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 Parshas Shelach - Vol. 7, Issue 34
Compiled by Oizer Alport


Ha'aretz asher avarnu bah lasur osah eretz ocheles yoshveha hee (13:32)

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. One of the accusations made by the spies was that Eretz Yisroel is a land which consumes its inhabitants. Rashi explains that Hashem attempted to help the spies by causing the residents of the land to be preoccupied with the burial of their dead so that they wouldn’t notice the presence of the spies, but they cynically interpreted this to mean that the land of Israel is one that devours those who dwell there.

In his work Darkei Mussar, Rav Yaakov Neiman suggests that although the spies were certainly guilty of many sins for their scurrilous report, the sin of lying was not among them, as they were correct in reporting that prior to the arrival of the Jewish people, the land of Israel did in fact consume its inhabitants. He compares this to two people who entered a house that had been completely locked up and closed off for many years, thereby preventing any fresh air from entering. The first person began to complain, "How is it possible to live in such a house?" His wise friend replied, "You fool, you see with your own eyes that the house is large and in excellent condition. The fact that the air is so stagnant is due to the fact that it has been boarded up for so long. If we simply open up the windows, it will air out in no time and you will see how wonderful it really is."

Similarly, the land of Israel is described (Shemos 3:8) as an "eretz tovah" - a good land - and the Gemora (Avodah Zara 19b) explains that "ein tov ela Torah" - Torah is the only true good. In other words, Eretz Yisroel is a wonderful land, but only if there is Torah learning occurring there. Torah study is the fresh air of the land of Israel, and without it nobody can survive there. Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld points out that the numerical value of the expression "M'sameach Tzion b'vaneha" - (Hashem) gladdens Zion through her children - is 613, which alludes to the fact that Eretz Yisroel only rejoices when we observe the 613 commandments while living there. This explains why the spies experienced it as a land that strangled and consumed its inhabitants, but this reality would change when the Jewish people entered it and began to study the Torah and observe the mitzvos, which would imbue it with fresh air that would enable them to appreciate what a wonderful land it truly is.

Rav Neiman adds that this explains why the punishment for abandoning the Torah was exile from Eretz Yisroel (Nedorim 81a). It is still possible to survive outside of the land of Israel, where the air is natural and does not require Torah study, and even though sinners are punished for their actions regardless of the country in which they live, Hashem can be merciful and give them time to repent their sins. However, if they would remain in Eretz Yisroel without keeping and studying the Torah, they would die not as punishment for their sins, but as a natural consequence of the fact that the air would stagnate and they would be unable to breathe. Parshas Shelach revolves around the tragic events which caused the 3-week mourning period that begins in the upcoming month of Tammuz. As we prepare to mourn the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and our exile from the land, we should also appreciate the unique spiritual qualities which make Eretz Yisroel so special, and we should strengthen ourselves in our Torah study and mitzvah observance so that she will speedily welcome us back to enjoy her fresh air.

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 Eretz Yisroel. 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.

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) Rashi writes (13:2) that Parshas Shelach is juxtaposed to the end of Parshas Beha’aloscha to hint that the spies should have learned a lesson from Miriam, who was punished for speaking negatively about Moshe. What comparison is there between the sin of Miriam, who spoke ill about another human whose feelings could be hurt, and the sin of the spies, who spoke negatively about the land of Israel, which is an inanimate object? (Ayeles HaShachar, Darkei HaShleimus)

2) The spies representing the various tribes aren’t listed (13:4-15) in order of the birth of the tribes. On what basis are they listed in this order? (Ramban, Seforno, Emes L’Yaakov)

3) Is the separation of challah a mitzvah (15:19) if the bread isn’t going to be eaten? (Magen Avrohom 8:2 with Biur HaGra, Taz Yoreh Deah 1:17 with Hagahos Rav Akiva Eiger, Mishnah Rav Aharon Zeraim 13:2 and 18:4, Ayeles HaShachar, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

4) 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)

  © 2012 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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