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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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
5. No. One must, however, give the Kohen a piece of challah that is "k'dei nesinah."
7. They knew he deserved death. They did not know, however, which type of execution he was to receive.
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