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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Shelach

Send forth men, if you wish, and let them spy out the land...see the land - how is it? And the people that dwells in it - is it strong or weak? And how is the land in which it dwells - is it good or is it bad? And how are the cities - are they open or are they fortified? And how is the land - is it fertile or is it lean? Are there trees in it or not?...But the people that dwells in the land is very powerful...we cannot ascend to that people. (13:2, 18,19,20,28,31)

One of the most tragic incidents in Jewish history, the cheit ha'meraglim, the sin of the spies, played a prominent role in altering the course of history. The fact that the spies were virtuous men, leaders of the nation, when they left on their ill-fated mission magnified this tragedy. In the end, this incident effected ruin upon the entire nation. When all is said and done, a number of issues should be addressed regarding their sin. First, what really was their sin? They were sent on a mission to determine the land's strengths and weaknesses - which they did. They returned with a report detailing the land, the people and its vulnerability to war. If they were doing their job, why were they so harshly punished?

Targum Onkelos does not say that the meraglim spoke falsely regarding the land. He says that they spoke "evil". In other words, they utilized every opportunity to slant their reports, to convince the people that the land was unconquerable and that the people were undefeatable. They did not lie; they presented the truth with animus; They painted a picture full of hostility and fear in order to dishearten and dissuade Bnei Yisrael from continuing on to Eretz Yisrael. While this interpretation does shed light on the sin of the meraglim, it still does not account for the punishment, because they did not actually lie.

Second, Moshe did not have to defer to the people's request for spies. In fact, when he turned to Hashem for a solution, Hashem designated him to do as he saw fit. If Moshe was sending spies in response to pressure from the people, was it necessary to give them a specific list of instructions, including what to look for and what information to bring back? It would seem that Moshe was actually taking this mission seriously. Indeed, in Sefer Devarim, when Moshe speaks to the people who were on the verge of entering the land, he says that they are about to undertake a great battle with a nation more powerful than they. They will encounter large, fortified cities and a nation of giants and strong men. Is this portrayal so different than what the meraglim had reported? This brings us back to our original question: If they did not lie, why did they receive such harsh punishment?

Horav Eliyahu Schlesinger, Shlita, claims that indeed, saying the truth was not their sin. They were supposed to recount what they had seen as they reconnoitered the land. What did they do wrong? Their attitude and the advice they rendered - unasked - constituted their mistake. They came back and said, "We cannot conquer the land!" Is that what they were sent to find out? Moshe clearly told them what to investigate and what to report back - nothing else! Who authorized them to determine Hashem's ability to lead His people into Eretz Yisrael? They sinned by saying, "We cannot do it." No person has a right to undermine the powers of Hashem. To do so is to cast aspersion on the Source of all existence. If Hashem could take them out of Egypt, split the Red Sea and sustain them miraculously in the desert, is the fear of giants dwelling in fortified cities realistic?

The litmus test for the spies was the manner in which they presented their findings. Had they simply responded to the actual questions asked of them, no one would have thought twice. These people were living miraculously, they had nothing to fear whatsoever. After the spies placed doubt in their minds by saying we could defeat them, the people became overwhelmed and hysterical. A spy is assigned to relay his findings and leave the battle to the general.

And Moshe called Hoshea Ben Nun - Yehoshua. (13:16)

Chazal tell us that Moshe added the "yud" to Hoshea's name, so that his name would now begin with the letters of Hashem's Name. (yud-hay) Moshe apparently suspected that the spies were not acting in good faith. Realizing the disaster that awaited his student, Moshe prayed that Yehoshua be spared and not fall under the influence of the other spies. The obvious question is why Yehoshua merited his prayers more than Calev -- or anyone else for that matter? The commentators offer various reasons for this. Horav Meir Bergman, Shlita, cites Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, who offers a profound analysis.

