Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 20   No. 36

This issue is sponsored
l'iluy Nishmas
Yisroel ben Binyomin z"l
whose Yohrzeit will be 27 Sivan

Parshas Sh'lach-Lecho

They Told the Truth
(Adapted from the K'li Yakar)

"And they gave the people an evil report of the land that they had spied, saying 'The land that we passed through to spy is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw there were men of Midos' " (13:32).

Wherever they went, comments Rashi, they found the native population burying their dead. But G-d meant it for the good, to keep them occupied with their mourning, so that they should not take any notice of the spies.

Is that a reason to call the spies slanderers, asks the K'li Yakar?

After all, they said what they saw. Is it because they didn't realize that it happened for their own good that they are branded by that terrible title and heavily punished? Fools perhaps (as the Medrash does indeed refer to them), but (evil) slanderers?!


The fact that the Cana'anim were wicked was no secret. The Torah in a number of places (See for example Acharei-Mos 18:3) portrays them as such. So the spies should at least have attributed the numerous deaths that they witnessed to their pervert ways. But they chose instead, to attribute what they saw to the unhealthy climate, which, they claimed, was responsible for both the abnormal size of the fruit that they brought back with them, and the many deaths that they witnessed. And so, they claimed, if people who had grown up in that environment could not survive, how would Yisrael, newcomers to the area, manage to do so?

True, they also saw the giants, as they themselves attested, who seemed to have thrived admirably in the climate of Eretz Yisrael?

But that only proved their point. You see, they were saying, one had to be super strong to survive. It was only the fittest who could live there. Anybody else was bound to succumb (this point is not made by the author). Perhaps, one may add, they seem to have forgotten that their own ancestors hailed from Eretz Cana'an, and they too, seemed to have survived without any problem. But of course, they had not sinned; the Cana'anim had! A point that the spies seem to have 'overlooked', as we already explained.

In fact, not only did they 'overlook' the Cana'anim's on-going atrocities; they even went so far as to refer to them as "anshei midos", which, he explains, has two connotations; 1). That they were 'men of good character'. Indeed, if we interpret this to mean people who are well-mannered, that may even have been true, much in the same way as the Germans before the Second World War, who were supremely cultured and well-mannered, yet when it came to the crunch, were guilty of the most inhuman atrocities ever perpetrated by man!

2). That they were balanced in the way they ate and performed their mundane activities, which, if anything, should have protected their health and assured them of long life.

In other words, the spies ascertained that the Cana'anim were well-balanced, both spiritually and physically, and that there was not the least reason for them to die in such large quantities.

Now we can understand as to why the Torah refers to them, not as fools (which they were, too, but) as slanderers, who deserved to die an immediate and a horrible death for their crime.

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Parshah Pearls

Yisrael's Loss, Moshe's Gain

"Send for yourself men " (13:2).

When Yisrael made the request to send spies the K'li Yakar points out, they said "Let us send spies before us" (Devarim 1:22). They hoped that sending spies would somehow be to their benefit.

G-d responded with "Send for yourself men" - You, Moshe will be the beneficiary, not them. For their part, the result of sending spies will be to die in the dessert and not enter Eretz Yisrael; but as far as you are concerned - G-d told Moshe, you were anyway destined not to enter Eretz Yisrael (See Rashi on the last Pasuk in Parshas Sh'mos). Were it not for the spies, they would have entered Eretz Yisrael now and you would have had to die now. And it is thanks to the spies that you will earn another forty years life.


The Price of Sending men


The Medrash points out that whereas the men, who announced "Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt!" (this Parshah, 14:4), hated Eretz Yisrael, the women (the daughters of Tz'lofchad) announced "Give us a portion ", because they loved it. That is why G-d said to Moshe 'You want to send men to spy out the land, because you think that the land is dear to them, go ahead and send them! Had it been up to Me, I would have sent women to do the job'.


The Difference between
Avodah-Zarah and Other Sins

" then the entire congregation shall bring one bull from the herd as a burnt-offering and one he-goat as a sin-offering (le'Chatos)" (15:24).

The K'li Yakar asks two questions on this Pasuk; 1. Why the word "le'Chatos" is missing an 'Alef'? 2. Why is it, that, unlike everywhere else, when a Chatos and an Olah are required, the sin-offering is brought first, here the burnt-offering is given precedence?

