Vayishlach osam Moshe mimidbar Paran al pi Hashem kulam anashim roshei B’nei Yisroel heima (13:3)
In relating that Moshe sent spies to scout out the land of Israel, the Torah refers to the spies using the expression “anashim.” Rashi notes that this is difficult to understand, as this term is normally used to describe important men of stature. Why is this word used in conjunction with the spies, who incited the Jewish people to rebel against the Divine plan for them to enter and conquer the land of Israel?
Rashi explains that this term is used to teach that at the time the spies were sent, they were still righteous and had no plans to sin by speaking negatively about the land of Israel. However, he seems to emphasize that the spies were righteous for one hour, a claim for which there is no apparent source or proof. Why does Rashi use this peculiar expression?
When Rav Eizel Charif was eight years old, he was asked to explain Rashi’s intention and responded with a brilliant derivation for this assertion. Hashem later decreed (14:34) that as a result of the sin of the spies, the Jewish people would be required to wander in the wilderness for 40 years, corresponding to the 40 days that the spies sinned when scouting out the land. If each day – which contains 24 hours – was punished with an additional year – which is made up of 12 months – of wandering, it comes out that for each hour of the spies’ expedition, the Jews were punished with an additional half of a month in the wilderness.
The Jews left Egypt on 15 Nissan, the first day of Pesach. They entered the land of Israel on 10 Nissan (Yehoshua 4:19), which is five days short of the requisite 40-year decree. Further, Rashi writes (Devorim 1:2) that even had the Jews merited to immediately traverse the desert and enter the land of Israel, the journey would have taken eleven days. This period of time cannot be included in the calculation of the additional time they were forced to wander as a result of the sin of the spies.
In light of these considerations, it comes out that half of a month is missing from the 40-year period to which they were sentenced. In order to resolve this difficulty, Rashi concluded that the spies had proper intentions for the first hour of their mission, and it was therefore fitting that half of a month should be reduced from their punishment!
Vayashkimu baboker vaya’alu el rosh hahar leimor hinenu v’alinu el hamakom asher amar Hashem chatanu (14:40)
Parshas Shelach begins with the Jewish people planning to enter and conquer the land of Israel. Upon hearing the negative report of the spies, they abandoned their plans, despairing of the possibility of ever conquering the fierce inhabitants of the land. They expressed their desire to die in the wilderness or even return to Egypt rather than attempt to enter Israel.
Yet upon hearing Hashem’s decree that they would be forced to wander and die in the wilderness without ever entering Israel, they immediately changed their attitude and expressed their desire to go there. They were so strong in their new convictions that they attempted to do so over the warnings of Moshe, ultimately paying the price for their efforts with their lives when the Canaanite inhabitants attacked and killed them. Their abrupt about-face is difficult to comprehend. How can this radical change in attitude be understood?
The Alter of Kelm explains that human nature is to rebel against authority. Rav Yaakov Emden suggests that it is for this reason that the Gemora (Kiddushin 31a) teaches that a person who performs a mitzvah that he is obligated to do will receive more reward than somebody who performs the same mitzvah but isn’t required to do so. Because the former knows that he must do the mitzvah, he will feel constrained and encounter more resistance than will the latter, who knows that can opt out at any time. If the former succeeds in overcoming his internal opposition and performs the mitzvah, he deserves a greater reward.
Similarly, Hashem gently asked Moshe (Shemos 11:2) to “please” instruct the Jewish people to borrow gold and silver from their Egyptian neighbors prior to the Exodus. Although they would be getting rich in the process, Hashem merely requested it of Moshe to teach that even an action which is clearly in a person’s best interest may cause him to rebel if it becomes an obligation.
With this introduction, we can now understand that in the beginning of the parsha, the Jewish people knew that they were commanded to enter and conquer the land of Israel. As excited as they were for the ultimate conclusion to their redemption from Egypt, they nevertheless harbored resistance to the fact that they were commanded to do so. As soon as they had an excuse to believe the spies’ negative report and rebel against their instructions, they were only too eager to do so.