In the Talmud Bava Metzia Chazal relate that when Reish Lakish passed away, Rabbi Yochanan, his rebbe and colleague, became ill. He simply could not tolerate the death of his closest student. His colleagues, seeing that Rabbi Yochanan was apathetic, prayed for his death, so that he would be relieved of his overwhelming pain and anguish. Rav Chaim wonders why did they not pray for him to be healed. Was death a better alternative than relief from his sickness? Apparently, Rabbi Yochanan sustained an unreplacable irreparable loss; healing him would not remedy his circumstance. Rabbi Yochanan could not go on without his unique student. Life without him was simply not life.

Let us now attempt to understand Rabbi Yochanan. He was the Tanna who was struck by tragedy many times. Chazal relate that he had ten sons who all died during his lifetime. In fact, he kept a small bone from his tenth son that he would take with him when he went to console others who had sustained a similar loss. He sought to show them that Hashem gives one the energy to persevere. He consoles the mourner. This is enigmatic! Rabbi Yochanon was a man who was able to overcome such crushing blows one after another, to bury ten children and be able to maintain himself so that he could console others. Yet, he lost his mind when his student died! How are we to understand this?

We derive from here the essence of a Torah relationship between a rebbe and talmid. The Rambam in Hilchos Rotzeach 7 writes that if a rebbe must be exiled because he killed someone unintentionally, his talmidim are to go with him. For a person who devotes himself to Torah, this relationship is his lifeblood without which he will perish. We now understand why Moshe singled out Yehoshua for prayer. Moshe could not live without his prime talmid. With whom would he share his Torah? Yehoshua was the quintessential student who was devoted to his rebbe b'lev v'nefesh, with heart and soul. For Moshe to lose Yehoshua would be to lose a part of his life.

We may supplement this idea. There was an even greater dread presented to Moshe. If Yehoshua would have died, as tragic as it would have been, Moshe would have been able to heal. In this circumstance, however, Moshe feared for Yehoshua's spiritual life, not his physical one. What greater pain could there be for Moshe to endure than to see his favorite, most promising student rebel against the Almighty? Is there any wonder that Moshe prayed for him?

Horav Bergman suggests a different reason that Moshe's talmid Yehoshua needed an extra prayer on his behalf. A person's sins also blemish the neshamah of his descendants. We infer this from the mekalel, blasphemer, who the Torah emphasizes was the son of Shlomis bas Divri. Chazal tell us that Divri is a reference to the mother's character, rather than her name. Shlomis had a tendency to prattle endlessly. The content of her conversation was not always complimentary. This had an effect upon her son who, when he grew up, used his mouth in the most reprehensible manner. In contrast to this story, Chazal tell us that much of the reward and good will of which Klal Yisrael was the beneficiary was due to the two words, naase v'nishmah, "we will do and we will listen," uttered by their ancestors at Har Sinai.

Yosef Ha'Tzaddik spoke about his brothers in what might be viewed a disparaging manner. The Torah says, "He brought evil reports of his brothers to his father." While Yosef's intentions were apparently noble, he, nonetheless, did speak lashon hora about his brothers. This would have left a serious blemish upon his descendants. Indeed, the Ramban says that when the Torah delineates the spies' ancestry according to their tribe, it attributes Shevet Yosef to Menashe, since the spy from Menashe slandered Eretz Yisrael, while Calev, the spy from Shevet Efraim, did not. The taint of lashon hora which emanated from Yosef left an impression on his descendants from Menashe. Moshe Rabbenu feared that this stain might also infect his talmid, Yehoshua, a descendant of Efraim. He, therefore, interceded on his behalf for that extra protection.

's h,umn kf ,t o,rfzu u,ut o,htru

And you shall look at it, and remember all the commandments of Hashem. (15:39)

The tzitzis stand as a constant reminder of the Jew's duties to Hashem and of his special relationship with Him. Chazal teach us that the techeiles, blue thread, in the tzitzis symbolizes the sea. In turn, the sea represents the Heavens, and the Heavens allude to Hashem's Throne. Thus, when a Jew gazes at the tzitzis he should think of Hashem and, consequently, feel an affinity with His mitzvos. We infer from here what it means to "see," what visual perception stimulates. One can look at an object and see a plain, inanimate form before him. Alternatively, he can use his G-d given mind to think while he perceives profundities beyond the scope of simple vision.

