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Parshas Shelach - Vol. 10, Issue 34
Compiled by Oizer Alport
In relating that Moshe sent spies to scout out the land of Israel, the Torah refers to the spies as 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 Eretz Yisroel? Rashi explains that this term is used to connote the fact that at the time the spies were sent, they were still righteous and had no plans to speak negatively about the land of Israel. However, this only compounds the difficulty: If these men were indeed so respected when they were selected for their mission, what caused them to experience such a remarkable downfall in such a short period of time?
The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh explains that as long the spies were encamped together with the rest of the nation, they were regularly able to interact with Moshe and benefitted from his teachings and guidance, and they remained esteemed members of their respective tribes. However, the moment they set out on their own, they lost the spiritual safety net and atmosphere to which they were accustomed, and once they were forced to fend for themselves, they were unable to maintain their spiritual levels, which set the stage for their downfall.
Although none of us is fortunate enough to learn Torah directly from Moshe, and we will likely never be sent on spy missions into foreign countries, the lesson of the spies' demise is still relevant to each of us. Even though we may not have learned Torah from Moshe, we have all had Rabbis and Rebbetzins who were instrumental in our spiritual development.
When we were fortunate enough to live in close proximity to them and to attend their classes regularly, we experienced tremendous spiritual growth. Unfortunately, life circumstances often compel us to move on from our safe havens, whether leaving yeshiva or kollel to work to support a family, or leaving the spiritual inspiration of seminary to start a family of one's own. Even those of us who are fortunate enough to still be surrounded by serious B'nei Torah also experience these struggles when traveling on our own, especially during the summer months.
It is imperative that we remain cognizant of the Ohr HaChaim's lesson about the importance of our environments and who we surround ourselves with. Fortunately, this concept works in both directions, and just as the spies set in motion their downfall when they left their comfort zones, so too can we reach tremendous spiritual heights by surrounding ourselves with growth-oriented teachers, friends, and neighbors.
Parshas Shelach revolves around the sin of the spies who were sent by Moshe to scout out 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 and conquer the land. The Gemora in Taanis (29a) teaches that the spies returned from their mission on the night of Tisha B'Av, and as a result of their negative report and the response of the Jewish people, who accepted their scurrilous account and cried needlessly (14:1), Hashem decreed that future generations would be required to mourn and cry on the night of Tisha B'Av. As we prepare to begin the 3-week mourning period over the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and our exile from the land, we should also work to rectify the sin of the spies by appreciating the unique spiritual qualities that can only be found in Eretz Yisroel.
Dovid HaMelech writes in Tehillim (84:11) ki tov yom b'chatzeirecha me'elef - one day in Your courtyards is preferable to 1000 (anyplace else). However, Dovid doesn't specify the subject of 1000; to what unit of time is he referring? The simple and straightforward understanding of the verse based on rules of grammar is that one day in Hashem's courtyards in Yerushalayim is better than 1000 days lived anywhere else. However, in Rashi's commentary on this verse, he renders Dovid's words as expressing that one day in Yerushalayim is superior to 1000 years spent in any other place. Where did Rashi see this unexpected interpretation alluded to in the verse?
Rav Moshe Wolfson is the Mashgiach of Yeshivas Torah Vodaath and the Rav of the Emunas Yisroel shul. Among his many unique qualities, he is known for his tremendous love of Eretz Yisroel, where he spends each summer in the Old City of Yerushalayim. When asked where he lives, he answers, "I live in Yerushalayim, but my job obligations require me to spend most of the year in Brooklyn." With such passion and appreciation for the greatness of Eretz Yisroel, Rav Wolfson explains that Rashi recognized that Dovid was a very wise individual, who authored the book of Tehillim with Divine inspiration. Rashi understood that it is self-evident that one day in Hashem's courtyard is better than 1000 days spent anywhere else, and there would be no chiddush (novel insight) for Dovid to make that point. Therefore, Rashi deduced that Dovid was coming to tell us a true chiddush, that Yerushalayim is so great that one day there is superior even to 1000 years lived anywhere else, an appreciate that we should work on inculcating within ourselves as we mourn the loss of the Beis HaMikdash and the exile of our nation.
The tragic episode of the spies is immediately followed by a section detailing the laws of the meal-offerings and wine libations which accompany certain offerings. The portion begins by stating clearly that it is only applicable after the Jews enter the land of Israel. Immediately after decreeing that the Jewish people would die in the wilderness and never merit entering 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 words of Torah. This is even more difficult to understand. In what way were they able to find comfort in a mitzvah that 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 an inspiring 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 depths 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 the content of the subject at hand was, but the mere fact that they were now able to engage themselves in studying a new Torah topic was the greatest comfort that Hashem could give them.
Along these lines, the Gemora in Sanhedrin (99a) derives from a verse in Parshas Shelach (15:31) that a person who studies Torah but neglects to teach it to others has disgraced Hashem's words and rejected His commandments, and he will be punished by being completely cut off from the Jewish nation. Although there is a mitzvah to teach Torah to others, why is the failure to do so judged so strictly?
Rav Avrohom Yaakov Pam explains that the very fact that a person is able to keep his learning to himself reveals that he doesn't grasp the sweetness of the Torah that he studies. If he appreciated and personally experienced its beauty and depth, he would literally be unable to contain it within himself. As proof for his claim, Rav Pam quotes the Chasam Sofer, who writes that Moshe was the only human who understood the mysteries of the purification of the red heifer. Nevertheless, the fact that he wasn't permitted to share it with a single person caused him so much agony that he would have actually preferred not be privy to the secret. Similarly, the Kuntres HaSfeikos writes in his introduction in the name of the Mahar"i Muskato that if angels reveal the most lofty Divine secrets to a person, he will have no pleasure from the knowledge until he is able to share it with others.
In light of the above, we now understand that if a person studies Torah and feels no burning need to teach it to others, he doesn't appreciate the value of the Torah that he studied. This is indeed the ultimate fulfillment of "scorning the word of Hashem," and is deserving of the most severe of punishments.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) 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)
2) 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)
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