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Parshas Shelach

Vayishlach osam Moshe mi’midbar Paran al pi Hashem kulam anashim roshei B’nei Yisroel haima (13:3)

Kulam anashim – kol anashim sheb’mikra lashon chashivus v’osa sha’ah k’sheirim hayu (Rashi)

Rashi writes (13:3) that at the time the spies were sent, they were still righteous and had no plans to sin by speaking badly of the land of Israel. However, he seems to emphasize that they were righteous for one hour, a claim for which there is no apparent source or proof.

When Rav Eizel Charif (nsome say the Chasam Sofer) was a mere 8 years old, he was asked to explain Rashi’s intention and responded with a most brilliant derivation for Rashi’s comment. Hashem later decrees (14:34) that the Jewish nation will be required to wander in the wilderness for a total of 40 years, corresponding to the 40 days that the spies sinned while scouting out the land of Israel. If each day – which contains 24 hours – was punished with an additional year – which contains 12 months – of wandering, it comes out that for each hour of their journey, they were punished with an additional half of a month in the desert.

We know that although the Jews left Egypt on the first day of Passover – the 15th of Nissan – they entered the land of Israel on the 10th of Nissan (Yehoshua 4:19), which is 5 days short of the requisite 40-year decree. Further, Rashi writes (Devorim 1:2) that even had they not been punished and had merited to immediately traverse the desert and enter the land of Israel, the journey would have naturally taken 11 days, so this period of time cannot be considered to be included in the calculation of the additional time they were forced to wander as a result of the sin of the spies. If so, it comes out that a full half-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 expedition, and it was therefore only fitting that half of a month should correspondingly be reduced from their punishment, as we now know was indeed the case!


Vayotzi’u dibas ha’aretz asher taru osah el B’nei Yisroel leimor ha’aretz asher
Avarnu ba lasur osah eretz ocheles yoshveha hee (13:32)

            The first chapter of Eichah is written in the form of an acrostic, which each succeeding verse beginning with the next letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Although the following 3 chapters follow a similar form, there is one notable exception in that in each chapter, the verse beginning with the letter “peh” precedes the verse starting with the letter “ayin”, a reversal of the natural order of the alphabet. The Gemora in Sanhedrin (104b) cryptically explains that this is because the spies sinned by preceding their mouths (“peh” = mouth) to their eyes (“ayin” = eyes) and reporting back facts which they didn’t actually see.

            Rav Moshe Shapiro explains that in any situation, a person is able to see or find what he is looking for. Even before he fully takes in and evaluates the new situation, he has already made up his mind, and not surprisingly proceeds to find evidence to support his conclusion, a phenomenon commonly referred to as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Rav Chatzkel Levenstein (in Yad Yechezkel) infers from Moshe’s rebuke of the nation in Parshas Devorim that the primary sin of the spies was their character trait of ðøâðåú, which refers to a person who is constantly full of complaints and has nothing positive to say about anybody or anything. Because the spies embarked on their journey already decided that they didn’t want to live in Israel, they therefore interpreted everything they saw and experienced through negative lenses and not surprisingly returned with a report appropriate to their biases.

            The Jewish people were punished (14:34) with an additional year of wandering in the wilderness for each day of the spies’ journey. It is difficult to understand why they were punished for the entire journey and not just for the day on which they returned and sinned by speaking ill of the land of Israel. Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz answers that the Torah is teaching us that they sinned not just upon their return, but every day of their expedition when they skewed and misinterpreted everything they encountered and experienced. Instead of claiming that Israel is a land which devours its inhabitants, the Steipler writes that they should have recognized and appreciated the miracles Hashem performed (see Rashi 13:32) by causing the inhabitants to be busy burying their dead so as not to detect the presence of 12 spies for 40 days – in contrast to the two spies sent by Yehoshua who were immediately detected on the day of their arrival (Yehoshua 2:2) – a sign that Hashem would certainly aid them in successfully conquering the land.

            The Arizal writes that each month of the calendar is mystically associated with a certain topic upon which we are supposed to work during that month. Parshas Shelach is typically read just before the month of Tammuz, and it contains the tragic events which caused the mourning period which begins in Tammuz and is still observed today. The Arizal writes that our mission in the month of Tammuz is to rectify the concept of how we view things. The sin of the spies was that they sought out the bad in every encounter; let us learn from their mistakes and re-orient our perspective to one of seeking out the good in every life situation, which will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.


Vayshkimu va’boker vaya’lu el rosh ha’har leimor hinenu v’alinu el ha’makom asher amar Hashem ki chatanu (14:40)

            It is mind-boggling to contemplate the abrupt about-face on the part of the Jewish people. At the beginning of the parsha, they were planning to enter and miraculously conquer the land of Israel, where they would be able to settle and live out their lives. Indeed, they had a mitzvah to do so. Nevertheless, upon hearing the negative report of the spies, they abandoned their dreams and their plans, despairing of the possibility of ever conquering the fierce inhabitants of the land. They expressed their desire (14:2-3) to die in the wilderness or even return to Egypt rather than attempt to enter the land of Israel. They refused to accept the refutations of Calev and Yehoshua, to the point of wanting to stone them (14:10) for their positive report about the land until Hashem stopped them. Yet upon hearing Hashem’s decree that they will be forced to wander and die in the desert without the ability to ever see or enter the land of Israel, they immediately changed their attitude and expressed their plans to ascend to the land of Israel. They were so strong in their newfound convictions that they even attempted to do so over the warnings of Moshe, ultimately paying the price for their efforts with their lives (14:44-45). How can this radical change in attitude be understood?

