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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Send forth men, if you please, and let them spy out the land of Canaan. (13:2)

The episode of the meraglim, spies, left a tragic blemish on Klal Yisrael's journey toward the Holy Land. Indeed, as a result of their misdeeds and the people's reaction, they were all condemned to perishing in the wilderness, never to step foot into the Promised Land. Clearly, this was a sin of epic proportion - but why? What really was the sin that engendered such a punishment? In Sefer Devarim, Moshe Rabbeinu reiterates the story of how the people approached him in unison requesting that he send spies to reconnoiter Eretz Yisrael. If it was such a bad thing, why did Moshe send them? Apparently, he presaged something ominous for the future, when he said to Yeshoshua, "Hashem should save you from the counsel of the meraglim." (Rashi citing the Talmud Sotah 34b) Furthermore, it appears that Hashem was sending them. If it had been doomed from the start, Hashem could have indicated that the mission was not something that found favor in His eyes. He did not. Why?

The Midrash Rabbah (16:1) distinguishes between the shlichus, mission, of Moshe's agents and that of the two spies sent by Yehoshua. Pinchas and Calev, the two agents sent by Yehoshua, epitomized mesiras nefesh, dedication to the point of self-sacrifice. Hence, they merited salvation. Moshe's agents were considered wicked from the start and were, thus, punished. The Midrash seems to base its distinction on the approach of each to the mission on which they were sent. In contrast, every commentator feels that the sin was the slanderous report against the Holyland and the spies' rejection of Hashem's treasured land which catalyzed their ruin. Even if the slander had been the result of their terrible attitude to their mission, it hardly warranted such an extreme response.

The Sefas Emes explains this with a perspective on the purpose of the Jew in this world. A person is placed on this world to be a shliach, agent, for Hashem, to fulfill a mission. Man's purpose is to carry out his mission, which is to serve and to fulfill the ratzon, will, of Hashem. A life of purpose is a life of mission. A life without the "mission" experience is not a life. A Jew's approach to life as a Jew is that he is on a mission: no more - no less.

The wilderness is a place which represents an incredible amount of freedom for the Jewish People. They did not have to toil, since everything was provided for them. Food was plentiful. They could sit and learn the entire day without any disturbances. Sheltered from their enemies, ensconced in the Heavenly Clouds, fed from the Heavens, they truly experienced an idyllic lifestyle. Indeed, it would all change with the nation's entrance into Eretz Yisrael, when the supernatural lifestyle to which they had become accustomed would be exchanged for one in which miracles would be covert and reliance on the "laws of nature" would be a requisite. Surrounded by external enemies and having to confront internal social and economic issues, Klal Yisrael had a need for spies to explore the best way to implement their new lifestyle in the land.

In keeping with a Jew's purpose in life, Hashem instructed Moshe to "send forth men." In order to circumvent the eventuality of the spies' falling into any one of the traps that lay before them, they would have to be on a mission. It would have to be a mitzvah, positive command, to reconnoiter Eretz Yisrael. Indeed, had the meraglim stuck to the preconceived plan and acted as Hashem's emissaries, as shluchim, men on a mission, they would have been spared the ambiguities, the challenges that confronted them physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Regrettably, they did not take their responsibility seriously; they did not carry out their mission in the spirit in which they were sent. This is why they slandered the land. They were not taking their mission seriously; thus, they fell prey to the obstacles that undermined their mandate.

This idea applies to life in general. When a Jew views the life experience through the lens of humanity, he is confronted by challenges, obstacles and situations that present themselves as insurmountable hurdles. When one views life through the spectrum of Torah, as a Jew on a mission from Hashem - nothing stands in his way. He sees olam hazeh, this world, for what it really is: impermanent, with no intrinsic value other than serving as a vestibule for gaining entrance into Olam Habba, the World to Come. He understands that he must perform mitzvos, study Torah, carry out acts of lovingkindness, and only then can he cling to Hashem, his Mission Control.

