This week's parsha makes me think that any reference to us as a stiff-necked people is euphemistic at best. Here we go again, I thought: Hashem redeems us from slavery, provides our every physical need (shade/light/shelter/dry cleaning/water/food) but how do we repay Him? With loyalty? Oh, no that would be the correct thing to do. Instead, we question His judgment in bringing us to Eretz Yisroel and ask to send in spies to scout out the land. It would seem we were more loyal to our human masters than our spiritual one.
There is a widely-held view that the spies brought back their evil report because they knew that once in Eretz Yisroel, the people would no longer be in constant contact with Hashem. Rather, the people would become concerned with mitzvot of day-to-day life. The spies, according to this view, had noble intentions: they wanted to prolong their current experience of being constantly in Hashem's presence, as exemplified by the clouds of glory, etc.
Yet Midrash points to a different impetus for the report: the spies were all anashim, but turned corrupt in the name of self-glory. Not wanting to relinquish their current and honour amongst their brethren, they decided to present a negative report to the people. For me, this Midrash pinpoints the issue that runs throughout Sefer Bamidbar, namely that the very generation who should have ran to do Hashem's bidding remained rooted in a materialistic ideological framework. The same generation who last week displayed loyalty to their Egyptian Masters were unable to transfer they loyalty to their physical/spiritual Master. Very odd indeed.
Yet, to be fair, learning how to use freedom wisely is an iterative process. True, Hashem did redeem us from enforced physical/emotional slavery in Mitzraim in order to enter us into freely chosen slavery to Him. But then, as now, we did not remain focussed on that purpose. Rather, our focus was/is on the physical/material, not the spiritual.
I suppose that until Mosiach comes, it is understandable that we knowingly turn away from the path down which we should be heading. Now, as bamidbar, we need to increasingly focus our attention on mitzvot and away from the material (for those of us in Brooklyn, that means away from diamonds, fancy cars, and designer Shabbos suits). Only then will we gradually increase the spiritual level of this world until we reach the point where Mosiach can come.
Perhaps this year, Parshah Shelach will act as the wake-up call we all need to get ourselves in spiritual order. I know that for myself, I would very much like this year to be the one in which I am in a perpetual state of focussing only on the spiritual health of myself, my family, my community, and the world in general. A tall order, but not unattainable. After all, like Hoshua ben Nun, with a little help (in his case Moshe Rabbeinu, in ours the Ultimate Master), we can achieve anything.