            The Alter from Kelm, as quoted in Darkei Mussar, answers that the nature of humans is to rebel against authority and commands. Rav Yaakov Emden explains that it is for this reason that the Gemora in Kiddushin (31a) states that a person who performs a mitzvah 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 regardless of his desire to do so, he will feel constrained and will encounter much more internal resistance in his attempts to perform the mitzvah than will the latter, who knows that he is free to opt out of the mitzvah at any time. If the former nevertheless succeeds in overcoming his internal opposition and performs the mitzvah, he is indeed deserving of a greater reward. Similarly, Hashem gently asks Moshe (Shemos 11:2) to please instruct the Jewish people to borrow gold and silver from their Egyptian neighbors prior to the Exodus. The Alter from Kelm explains that although they would be getting rich in the process and Moshe would therefore naturally want to tell them to do so, nevertheless Hashem merely requested it of him, almost as a favor, in order to teach that even an action which is clearly in one’s best interest may cause one to rebel against it as soon as it becomes a command.

            We may therefore explain 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 frustration and 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 Hashem’s instructions, they were only too eager to do so. However, 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 Israel, the exact same dynamic which had caused them to rebel against the command to go to Israel now caused them to want to defy the new instructions and enter Israel immediately. He concludes that it is for this reason that the Mishnah in Sanhedrin (10:3) states that the generation which died in the desert won’t be resurrected in the Messianic era, as when they hear Moshiach and Eliyahu HaNavi commanding them to arise and be revived, their internal resistance to authority will be so great as to cause them to announce that now that they are required to do so, they refuse to be resurrected!


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

1)     The Gemora in Temurah (16a) relates that prior to his death, Moshe invited his disciple and successor Yehoshua to ask him to clarify any doubts he may have. Yehoshua responded that he had never left Moshe for a single moment and therefore had no unresolved issues. How could Yehoshua say that he never left Moshe’s side when he spent 40 days away from Moshe scouting out the land of Israel?

2)     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 therefore forbidden to do so? (K’motzei Shalal Rav, M’rafsin Igri)

3)     The spies traversed the land of Israel for 40 days (13:25), which necessarily includes more than one Shabbos. How were they permitted to carry the fruits of the land with which they returned (13:23) and to walk outside of the techum during their journey? (Tiferes Yehonason)

4)     At the beginning of the Kol Nidrei service, we emotionally invoke Moshe’s request that Hashem forgive the people for the sin of believing the spies, and Hashem’s response that “I have forgiven as per your words” (14:19-20). In our attempts to arouse Hashem’s mercy in judgment, why do we invoke the episode of the spies, in which the repentance of the Jewish nation wasn’t truly accepted as the decree against them remained in place and they indeed died in the wilderness?

5)     Rashi writes (14:24) that Calev verbally claimed to be part of the wicked plot of the other spies, even though in his heart he remained pure and planned to report the truth. If he claimed to be part of the spies’ evil plans, how was he able to get away without assisting them in carrying back the gigantic fruits of the land of Israel (Rashi 13:23)? (Paneiach Raza)

6)     On what date did the spies die? (Beis Yosef and Bach Orach Chaim end of 580, Igros Moshe Orach Chaim 3:14, K’motzei Shalal Rav)

7)     Rashi writes (Vayikra 24:12) that the incidents of the wood-gatherer and the blasphemer occurred in the same period of time. Rashi writes (15:32) that the episode of the wood-gatherer occurred on the 2nd Shabbos that the Jews spent in the desert, while he writes (Vayikra 24:10) that the blasphemer became angry either over the lechem ha’panim which was left in the Mishkon for an entire week or over his inability to dwell amongst the tribe of Dan. As both of these could only have occurred after the erection of the Mishkon approximately one year after the Jews left Egypt and entered the wilderness, how could they have transpired at the same time? (Emek Netziv on Sifri, Nimukei Ri”d, Keser Shlomo)

8)     The Rema rules (Orach Chaim 339:4) that it is forbidden to incarcerate a prisoner on Shabbos. How were the Jews in the desert permitted to place the wood-gatherer in jail (15:34) on Shabbos until Hashem would clarify through what means he should be put to death? (Ibn Ezra, Sh’vus Yaakov, Kerem Shlomo, K’motzei Shalal Rav, M’rafsin Igri)

9)     The Gemora in Berachos (54a) interprets the Torah’s spelling of the word l’vav’cha in the first paragraph of the Shema (Devorim 6:5) with two “beis”s instead of one as coming to teach that one is required to love Hashem with both his good inclination and with his evil inclination. Applying this to the third paragraph of Shema, found at the end of our parsha, the Torah forbids (15:34) one to stray – after your heart and after your eyes, but in writing the word “heart” with two “beis”s, it can be interpreted as prohibiting one from following both his positive and evil inclinations. Why would the Torah forbid one to follow his good inclination?

10)  When the Baal HaTanya was a young child, he was asked which verse in the Torah begins and ends with the same 3 letters. He cryptically responded to the riddle: “in the place where Moshe didn’t say emes.” To which verse in Parshas Shelach was he referring? (Torah L’Daas 5764)

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