Having had the privilege to write about the lives of a number of Torah luminaries and Torah activists of recent and past generations, I have come across a common thread that courses its way through all of their lives: They all lived with a mission. They had a burning desire: to excel; to achieve; to help all of those in need, physically and spiritually; to stand resolute with fortitude and courage to uphold the banner of Torah; to sanctify Hashem's Name; and to elevate the level of His People in this world. This was their mission, and each one lived for it. In an attempt to develop a corollary that guided them to this awesome responsibility, I searched for what I felt in some way catalyzed them to assume their mission.

These gedolim understood their purpose in life and, hence, responded to it. Reb Yitzchak (Irving) Bunim, zl, America's shtadlan, intercessor, for Jewish needs, builder of Torah, rescuer of Jewish lives, would often relate the moral principle which guided his life. I think this applies equally to so many others, and the model should serve as an inspiration to us all. The famous tzadik, Horav Zushe, zl, m'Anipole used to say that there was only one question which he feared: "If on the Day of Judgment I will be asked, 'Why are you not as great as Moshe Rabbeinu, I will reply that I had neither the mind, the emunah, faith, nor the opportunity. And if I am asked, 'Why did you not become as great as the Gaon m'Vilna?' I will quickly respond that I did not have his incredible acumen. After all, he memorized the Talmud backwards and forwards. One question, however, I fear. When they ask me, 'Why were you not Zushe? Why did you not reach your potential?' That is the question which I cannot answer."

These individuals lived a life in which this question stood before their eyes all of the time. They could not rest, because they understood that they had to live up to their G-d-given potential. This accounted for the way they lived their lives, used their minds and talents, and expended every ounce of energy to complete their missions.

Send forth men, if you please, and let them spy out the land of Canaan. (13:2)

Klal Yisrael's sojourn in the wilderness was checkered with a number of incidents that took their toll on the nation's spiritual well-being. No incident impacted their immediate and ultimate future as much as the incident with the meraglim, spies. Many lessons are to be derived from the nation's behavior and Hashem's response. We will focus on one of these lessons. In one of his shmuessen, ethical discourses, Horav Mordechai Schwab, zl, suggests that one element of their sin is often ignored, an aspect that plagues us to this very day: They should have asked for Daas Torah, the wisdom of the Torah, as expounded by its disseminators. The Torah in Sefer Devarim 1:22 reiterates the episode of the meragalim. "All of you approached me and said, 'Let us send men ahead of us and let them spy out the land.'" The people did not ask if it was the proper and correct thing to do. It was a fait accompli.

A Jew must ask before he undertakes anything. What does the Torah say about my undertaking? It is the right thing to do? Am I acting properly? Perhaps I should take a different approach. Regardless of what a person asks, he must understand that it is improper to make a serious move without first consulting a Torah leader concerning its propriety. This was the error of the meraglim. They did not bother to ask Moshe Rabbeinu if it was the appropriate thing to do. They did not ask, because they did not want to hear his answer. Is that not the reason that most of us seem to ignore this crucial step in our various endeavors?

A person must ask or else he will not know what the correct approach to take is in order to achieve success in his undertaking. The goal is much more than achieving success. When he does not ask, one must be prepared to fail. Rav Schwab cites a powerful statement made by Horav Yechezkel Levenstein, zl, concerning this subject. We say everyday in our morning tefillah, "May He open our heart though His Torah and imbue our heart with love and awe of Him and that we may do His will and serve Him wholeheartedly, so that we do not struggle in vain nor produce in futility." What is the meaning of v'laasos retzono b'leivav shaleim, "and that we may do His will and serve Him wholeheartedly"? We have just requested to be imbued with Torah, love and fear of Hashem. What else is there to add? Does this not represent the epitome of perfection?