Horav Mordechai Ilan, zl, explains that the spies' myopic vision led to their downfall. Moshe Rabbeinu instructed them to see what the land was and what it had to offer. Had they looked with perception and depth, they would have seen a land whose treasures would uplift them physically and spiritually. It was their shortsightedness, however, that prevented them from seeing the truth. They could not see beyond themselves! They feared for their exalted positions which they thought they would lose upon entering Eretz Yisrael. How myopic could they have been? Everywhere they looked they saw only one thing - themselves. Their vested interests distorted their perception, catalyzing their downfall.

The parsha of tzitzis is an appropriate conclusion for a parsha that begins with shortsightedness. The Torah tells us how a Jew should look at things. That is the lesson of the tzitzis. "And you should look at it - and remember all the commandments of Hashem." A "look" that does not conjure up spiritual conformity with Hashem's mitzvos is not a "Jewish" look. True vision requires more than the eye. It requires the whole man, his mind and his heart. What we see is really what we are.

tku o,ut o,hagu 's h,umn kf ,t o,rfzu u,ut o,htru

///ofhbhg hrjtu ofcck hrjt uru,,

And you will see it, and remember all the commandments of Hashem, and perform them, and not explore after your heart and after your eyes. .. So that you may remember and perform all My commandments. (15:39, 40)

Chazal tell us that the numerical equivalent of the word tzitzis is 600. The eight threads and the five knots supplement this number to equal 613, the number of mitzvos a Jew is enjoined to perform. The tzitzis, according to some commentators, are viewed as Hashem's insignia which we, as His servants, wear with pride. The Sefer Hachinuch says that by wearing tzitzis we are wearing Hashem's emblem. What greater motivation is there for remembering to perform His mitzvos than realizing that we are clothed in the uniform of Hashem's servants?

If so, why do we continue to neglect performing mitzvos? We see our own tzitzis and those of others; yet, we still sin. Why do we not remember the message of the tzitzis?

Horav Baruch Sorotzkin, zl, offers an insightful response to this apparent anomaly. If we read the text of the pasuk, we assume that one who looks at the tzitzis will remember the mitzvos and, therefore, will not stray after his heart and eyes. If that is the case, why does the Torah immediately follow this pasuk with the words, "So that you remember and perform all My mitzvos"? Why is it necessary to repeat the idea that one will remember to perform mitzvos? The Torah is teaching us a fundamental lesson. Only if one is not under the influence of his head and eyes will looking at the tzitzis make its impression. One whose life is regulated by the whims of his heart and the impression of his eyes will not be inspired by wearing the king's insignia. Yes, one can and many do perform some of the gravest sins while they are clothed in their tzitzis. This epitomizes spiritual hypocrisy. Once the yetzer hora, evil inclination, takes charge, however, the tzitzis becomes nothing more than a garment which we wear to maintain appearances. One must be internally pure, so that his external appearance becomes more than superficial.


1. Moshe instructed the twelve spies to determine whether the nation they were to battle was strong. How were they to do this?

2. Which one of the spies stopped in Chevron?

3. Were the members of the Sanhedrin also involved in crying needlessly on that fateful night?

4. Who was Calev's wife?

5. Does the Torah specify a prescribed shiur for challah?

6. Was the m'koshesh duly warned?

7. Why was the m'koshesh jailed?


1. Moshe told them to observe the type of cities in which they lived. If they were fortified, it would indicate that they were weak and scared. If they lived out in the open, it was a sign that they were strong.

2. Calev ben Yefuneh.

3. Yes.

4. Miriam.

5. No. One must, however, give the Kohen a piece of challah that is "k'dei nesinah."

6. Yes.

7. They knew he deserved death. They did not know, however, which type of execution he was to receive.

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