Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Shelach


Vayishlach osam Moshe mi’midbar Paran al pi Hashem kulam anashim roshei B’nei Yisroel heimah (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 the term anashim 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 one 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.

Vayomer Hashem el Moshe ad anah yena’atzuni ha’am ha’zeh v’ad anah lo ya’aminu bee (14:11)

Parshas Shelach revolves around the sin of the spies who were sent by Moshe to scout the land of Israel. They returned with a negative report about their findings which discouraged the rest of the Jewish people from wanting to enter the land. Although their actual sin – speaking negatively about Eretz Yisroel – is explicitly spelled out in the Torah, the deeper underlying root of their actions is not so clear. What was it that caused them, and the rest of the nation who accepted their scurrilous report as fact, to stumble so badly?

Rav Avrohom Yaakov Pam points out that there seems to be a contradiction regarding the fundamental nature of the spies’ sin. At first glance, it appears that their actions were rooted in a lack of emunah and bitachon (faith and trust in Hashem), as Hashem said to Moshe, “How long will this nation provoke me, and how long will they not have faith in me?” Similarly, Moshe later rebuked the people regarding this episode (Devorim 1:32), “In this matter you do not believe in Hashem your G-d.”

On the other hand, Rashi writes (28:64) that the decree against those who accepted the negative report of the spies did not apply to the women, as they loved Eretz Yisroel and expressed their desire to live there. This implies that the sin of the spies was rooted not in a lack of trust in Hashem, but in a lack of appreciation for the land of Israel, and there are verses which clearly support Rashi’s explanation. Hashem decreed (14:31), “They (your children) shall know the land that you despised,” and Dovid writes in Tehillim (106:24), “They (the spies) despised the desirable land; they had no faith in His word,” mentioning both sins, but listing their rejection of the land first, indicating that it was the primary sin. In what way did the spies despise the land, and how was that sin related to the very real concerns that they expressed about their ability to militarily defeat the oversized inhabitants of the land?

The Gemora in Bava Basra (142b) rules that if a person attempts to transfer legal ownership of an object to an unborn fetus, his actions are legally meaningless, with one exception. If he is giving ownership to his own unborn child, his actions take effect. What is the reason for this distinction? Rav Pam explains that there are a number of concerns about a fetus – if it will be born alive, and even if it is born, whether it will be physically and mentally healthy. As a result, a person can never decide with absolute certainty that he is ready to transfer legal ownership to a fetus. If so, why is his own child any different? A person is so full of love for his child that he doesn’t even contemplate the inherent risks and dangers. His love overwhelms his rational fears and causes him to view his child as innately complete and healthy, in which case there are no obstacles to his commitment to give an item to his own child.

The lesson of this Gemora is that when a person’s love for something is strong enough, he doesn’t allow himself to see any potential pitfalls or dangers. Although the sin of the spies outwardly manifested itself as a lack of faith and trust in Hashem, the underlying root of their sin was an inadequate love of Eretz Yisroel. Had they possessed the love of the land that the Jewish women did, they wouldn’t have been able to concern themselves with the risks involved in conquering a land full of giants.

With this understanding, we can better appreciate why the response of Calev and Yehoshua to the spies’ report was to tell the Jewish people (14:7) that the land of Israel is very, very good. In what way did that address the spies’ concern that they wouldn’t be able to defeat the inhabitants of the land? Rav Pam explains that Yehoshua and Calev understood that these fears were rooted in their opinion that the land of Israel was merely a good land, unremarkable in any way. Therefore, they responded that if the people changed their mindsets and internalized the belief that Eretz Yisroel is truly exceptional, their ensuing love of the land would overpower any feelings of anxiety and gloom.

Rav Pam adds that there are often students in yeshiva who express a desire to grow and become great Torah scholars, yet they despair of ever doing so due to their acknowledgement that remaining in yeshiva for the period of time necessary to do so isn’t financially viable. Because of concerns about being able to support a family and eventually find a satisfying teaching position, they conclude that they have no choice but to pursue other professional options.

In reality, these concerns and fears are rooted not in a savvy understanding of economic pressures, but rather in an insufficient love of Torah study. Just like the father giving a gift to his unborn child, and just like the women in the wilderness who refused to accept the negative report of the spies, a yeshiva student who loves to learn Torah with every fiber of his being will be unable to concern himself with these issues, as his entire heart will be filled with such a love of Torah that it will become his sole focus. As the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed on Tisha B’Av as a result of the sin of the spies and because of a lack of proper appreciation of Torah study (Bava Metzia 85b), let us strengthen ourselves in our emotional connections to the tremendous gifts of Eretz Yisroel and our Holy Torah.

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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). The Gemora in Sotah (34b) interprets this as a blessing and prayer that Hashem should save him from the evil plan of the other spies. Why did he specifically bless Yehoshua more than Calev or any of the other spies? (Gur Aryeh, Kehillas Yitzchok, Chofetz Chaim)

2) Why is Yehoshua referred to (13:16) as bin Nun– the son of Nun – and not the more standard ben Nun? (Ramban Shemos 33:11, Toras Moshe, Tosefes Beracha, Tal’lei Oros)

3) Moshe instructed the spies (13:20) to bring back fruits from the land of Israel. As the fruits didn’t belong to them, why wasn’t it considered stealing from the non-Jewish inhabitants and forbidden to do so? (Ayeles HaShachar, K’Motzei Shalal Rav, M’rafsin Igri)

4) Did the mitzvah of separating challah (15:19) apply to the Manna that the Jews ate in the wilderness? (Shu”t Noda BiYehudah Orach Chaim 1:38, Chavatzeles HaSharon Shemos 16:15)

© 2013 by Oizer Alport.