The Torah tells us this week of the story of the spies (meraglim). These 12 men were sent by the Jews to spy the land of Israel. Ten of the spies ended up slandering the land of Israel, leading to the decree that the Jewish people could not enter the land of Israel for another 40 years, until their entire generation died out. Joshua and Caleb were the only two spies who remained faithful, and tried to convince the Jews not to listen to the spies. In that merit, they were left alive to enter the land of Israel with the next generation.
When Joshua was leaving with the spies on his trip to Israel, the Torah tells us that Moses changed his name. “And Moses called Hoshe ben nun Yehoshua”. (Numbers 13:16) What was the significance of calling Joshua this new name?
The Sages tell us that the new name Yehoshua actually signified a prayer for Joshua. “May Hashem save you from the council of spies”. Moses clearly recognized the potential danger in the mission of the spies, and made a special prayer for his beloved student. The question is, though, why did Moses only offer prayer for Joshua? Why not pray for the other 11 spies also?
The famed Dubno Maggid explained that there are two types of sins; there are sins that one does because he is overcome by a tremendous temptation that he can’t overcome. Although the person recognizes that the sin is wrong, the desire for pleasure is so strong, that the person can’t withstand it.
There is another type of sin totally. That is when one somehow gets convinced that a certain sin is really a mitzvah. Not only does one not run away from it, but even runs after it. This is much harder to avoid, for the person thinks that this is a commendable and praiseworthy act. One needs extra help and strength to see through all such facades and recognize the truth.
When the spies were sent, what temptation made them fall? Our Sages teach us that deep down the spies were worried that when the Jews enter the land of Israel, they would lose their stature as princes and their honor would be diminished. Moses didn’t suspect that such great men would be swayed by that kind of temptation. He didn’t think that they needed extra prayers for help.
Joshua, on the other hand, had another possible motivation. The Torah tells us that when Joshua heard that people were prophesizing that Moses would die, and that he (Joshua) would bring the Jews into the land of Israel, he wanted those people to be put to death. His concern and love for his teacher (Moses) outweighed any possible motivation for his own benefit or gain. Moses suspected that due to Joshua’s great feelings of concern for the honor of Moses, he might say something bad about the land of Israel, so that Moses will stay alive and lead the people of Israel. This kind of thought could be disguised as some sort of mitzvah - to save the honor of Moses. Such a temptation needs a special protection; for this Moses made a special prayer that Hashem should save Joshua from the challenge of being a spy.
The awareness that we must have in all our actions is very clear. On the one hand we must check our actions to make sure that none of them are blatant sins. On the other hand, even those deeds that appear to be mitzvohs must be constantly checked to make sure that this is really what they are, and not just misguided efforts.