that “it is impossible to say that he fulfilled all of Torah in actual practice since there are many mitzvot that would not have been possible for him to fulfill. Rather, he fulfilled them in a spiritual sense.”] 

Joshua and Caleb, on the other hand, said that “the land is good me’od me’od (‘very very’).” Through fulfillment of physical mitzvot in the terrestrial Land of Israel, the Divine light which is without limit—me’od—will be revealed in the hidden and revealed worlds. Hence the repetition, me’od me’od, corresponding to the two types of worlds, concealed and revealed.

For in truth, G-d’s primary intention is that there be a Divine dwelling in the lower worlds specifically. As our sages say, “G-d desired a dwelling place in the lower worlds.”[6] He desires that Divinity be revealed to the eye of all flesh, and that the revelation in the lower worlds be the same as it is above—even more, because of the increase of light that emerges from the challenge of darkness.

For in truth the highest levels are revealed specifically in the lowest level. We see this in the fact that a brilliant genius is incapable of imparting his wisdom to another through speech [alone], since words are cannot contain the profundity of his thoughts. But through a physical gesture he can express himself in a more powerful way, as our sages say, “For the wise, a hint will suffice.”[7]

We see this also in the fact that the insignia of a brilliant jewel is obscured by its very brilliance. The insignia can only be perceived and recognized by all eyes when it is pressed into the wax.[8]     

We see this also in the instruction: and you will see [the tzitzit] and you will remember all the mitzvot.[9] Again, it is through deed, namely, looking at the thirty-two physical strings of the tzitzit that one comes to remember the mitzvot.

Thus Moses who was on a lofty spiritual level offered five hundred and fifteen prayers (the numeric equivalent of the word va’etchanan) that G-d allow him to enter the Land of Israel,[10] since it is the primary purpose of creation.

Adapted by Rabbi Yossi Marcus


[1] In the subsequent maamar, the Alter Rebbe elaborates upon the idea of Iggulim and Yosher, Circles and Straightness (see our essay Dreams and Circles on parshat Miketz). As an example, he refers to the wisdom of the teacher as it is imparted to the student. In the first statge, the particulars of the wisdom are concealed within the general concept. At this point the student does not internalize the concept and it remains transcendent and concealed from him. He only has a general idea. In the second stage, he struggles with the concept and begins to define the particulars and internalize the concept. The concept becomes “revealed” to him.

The Alter Rebbe further states that Iggulim is the source of all concealment throughout reality. (Thus heaven and earth are in the shape of a circle since they are the final form of Iggulim, the ultimate Divine concealment. See below.) 

[2] Tikunei Zohar 82a.

[3] Numbers 15:29.

[4] The Talmud (Taanit 5a) cites the verse There is something holy in your midst and I [G-d] will not enter the city and asks the obvious question: “Because there is something holy in your midst I will not enter the city?!” Rabbi Yochonon explaines the verse as follows: The Holy One blessed be He said, “I will not enter the supernal Jerusalem before entering the terrestrial Jerusalem.” The Talmud then asks, “Is there indeed a supernal Jerusalem?” The Talmud answers, “Yes. As it is written, The rebuilt Jerusalem will be like the city joined with it.” As Rashi explains, “Where is this other Jerusalem if not in the Heavens? See also Zohar 3:161b (Shelach).

[5] Jacob’s two wives, Leah and Rochel, are embodiments of two worlds: “the unknowable” world of thought, and the “lower world,” the world of speech. Leah embodies the world of thought, the hidden world, known as alma di’iskasya. Rochel embodies the world of speech, the revealed world, known as alma di’itgalya.

Leah is the older one, ha’gedolah. This can also be read as hey gedolah, “the great hey,” referring to the first hey of G-d’s Name, which embodies Binah, understanding. Rochel is the younger one, ha’ktanah, which can be read as hey k’tanah, “the small hey,” referring to the second hey of G-d’s Name, which embodies Malchus, the lowest sefirah.

[Leah therefore gives birth to seven children, six boys and one girl, just as Binah gives birth to the seven emotions—six masculine (Chessed through Yesod), and one feminine, Malchus.)

[6] See Midrash Tanchuma Bechukotai 3, Nasso 16. See also Tanya chapter 36.

[7] Zohar 3:229b, et al.

[8] “The fifth Chabad master, Rabbi Shalom DovBer offers four examples for the idea that the vessel for the sublime must be material and crude and that it cannot be contained by the spiritual and refined: 1) A truly deep concept can only be conveyed by means of a gross analogy. A moderately deep concept can be conveyed without an analogy. 2) The rays of the sun can only be discerned in the coarse atmosphere of Earth. Beyond Earth, the delicate and refined air makes the sun's rays imperceptible. 3) Sight, which is a loftier sense than hearing, apprehends coarse physicality. Hearing, a lower sense, apprehends intangible sound. 4) In Ezekiel's vision of the Merkavah, the supernal “chariot,” the face of the lion is to the right while the face of the ox is to the left (which is of lesser stature than the right.) Yet in their physical form, the lion is an impure (non-kosher) animal that ravages its prey while the ox is a pure animal that can be brought as a sacrifice before G-d.” Source: Yom Tov shel Rosh Hahsanah 5659, English edition.

[9] Numbers 15:39.

[10] In the subsequent maamar the Alter Rebbe adds: “and as our sages say (Sotah 14a), ‘Did he need to eat of its fruits? Rather he wished to fulfill the mitzvot that are applicable there’.”]


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