When the spies returned from Canaan and delivered their gloomy report, the people were distraught. These people who had seen so much lost faith and bitterly complained, wishing to go back to Egypt.
Disappointed, God condemned them to wander for 40 years and die in the wilderness. While they did not deserve the privilege of the Land of Israel, perhaps their children would.
But when some of the people heard their fate, they refused to accept it at first and attempted to cross the border themselves:
וַיַּשְׁכִּמוּ בַבֹּקֶר וַיַּעֲלוּ אֶל־רֹאשׁ־הָהָר לֵאמֹר הִנֶּנּוּ וְעָלִינוּ אֶל־הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר־אָמַר ה’ כִּי חָטָאנוּ – They rose early the next morning, and set out toward the crest of the mountain, saying, “We are prepared to go to the place that Hashem has spoken of, for we were wrong.” (14:40)
This excursion was a catastrophic failure, and this group quickly succumbed to the local population
R’ Shlomo Farhi notes that the language used to describe this doomed show of faith has echoes that are reminiscent of the story of Avraham’s ultimate act of faith. He rose early; they rose early – וַיַּשְׁכֵּם אַבְרָהָם בַּבֹּקֶר / וַיַּשְׁכִּמוּ בַבֹּקֶ. He went to the place; they went to the place – וַיֵּלֶךְ אֶל־הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר־אָמַר־לוֹ הָאֱלֹהִים / וְעָלִינוּ אֶל־הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר־אָמַר ה’. He reported for duty, with a simple “Here I stand,” and they did the same – הִנֵּנִי / הִנֶּנּוּ.
Yet Avraham is canonized in our pantheon of heroes for eternity, and these failed adventurers died in disgrace, even though the Torah suggests that they reenacted Avraham’s path to the letter!
Why did doing what worked for Avraham’s legendary feat not work for these people?
R’ Shlomo Farhi suggests that quite simply, Avraham’s faith was authentic and genuine, and this was not. Avraham’s great act of faith was corrupted here into only a show of faith.
Avraham had faith long before he knew where he was going, and Avraham set out entirely open to where God and the universe would bring him, and could truthfully say he stood ready to serve – הִנֵּנִי.
But when this foolhardy group attempted to preempt history, the comparison they wanted to evoke was false and hollow. Unlike Avraham, they had an agenda entirely closed to what God would send their way; God had made clear this was not the way, and Israel had been closed to them. So they could imitate Avraham’s actions and parrot the words, but it’s not where they truly stood, and they weren’t ready to serve – they weren’t listening at all.
To understand how and where to move forward, you need to introspect with intellectual honesty.
Before trying to get where you’re going, make sure you first determine where you actually are.