Parashat Shelah: Fulfilling Our Mission
Parashat Shelah tells the tragic story of the scouts whom Moshe sent to survey the Land of Israel in advance of Beneh Yisrael’s anticipated entry into the land. The scouts toured through the land and saw the powerful armies of the Canaanite nations who lived there. Ten of the twelve scouts decided that Beneh Yisrael had no possibility of triumphing over these armies, and so they told the people that they should not enter into the land. Although G-d had promised that He would bring them into their homeland and ensure their success, the people lacked faith, and they refused to proceed into the land. G-d reacted very angrily, and decreed that this generation would sojourn for 40 years in the wilderness until they all died, and only their children would then enter into the Land of Israel. The ten scouts themselves died immediately in a plague.
What was the scouts’ mistake? Where did they go wrong?
Quite simply, they did a job they weren’t supposed to do.
Their mission was to simply report their findings to the people, so that the people would have a sense of the land that they would soon be inhabiting, and also to present information that would be useful as Beneh Yisrael planned their military operation to conquer Eretz Yisrael. The scouts were never asked to give their opinion as to whether the conquest was militarily feasible or not. This was already decided. The scouts veered beyond their job description, beyond the mission assigned to them, and assumed the role of decision-makers. This was the essence of their mistake.
The commentators attribute this mistake to arrogance. The distinguished mission for which the scouts were chosen led to inflated feelings of pride and importance, and these feelings, in turn, led them to think that they could assume a different job, to job of deciding whether or not the land could be conquered.
We are each given a unique mission in life that nobody else can fulfill. G-d put all of us in this world because each and every one of us has something special to contribute, that nobody else can. We are each given a unique set of skills, talents, character traits and tendencies that make us suited for a particular mission. It is not always easy to determine what our unique mission is, but this is something we must each do.
Unfortunately, as in the case of the spies, ego often gets in the way. We see what other people do and accomplish, and we feel jealous. We wrongly assume that we need to be doing the same thing. But trying to be like another person is like a plumber going into the operating room to perform brain surgery, or a brain surgeon going under the kitchen sink to repair a pipe. It just doesn’t work. We have to fulfill the special mission that we are here to fulfill, without feeling jealous of other people’s missions. Our goal must always be to fulfill the purpose that G-d placed us here to fulfill.
The famous story is told of Rav Zusha of Anipoli (1718-1800), who was once asked if he would have wanted to be Abraham Abinu. To everyone’s shock, he answered in the negative. He said he would not have wanted to be anyone else.
Rav Zusha explained, "If I was Abraham Abinu, then who would be Zusha?"
I occasionally meet with young Rabbis who are starting out in the field and ask me for advice. I happily share with them what I’ve learned over my years in the rabbinate, but I always urge them not to ever try to be like me, or to be like any other Rabbi. They need to be the special, unique Rabbi that they are cut out to be.
Let us ensure not to repeat the grave mistake of the spies. Let us never try to be anyone else but the person who we are meant to be, and let us try our hardest to fulfill our unique mission to the best of our ability.