Rav Chatzkel explains that if one does not carry out the will of Hashem, then regardless of his love and fear of the Almighty and his vast erudition in Torah, he will have "struggled in vain and produced for futility." One must do the ratzon Hashem. In order to perform His will, one must know what it is. This can only be achieved by asking our Torah leaders for guidance and following their advice.

We use the phrase Daas Torah loosely to the point that anyone who has spent a few years studying considers himself worthy of this appellation. The individual who introduced the concept of Daas Torah to America--and who set its standard-- was Horav Aharon Kotler, zl. His scope in Torah was all-encompassing. With his brilliant mind and encyclopedic knowledge, he was able to respond to every issue confronting the Jewish people at the time. Daas Torah was a way of life for Rav Aharon, in contradistinction with the prevailing attitude, which considered any Jewish issue not directly linked to Torah study to not be under the purvue of Torah leadership. Rav Aharon's intimacy and harmony with the Torah resulted from a ceaseless deveikus, absorption, in Torah, coupled with an appreciation and reverence for Torah. This combination gave him the ability to sense the direction in which the Torah was pointing. His relationship with the Torah transcended vested interests and any external non-Torah related thoughts. In short, he was "one" with the Torah. Thus, he was able to express "its" opinion.

The ability to derive the correct response from the vast storehouse of knowledge represented by the Torah to any given question is what defines a gadol b'Yisrael, Torah leader. Rav Aharon introduced this process to these shores and, as a result, it has become the prevalent way of thinking. I take the liberty of citing an example of Daas Torah. Horav Avraham Pam, zl, had just finished speaking to his students about the value and benefits of dedicating their lives to Torah, explaining that a career in Torah chinuch, education, gives an individual true satisfaction. The father of one of the students heard about this discourse and became very upset. What right did Rav Pam have filling the minds of young men with such ideas. He expressed his disdain to the Rosh Yeshivah. Clearly the yeshivah needs the support of the Zevulluns, he argued, so that the Yissachars can continue learning. This was a reference to the two brothers /tribes of Yisrael who had a partnership in which one brother devoted himself to Torah study, while the other brother engaged in commerce and supported his colleagues in the Yeshivah. The father insisted, "That is what I want for my son. I want him to go to yeshivah for a limited amount of time, then go to work, make money and support Yeshivos!" Rav Pam basically wished the man well and did not continue speaking further on the subject.

The following May, he spoke at a Torah U'Mesorah convention on the following: He explained that we find two types of kedushah, sanctity, in the Beis HaMikdash: kedushas ha'guf, which consecrates the actual animal; and kedushas damim, which consecrates money or possessions to be used to purchase korbanos, sacrifices. While both kedushos are precious, they are not parallel. There are explicit prohibitions concerning being makdish temimim l'bedek ha'Bayis, taking an unblemished animal suitable for a korban, instead using its value for a lesser kedushah, such as buying various fixtures for the maintenance of the Bais HaMikdash. An animal that is destined for a higher level of kedushah should not be squandered for a sanctity of a lesser nature.

Rav Pam then explained that if someone takes his son, who is capable and willing to devote himself fulltime to Torah study and denies him the opportunity, the father is in effect being makdish temimim l'bedek ha'Bayis. While Rav Pam's discourse will certainly raise the ire of some parents, it might cause others to think more cogently and objectively concerning their son's future.

This concept was one to which Rav Aharon would often allude with a mashal, analogy. He would compare the parent who would pull his capable son out of the yeshivah to enter the world of commerce--and thereby be in a position to enable others to learn Torah--to one who needs wood to fashion a handle for the broom used to sweep the shul. He breaks off a piece of the Aron Kodesh, Holy Ark, and uses the wood. The Aron Kodesh is now defaced, but he, at least, has wood for his broom. The floor of the shul can now be swept. How absurd. Regrettably, we never think about our actions with such clarity and objectivity. That requires Daas Torah.

