The Motivation of the Spies

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The Motivation of the Spies

Michael Berg
June 2, 2021
Like 36 Comments 6 Share

In the beginning of the portion Shlach Lecha, Moses sends, “by the mouth of the Creator,” the twelve spies into Israel. Rashi, the great kabbalist and commentator, says that these spies, especially the ten that fell, were men of stature. At the time they were chosen to go, they were very spiritually important and elevated people. They were in a perfect spiritual state.

Then, it says the spies went and came back to Moses and Aaron. Rashi asks why it says, together, that they went and came back. The answer, he tells us, is to make it clear that their consciousness in going was the same as their consciousness in coming back. As we know, their consciousness upon returning was negative; therefore, Rashi is saying that they also went in with negativity.

It is confusing, however, because Rashi says of them that they were in a perfect spiritual state when they were being sent. But, he is also saying that when they were going, their consciousness was already negative. So, which is it? A person cannot have both a perfect consciousness and a negative consciousness at the same time. Why does Rashi seem to be saying that in that same moment, they were going in with both a perfect consciousness and a negative one? The great kabbalist, the Maharal of Prague, explains this contradiction with one very important teaching.

The Maharal tells us when it says they were being sent, they were of a perfect spiritual state and spiritual consciousness. But once they were sent, they were not only messengers of Moses and the Creator, but also messengers of the people. And whether they chose it or not, once they became messengers for the people, they were influenced by the people. Whether they knew it or not, their consciousness began to deteriorate the second they took into account that they were messengers for the people.

The spies had a question in their minds. What was their motivation? Why were they doing what they were doing, why were they going into the land of Israel? Were they going because the Creator was sending them, were they going because Moses was sending them, or were they going because the Israelites were sending them? Some would ask what difference it makes who is sending them if it's the right thing for them to do, but the Maharal says that the spies’ motivation is everything.

Although the spies knew they were being sent by Moses and the Creator, they also had in their consciousness that they were being sent by the Israelites; therefore, their desire was not just to do what the Creator and Moses wanted them to do in this process, but it also included the thought that all of their friends, neighbors, and family wanted them to go and come back and tell them what's going on there. The spies added what everybody else wanted into their motivation, and, therefore, immediately began deteriorating spiritually.

We learn from this that whether we like it or not, whether we decide to accept it or not, we take into ourselves the spiritual state of everybody who motivates us. And it doesn't necessarily always happen in a moment; in this case, it took 40 days for the complete deterioration to occur. But once the spies accepted their motivation as partly coming from the fact that the rest of the Israelites also wanted to find out what was going on in that land, they became like the Israelites. At that point, the spies could no longer control what they became. Because we become those who motivate us.

In the moment the spies were appointed, when Moses came to tell them he had an important task for them to accomplish, they were perfect, because their senders - the Creator and Moses - are perfect. But then their friends started telling the spies they were happy they were going, because they wanted to find out too. Then, the motivation of the spies also became to appease and fulfill the desire of everybody else. As such, they took upon themselves the consciousness of everybody else.

Then, the Maharal says, the spies became negative. Because, for everyone, if we are motivated by a negative, if we are motivated by an imperfect person, then we are already imperfect, even if we were perfect the moment before that. And this is crazy, because we cannot begin to comprehend the state of spiritual perfection the spies were in. They were completely perfect, completely righteous, and when Moses tells them the Creator wants them to do this task, they remain perfect, and they're excited to do it.

But then they also hear that the rest of Israelites want them to go, and the spies say they’re also going to do this for them. And in having the motivation also to fulfill the desire of the Israelites, they have to become negative. Their consciousness, their connection, begins to deteriorate in that moment. This is why we can say that the consciousness of the spies in going was also in a negative state. Moses appoints them, they are perfect. The Creator appoints them, they are perfect. And the Israelites want them to go as well, and the spies also accept that motivation, therefore becoming imperfect, and beginning their process of deterioration.

We talk about consciousness all the time, but I don't believe any of us really has an appreciation as to its true power. When we’re doing something, we know that consciousness is important as an addition to the action. But here, we see something completely different. The person doing the action can be perfect. However, if there's a slight addition in what motivated that person into doing this perfect action, it not only destroys it, it also makes it completely negative and brings only death and destruction.

Think about that for a moment. Whatever we thought about the power of consciousness, I hope that from this, we can begin to change. Hopefully, with this teaching, we can now come to a deeper understanding. Actions are only a tool for consciousness; it is never about the action. Sometimes, because we live in the physical world, we need tools, we need actions to help us elevate consciousness. But it's only about consciousness, as we see here. These perfect people, chosen by the Creator and Moses, were doing a perfect task. But because there was this little motivation added by what the Israelites desired as well, it destroyed the spies, the action, and brought death and destruction. It's an amazing understanding.

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