Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Shelach


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 the term àðùéí 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.

V’he’arim betzuros gedolos me’od (13:28)

Upon their return from examining the land of Israel the spies gave a negative report which was full of details intended to scare the people and incite them to rebel against the idea of entering and conquering the land. One of the facts they related is that the cities were heavily fortified. Rashi curiously explains that their intention was to stress the fact that the walls of the cities were round. This is difficult to understand. Why was the shape of the city walls relevant, and what could have been their negative intention in relating such a seemingly trivial detail?

Rashi writes (Vayikra 14:34) that in warning the people about the possibility of tzara’as striking their homes, Hashem was actually conveying good news. Because the previous Canaanite inhabitants hid their treasures in the walls of their houses, the process of scraping a house with tzara’as would actually reveal to them valuable items. However, Rav Moshe Yitzchok Segal notes that the Mishnah in Nega’im (12:1) derives from the twofold repetition (Vayikra 14:37, 39) of the phrase “kiros ha’bayis” – walls of the house – that the laws of tzara’as in houses are only applicable in homes which have four walls, as each phrase refers to a minimum of two walls and the phrase is repeated twice.

The spies feared that upon hearing their negative report, the Jewish people would respond with inspired faith that although the inhabitants of Israel may be strong and the battle would be difficult, it would be well worth it, as they would subsequently be able to discover the valuable possessions which were left behind in the walls. The spies therefore dashed their hopes by emphasizing that the walls were round and therefore not subject to the laws governing tzara’as in houses, which would mean that the people would never know where to look in order to uncover any hidden treasures.

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 overcomes his internal opposition and performs the mitzvah, he deserves a greater reward.

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 view 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.

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     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)

2)     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)

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)

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