And Moshe sent them from the desert of Paran, by the word of Hashem; they were all menů(13:3)

Rashi teaches us that the Torah's description of the spies as "men" denotes that they were great men, for at that moment they were still upstanding people. It was only later that they seemed to have veered from the moral and righteous path. When they returned corrupt, slandering Eretz Yisrael and impugning Moshe Rabbeinu's leadership, Rashi comments that their "going" and "coming" were alike; just as they returned with evil counsel, so, too, was their initial departure infused with evil intentions. There seems to be some kind of discrepancy between Rashi's comment concerning the description of the spies as "men" and his comment about their original evil intentions. Were they "men," or were they evil? The Gur Arye resolves the contradiction, explaining that before they had been selected to serve as spies, they were righteous, upright people. Once they were chosen to represent the nation, they became influenced by their constituency, whose faith in the Almighty was far from perfect. The people's flawed trust in Hashem spread to the spies like a virus, destroying their own spiritual immune system.

How did this happen? How did individuals who had been considered anashim, righteous, upright men, leaders of their respective communities, become so easily tainted and disgraced? Furthermore, it is not as if Klal Yisrael was totally corrupt. Their emunah, faith in Hashem, was flawed. Quite possibly, they were unaware that their motivation to appoint spies did not emanate from a reasonable and virtuous source, but rather from an unsuspecting, subconscious failing. Yet, this unconscious deficiency was sufficiently influential to transform the anashim into reshaim, wicked people.

Horav A. Henoch Leibowitz, zl, explains that in order to understand the phenomenon which occurred in the spiritual state of the meraglim, one must take into consideration the multifaceted nature of the human psyche. While it is capable of magnificent feats of intellect and emotion, it is still susceptible to the most innocuous outside influences. We are all aware of the influential effect of friends and family. Indeed, the closer one is, the quicker and more profound is the influence. What we see here is that even a mere relationship--one that is only a professional, work-related association--can have a profound effect on one's character. The mere appointment of the anashim as the official spies on behalf of Klal Yisrael created a connection between them and the nation. This link allowed for the imperceptible pathogen of faithlessness that was beginning to germinate within the people to be transmitted to those righteous men. They became unknowingly infected with the deadly poison through their newly formed alliance.

The Rosh Yeshiva goes on to caution us about those seemingly innocuous relationships which are more na?ve than innocent. They create a powerful impression and ultimately influence how we think and act. The person with whom we daven in shul, meet at the grocery, engage in commerce, or simply have a schmooze, does not leave us when we leave him. The relationship develops and, with it, his influence grows - be it positive or negative. It should be our goal to interact with only those whose thought and deed impact us constructively.

And they went up on the south side and came (in unison) to Chevron, and there were Achiman, Sheishai and Talmai, the offspring of Anak. (13:22)

The pasuk begins, vayaalu, "and they went up," in the plural, and it concludes, va'yavo, "and (he) came," in the singular. In the Talmud Sotah 34b, Chazal interpret va'yavo as a reference to Calev, who went by himself to pray at the gravesite of the Patriarchs, for the fortitude to stand up against the intentions of his colleagues. This idea is confirmed in Sefer Devarim 1:36 when the Torah repeats the story of the meraglim. There it says, "and to him, I will give the land upon which he has trodden." This is a reference to Calev concerning Chevron which ultimately became his. On the other hand, in recording the dialogue between the returning meraglim and Moshe, Rabbeinu the Torah in pasuk 28 writes: Raeenu sham, "We saw there," indicating that it was not merely Calev who went to Chevron, the home of the giant Anakites. They all went. How are we then to understand the singular form in va'yavo, "and he went"?

Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, explains that, indeed, it was the other meraglim who reported the sighting of these unusually large and powerful inhabitants of Canaan. In Sefer Devarim 1:28, we see that these Anakites inspired fear and faint-heartedness into the hearts of the people. The word va'yavo, "and he came," is a reference to the entire group, connoting the singular purpose of their mission, but something happened to this mission. They came together to Chevron as one, but departed as a splintered group. Calev was no longer with them. What happened?

