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 Parshas Shelach - Vol. 2, Issue 31

Vayishlach osam Moshe mimidbar Paran al pi Hashem kulam anashim roshei b’nei Yisroel heimah (13:3)
Kulam anashim – kol anashim sheb’Mikra lashon chashivus v’osa sha’ah k’sheirim hayu (Rashi)

Rashi writes (13:3) that the Torah refers to the spies as anashim, a term used to refer to important men of stature, to teach that at the time they 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 the spies were righteous for one hour, a claim for which there is no apparent source. Why does Rashi use this peculiar expression?

When Rav Eizel Charif (some say the Chasam Sofer) was a mere eight years old, he was asked to explain Rashi’s intention and responded with a most brilliant derivation for this comment. Hashem later decreed (14:34) that the Jewish nation would 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 the spies’ journey, the Jews were punished with an additional half of a month in the desert.

The Jews left Egypt on the first day of Passover, the 15th of Nissan, and entered the land of Israel on the 10th of 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 not been punished and merited to immediately traverse the desert and enter the land of Israel, the journey would have taken eleven days.

If so, 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, and 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 fitting that half of a month should correspondingly be reduced from their punishment, as was indeed the case!


Vayotzi’u dibas ha’aretz asher taru osah el b’nei Yisroel leimor ha’aretz asher avarnu bah lasur osah eretz ocheles yoshveha hee (13:32)

            The first chapter of Lamentations is written in the form of an acrostic, with each successive verse beginning with the next letter in the Hebrew alphabet, with one notable exception. The verse beginning with the letter peh precedes the verse starting with the letter ayin, reversing their alphabetical order. The Gemora (Sanhedrin 104b) cryptically explains that this is because the spies sinned by preceding their mouths (peh) to their eyes (ayin) and reporting facts which they didn’t actually see. How is this to be understood, and what lesson can we take from it?

            Rav Moshe Shapiro explains that in any encounter, a person is able to find what he is looking for. Even before he fully takes in and evaluates the new situation, he has already made up his mind. Not surprisingly, his conclusion is a self-fulfilling prophecy and he finds evidence to support it.

Rav Yechezkel Levenstein explains that the primary sin of the spies was their character trait of ðøâðåú. This refers to a person who is full of complaints and has nothing positive to say about anything. Because the spies embarked on their journey already decided that they didn’t want to live in Israel, they interpreted everything they saw through negative lenses and returned with a report shaped by their biases.

            The importance of how we view a situation and interpret events is illustrated by the following story. In the early 1950s, a large shoe company with stores across North America wanted to make more money by expanding to new markets. They sent two salesmen to Africa to explore the prospects of opening branches throughout the large and untapped continent.

            Less than a week had passed when the first agent sent back a disappointing telegram. He wrote, “I’m coming home at once. No money can be made here. Nobody even wears shoes!” Just as they were preparing to send agents to scout out another distant region, they received an important lesson in the power of one’s perspective. More than a month after his partner had quickly despaired, the firm received a cable from the second salesman: “Ship 15,000 shoes immediately to fill my five stores. Africa is a land filled with great opportunity – nobody has shoes, and everybody needs a pair!”

            The Arizal teaches that each month is mystically associated with an idea that we are supposed to rectify during that month. He writes that our mission in the month of Tammuz is to rectify the concept of r’iyah – how we view things. Not coincidentally, Parshas Shelach is read just before this month begins, and it revolves around the tragic events which caused the mourning period which begins in Tammuz. The spies sinned by seeking out the bad in every encounter. Let us learn from their mistakes and adopt a perspective of seeking out the good in every life situation, which will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.


Dabeir el b’nei Yisroel v’amarta aleihem ki savo’u el eretz moshvoseichem asher ani nosein lachem … v’asisem isheh l’Hashem … v’yayin l’nesech revi’is hahin ta’aseh al haolah o l’zevach l’keves haechad (15:2-5)

The tragic episode of the spies is immediately followed by the section (15:1-16) detailing the laws of the meal-offerings and wine libations which accompany certain sacrifices. This section begins by stating clearly (15:2) that it is only applicable after entering the land of Israel. Immediately after decreeing that they will die in the wilderness and never merit entering the land of Israel, wasn’t it tantamount to rubbing salt in their wounds to give them a mitzvah which may only be performed there?

Further, the Medrash (Tanna D’Bei Eliyahu 29) explains that Hashem specifically instructed Moshe to teach them this section in order to comfort them with Divrei Torah. In what way were they able to find comfort in this mitzvah that only reminded them of their unfortunate fate? Moreover, the Medrash continues and relates that a dispute immediately erupted among the Jews regarding whether converts are required to bring wine-libations with their offerings. Of what relevance was this to them after they realized that they would all die in the wilderness?

Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro derives from here a powerful lesson. The Jews of that generation were so intense in their love for Torah that any new sugya (topic) which was presented for them to study was so valuable that they were able to “lose themselves” in plumbing the depth of its understanding to the point that they were able to completely forget their own personal suffering! They became so involved in their attempts to fully comprehend this new mitzvah that it didn’t even occur to them that it would never be applicable in their lifetimes. It mattered not what was the content of the subject at hand, but the mere fact that they were now able to engage themselves in a new Torah topic was the greatest comfort that Hashem could give them!