Upon hearing that Hashem not only wouldn’t make them go to Israel but in fact decreed that they must die in the wilderness, effectively forbidding them from entering the land, the exact dynamic which had caused them to rebel against the command to go there now caused them to want to defy the new instructions and enter Israel immediately.
Many people approach the tragic episode of Parshas Shelach as a localized incident, one which should motivate us to work on our love for the land of Israel to rectify the sin of the spies. While this is indeed appropriate, the Alter teaches us that the lesson is much larger. Many times in life we logically recognize the propriety of a certain action, but as soon as somebody – be it G-d, our spouse, or our boss – makes it mandatory, an emotional struggle begins. Recognizing and being aware of this phenomenon can allow us to overcome our innate resistance and do what we know is right, for which the Gemora teaches we will be greatly rewarded.
Ki D’var Hashem bazah v’es mitzvaso heifeir hikares tikares hanefesh ha’hi avonah bah (15:31)
The Gemora in Sanhedrin (99a) derives from our verse that a person who studies Torah but neglects to teach it to others has disgraced Hashem’s words and rejected His commandments. He will be harshly punished by being completely cut off from the Jewish nation. Although there is a positive mitzvah to teach Torah to others, why is the failure to do so judged so strictly?
Rav Pam explains that the very fact that a person is able to keep his learning to himself reveals that he doesn’t grasp the sweetness of the Torah that he studies. If he appreciated and personally experienced its beauty and depth, he would literally be unable to contain it within himself.
As proof for his claim, Rav Pam quotes the Chasam Sofer, who writes that Moshe was the only human who understood the mysteries of the purification of the red heifer. Nevertheless, the fact that he wasn’t permitted to share it with a single person caused him so much agony that he would have actually preferred not be privy to the secret!
Similarly, Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz was wont to quote what the Kuntres HaSfeikos writes in the name of the Mahar”i Muskato: if angels appeared to a person to reveal to him Divine secrets, he would have no pleasure from the intrinsic knowledge until he was able to share it with others.
In light of the above, we now understand that if a person studies Torah and feels no burning need to teach it to others, he doesn’t appreciate the value of the Torah that he studied. This is the ultimate fulfillment of “scorning the word of Hashem,” and is deserving of the most severe of punishments!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Prior to sending the spies, Moshe changed Hoshea’s name to Yehoshua (13:16). From this point on, he is referred to by his new name, except in Devorim 32:44, where he is called Hoshea. Why the change? (Chanukas HaTorah, Peninei Kedem, and K’Motzei Shalal Rav Parshas Ha’azinu)
2) What did the Jewish people do wrong in believing the negative report of ten of the spies over the positive report of two of them when the rule is that in legal matters we follow the majority? (Ramban and Maharil Diskin Devorim 1:25)
3) On what date did the spies die? (Tur, Beis Yosef and Bach Orach Chaim 580; Shu”t Rosh Klal 13; Igros Moshe Orach Chaim 3:14; K’motzei Shalal Rav)
4) One of the traditional preparations which are made for Shabbos is the baking of challos in order to perform the mitzvah (15:19) of separating challah (Rema Orach Chaim 242). If a woman has a small family which is unable to consume a large amount of challos, is it preferable for her to bake a small number of challos each week in order to honor Shabbos on a weekly basis or to periodically bake a large number of challos and freeze them in order to perform the mitzvah of separating challah? (Rav Chaim Kanievsky quoted in Likras Shabbos, Shu”t Shevet HaKehasi 4:81, Shu”t Shraga HaMeir 6:16, Bishvilei HaParsha Parshas Beshalach)
5) When the Baal HaTanya was a young child, he was asked which verse in the Torah begins and ends with the same three words. He cryptically responded: “In the place where Moshe didn’t say emes.” To which verse in Parshas Shelach was he referring? (Torah L’Daas 5764)
© 2008 by Oizer Alport.