It was the Anakites, descendants of a race of giants, and the type of environment in which they lived--their homes, the entire city which they had built to coincide with their unusual dimensions--which created a change of heart. It instilled them with fear, which catalyzed the beginning of a wavering in their belief, an alteration in their commitment. They were no longer confident of success, because their trust in Hashem had been shaken by the sight of these strange looking people. Until Chevron, the predominant influence of Calev prevailed. They were all united in courage, determination and faith. Once they arrived in Chevron, Calev felt the beginning of a difference in his faith and theirs. He sensed a rift and, therefore, he went to the gravesite of the Patriarchs alone. He needed to pray for continued courage and stalwartness.

Chevron was the determining factor in their commitment. They all had originally left with peripheral faith. When it was tested, however, they did not pass the test. Their faith was not intrinsic. It was all external; it was all superficial. The meraglim defected. Calev continued on. Thus, he was rewarded with the city of Chevron.

Regrettably, this is not an unusual phenomenon in Jewish life. People talk as believers, reiterate their devotion, declare their commitment - until the going gets rough. At the first sight of something out of the ordinary, they slowly begin to defect, to melt away, to abandon their commitment.

Emunah, faith, in the Almighty must be able to withstand the test of time and pressure. Believing in Hashem only when the sun shines in our face does not take much resolution. It is when we are confronted with financial difficulty, physical and emotional affliction, the stress of family issues, that we indicate our true belief.

And they shall make for themselves tzitzis on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations. (15:38)

Translated simply, we are hereby instructed to attach Tzitzis to the ends of all four-cornered garments. This mitzvah is to continue l'doroseichem, "throughout the generations." The Zohar HaKadosh in the Zohar Chadash Rus 84:2, interprets l'doroseichem as being related to the word dirah, dwelling. He explains that the first two parshios of Krias Shema are enclosed in the Mezuzah which is placed on the doorpost of our homes. The third parsha, which is the parsha of Tzitzis, is not included therein. How are the Mezuzah and its protective force completed? When a person dons a Tallis Kattan, he is wrapped in the third parsha, thereby completing the shielding properties associated with the Krias Shema. It is like saying that the Jew who is not wearing Tzitzis is missing shleimus in the safeguarding effect provided by Krias Shema. We are always in search of reasons to explain why something went wrong or why our best-laid plans did not generate the success we had planned. The Torah provides opportunities for insurance, such as the Mezuzah. Similar to an insurance policy, one must pay his fee in order to receive coverage. Without the Tzitzis on his back, the Mezuzah's coverage of the Jew cannot be activated in full force.

Va'ani Tefillah

Nosein lechem la'reivim, Hashem matir assurim
Hashem pokeach ivrim, Hashem zokeif kefufim
He gives bread to the hungry; Hashem releases the bound, Hashem gives sight to the blind, Hashem straightens the bent.

David HaMelech details the wonderful and kind deeds Hashem will perform for those who have heretofore suffered in silence. It is a moving tribute which clearly makes one feel good that ultimately, one day, those who have experienced any form of adversity will be heard and their challenges remedied. Is that not expected? It appears that David HaMelech is teaching us a novel idea. What is so unusual about Hashem righting the wronged and changing life for those who have been hungry, unable to see, depressed and dejected. What new ground is being broken with this affirmation of Hashem's concern and His healing powers? Hashem is Keil Rachum v'Chanun, merciful and compassionate. This is what He does. The answer is that we know it - but does the world acknowledge Hashem as the Source of all good, or do they attribute it to the philanthropist, the physician, the social worker, etc.? One day, we will all realize that it has been Hashem Who has orchestrated all events, Who heals, Who inspires, Who guides. We will finally open our eyes and see clearly that which is beyond us.

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