V’haya lachem l’tzitzis ur’isem oso uz’chartem es kol mitzvos Hashem v’asisem osam v’lo sasuru acharei l’vavchem v’acharei eineichem asher atem zoneem achareihem (15:39)

Rashi writes (Bereishis 9:23) that in the merit of Shem’s alacrity in covering the nakedness of his drunken father (Noach), he merited that his descendants – the Jews – would receive the mitzvah of tzitzis. As we know that Hashem rewards people for their good deeds measure-for-measure, Rav Moshe Meir Weiss points out a number of fascinating parallels between the actions of Shem and the mitzvah of tzitzis.

When reciting the Priestly Blessing, the Kohanim wrap themselves in a tallis. This is because we merited receiving the mitzvah of tzitzis through the actions of Shem and of Avrohom Avinu (Sotah 17a), both of whom were Kohanim (Nedorim 32b).

Shem acted quickly to cover his father and protect him from being disgraced and humiliated. Interestingly, the minimum size for a four-cornered garment to be obligated in tzitzis is determined by whether it is large enough to cover enough of a person’s body so that he would be willing to wear it outside in public without being embarrassed (Mishnah Berurah 16:4).

When approaching their drunken father with a garment to cover him, Shem walked backward and turned away his face so as not to see or even face his father’s nakedness. As a result, the first thing one does when donning a tallis is to wrap it around his face so that he cannot see. Additionally, the Torah specifically writes (15:39) the prohibition against lusting after the immodesty viewed his by eyes in the section containing the mitzvah of tzitzis. Not surprisingly, the Gemora in Menachos (44a) tells the story of a man who was about to sin with a harlot when he was saved from his immoral plan by his tzitzis!

Mitzrayim was a son of Cham (10:6), who had the audacity to either castrate or engage sodomize his passed-out father. Not surprisingly, the Medrash in Tanna D’Vei Eliyahu Rabbah (7) states that the Egyptians were the most immoral and depraved people in the world. As a result, the section in the Torah containing the mitzvah of tzitzis also contains the mitzvah to remember the Exodus from Mitzrayim (Egypt), as the mitzvah of tzitzis represents the triumph of morality and decency!


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 that Hashem should save him from the evil plan of the other spies. If Moshe knew of their wicked scheme, why did he send them? (Paneiach Raza)

2)     Rashi writes (13:22) that Calev went to Chevron to pray at the tombs of the Patriarchs for the strength to resist the evil scheme of his fellow spies. Why didn’t Yehoshua similarly pray for Heavenly assistance? (Chofetz Chaim in Shemiras HaLashon 2:19, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

3)     Was the sin of the spies a lack of trust and belief in Hashem or a deficiency in their love of the land of Israel? (Atarah L’Melech)

4)     Because of the sin of the spies, Hashem expressed (14:12) to Moshe His desire to annihilate the Jewish people and make a new nation of Moshe’s descendants. As Rashi writes (26:64) that the women didn’t accept the slanderous report of the spies, why did Hashem want to destroy them?

5)     The Gemora in Sanhedrin (2a) derives that ten men are required to constitute a quorum from the fact that the ten evil spies are referred to as eidah (14:27). The Gemora in Sotah (35a) states that the spies heretically argued that the Canaanites are stronger than Hashem. If these individuals are the source of the laws governing a minyan, does this mean that heretics and apostates – and certainly Shabbos-desecrators – may also be counted for the purposes of a quorum? (Shu”t Igros Moshe Yoreh Deah 70 and Orach Chaim 2:19, Pri Megadim Aishel Avrohom Orach Chaim 55:4, Mishnah Berurah 55:46, Zecher Yitzchok 2 d.h. v’al, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

6)     Rashi writes (15:32) that the incident of the wood-gatherer recalls the disgrace of the Jewish nation, as they were only able to collectively observe one Shabbos in the desert, with this episode occurring on the second. How were they able to bring him to Moshe for judgment (15:33), as he was on top of Mount Sinai for 40 days after the giving of the Torah? (Maskil L’Dovid)

7)     The opinion of Rebbi Yehuda (Sanhedrin 80b) is that not only must witnesses to a capital crime warn the transgressor that he will be put to death if he continues, but they must also specify which of the four types of execution he will receive for his sin. Rashi writes (15:34) that although they knew that one who desecrates Shabbos is to be put to death, they were unsure in which manner this was to be done. According to Rebbi Yehuda, why was he killed, as they were clearly unable to give him the necessary warning at the time of his sin? (Paneiach Raza, Chizkuni)

8)     The Torah forbids (15:39) a person to sin by straying after his heart and eyes. The Gemora in Berachos (12b) understands the prohibition against following one’s heart as an admonition against heresy, and one’s eyes as an injunction against forbidden thoughts. Why is heresy associated with the heart and not with the mind? (Kovetz Ma’amorim)

9)     The Mishnah Berurah writes (24:7) that a person who passes his tzitzis over his eyes during the recitation of Shema is guaranteed never to become blind. What special spiritual power and connection to the eyes does tzitzis have more than other mitzvos? (Tuv’cha Yabi’u)

10)  Why did Yehoshua send spies to scout out the land (Yehoshua 2:1) after he had already seen it and after he witnessed the disaster which occurred when Moshe sent spies? (Taima D’Kra)

© 2007 by Oizer Alport. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute as long as credit is given. To receive weekly via email or to send comments or suggestions, write to


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