And he attributes the distinction to two basic facts. One, that whereas an Olah comes to atone for the thought that accompanies the sin, a Chatas atones for the act of sinning. The other, that the current Pasuk is referring specifically to where the community, headed by the Sanhedrin, serve Avodah-Zarah be'Shogeg.

By all other sins, he explains, the major part of the sin lies in the act. Indeed, Chazal have said that Hakadosh-Baruch-Hu does not punish for the thought that precedes the sin, only for the sin itself. The one exception is idolatry, where the thought that accompanies the sin is considered graver than the action. This is because believing in any other god is pure blasphemy, to which the sin of sacrificing to a god in whom one does not believe is negligible.

Consequently, by any other sin, it is the Chatas, which atones for the act, that must come first, whereas when it comes to Avodah-Zarah, the Olah, which atones for the thought, needs to take precedence.

And that explains the missing 'Alef' in "le'Chatos". 'Alef', whose numerical value is one, represents the Oneness of G-d, which is compromised when one serves Avodah-Zarah. And the Pasuk is hinting that the sin (hinted in the word 'Chatos) that they transgressed was to contravene the Oneness of G-d.

The K'li Yakar concludes with the beautiful idea that G-d's uniqueness lies in the fact that His creations all act in pairs. By them, thoughts and actions are separate issues, whereas by Him, His Thoughts and actions are one. The moment He decides to do something, it is as if it has already been done, since He does not change His mind and there is no power on earth that can prevent its fulfilment.


In the Desert

"And the B'nei Yisrael were in the desert, when they found a man gathering wood on Shabbos" (15:32).

The commentaries wonder of what significance is the fact that Yisrael were in the desert and why the Torah finds it necessary to mention the fact that they were.

Rashi, obviously with this Kashya in mind, explains that Yisrael had barely entered the desert - where they had just been given the Shabbos, and they had already broken it. In other words, they only managed to keep one Shabbos. Had they kept two, the Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos adds, they would have been invincible.


Targum Yonasan seems to have made the same inference, when he writes that although Yisrael had been informed about Shabbos, they had not yet been told about its punishment. That, he explains, is what prompted a man from the tribe of Yosef (Tz'lofchad) to desecrate Shabbos in front of witnesses, knowing that they would escort him to Moshe. Moshe and the Beis-Din would punish him, and in that way, Yisrael would learn through him about the severity of Shabbos.


The Or ha'Chayim explains the reference to Yisrael's being in the desert with the opinion in Shabbos (96b) that Tz'lofchad (who is generally named as the culprit) carried four Amos in the R'shus ha'Rabim (the main road). He cites the Gemara there (6b) which discusses a contradiction in B'raisos, as to whether a desert is considered a R'shus ha'Rabim or not. It concludes that there is in fact no discrepancy; one B'raisa speaks about when Yisrael were in the desert, the other, nowadays, when they are not. And Rashi explains that, as long as Yisrael were in the desert, it was considered a R'shus ha'Rabim, since one of the requirements of a R'shus ha'Rabim is that six hundred thousand people should use it each day. Hence, the Pasuk introduces the episode concerning Tz'lofchad with the words "And Yisrael were in the desert". What the Torah is telling us is that it is because Yisrael were in the desert, it was considered a R'shus ha'Rabim, and that is why Moshe was able to sentence Tz'lofchad to death. Because had Yisrael not been there, it would have been a R'shus ha'Yachid (a private domain - or more accurately, a Karm'lis, something in between), and he would have been Patur.


The author then cites the Rambam, who interprets the Gemara in Shabbos differently, and who concludes that a desert is always considered a R'shus ha'Rabim - even nowadays. According to him the Kashya that we asked remains.

The Rambam, he explains, will hold that Tz'lofchad's sin was that he picked fruit or vegetables on Shabbos. Now in case you will ask since when do fruit and vegetables grow in a desert, the Pasuk adds that "Yisrael were in the desert", and whilst Yisrael were in the desert, fruit and vegetables were in abundance, for so the Medrash states 'Miriam's well would water the ground and gardens and orchards grew!'

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