|Back to This Week's Parsha|
PARASHAS SHELACHSend forth men, if you please. (13:2)
The Baal HaTurim makes an interesting observation which gives the reader an opportunity to pause and question. The letters at the end of the three words: shlach, lecha, anashim are ches, chof and mem, which spell the word chacham, wise man. This spurs the Baal HaTurim to say that there was Heavenly instruction concerning the quality of the person Moshe Rabbeinu would select to be among the meraglim, spies. He was to be a chacham, wise man. These men were Nesiim, Princes, of each shevet, tribe. It, thus, makes sense that they were individuals not lacking in wisdom, and they were G-d-fearing, able leaders. Yet, despite their incredible achievements, they fell meigra ramah l'bira amik ta, "from a high mountain to a low pit." They rebelled against G-d by saying, "We are unable to conquer the land." How did this occur?
Horav Pinchas Friedman, Shlita, cites the B'chor Shor in his commentary to Shabbos 150A, who explains Chazal's well-known definition of a chacham: Eizehu chacham? Ha'roeh es ha'nolad. "Who is a wise man? One who sees what is 'born' (who perceives the results of his actions; who understands the consequences of his decision)." The B'chor Shor explains that every aveirah, sin, has avos and toldos, fathers, primary sin and offspring, consequences, result/secondary actions. For example, consider the transgression of idol worship, which consists of actual service to the idol. This is the av. The toldos would be similarities which Chazal have stated are "as if" one has worshipped an idol, such as: arrogance, anger, refraining from giving charity by turning his head away from noticing the poor man; not keeping his word. Likewise, the sin of adultery has such toldos as various forms of flirting with women, or, as Chazal state, one who eats bread without washing his hands. The sin of murder might be about taking a life, but ha'malbin pnei chaveiro, one who embarrasses his fellow in public, is considered as if he killed him.
We, therefore, see two distinct levels or aspects of sin: the primary transgression which is prohibited by the Torah; and its offshoot, which, when violated, may lead to the violation of the primary transgression. Thus, the Bchor Shor posits that one who is not careful with regard to the precursor of sin; i.e. one who has no compunction about humiliating his fellow in public, will eventually lose respect for the value of human life. As such, Chazal teach that a wise man is one: who perceives the results of his actions; who understands that the toldah, offshoot, can lead to greater and worse actions and sinful behavior, such as the violation of the original Torah prohibition.
Veritably, this is how the yetzer hora, evil inclination, plays on our mind. He understands that he will have little success in convincing someone to sin. The individual is far-removed from the primary transgression, but, if he can persuade his target to commit a toldah, then he has captured the person. The rest will now be much easier. "Who is a wise man? One who sees the nolad; what will be born from his actions." One should realize and take to heart that the "minor" actions will lead to much greater evil.
Indeed, Chazal (Pirkei Avos 4:2) state, Mitzvah goreres mitzvah; aveirah goreres aveirah, "A mitzvah leads to another mitzvah; a sin leads to another sin." Good deeds, as well as bad, are not performed in a vacuum. A good deed leaves an imprint on a person and motivates him to do some more good. Sadly, the same is true with evil. A bad deed begets another bad deed.
We now return to our original question: How did such exalted men, members of Klal Yisrael's elite, fall to such a nadir of sin that they rebelled against Hashem? The Zohar HaKadosh posits that the meraglim spoke ill of Eretz Yisrael because they feared that their positions as Nesiim would be in jeopardy when they entered the Land. They were the Nesiim for the wilderness. Eretz Yisrael would have a new generation of Princes. The root of their sin was a taint of arrogance. No one wants to give up his position of leadership. As a result of this, they were willing to slander Eretz Yisrael, so that the nation would fear entering the Land.
In his Zera Kodesh, the Ropshitzer, zl, writes in his commentary to our parsha: V'yasuru es Eretz Canaan, "And they shall spy out the Land of Canaan," that the word Canaan is superfluous. Obviously, since this was the land in question, it was Canaan which they would be spying out. The Rebbe explains that hachnaah, humility, submission, is one of the most important and critical character traits that one should possess. Moshe Rabbeinu was lauded as the most humble man on earth. Eretz Yisrael has this advantage over any other land - in that it imbued its residents with hachnaah. Thus, despite the large, fortified cities that dotted its landscape, it was a land that infused humility within the psyche of its citizens. This, says the Rebbe, is the reason it is called Canaan, which is a derivative of hachnaah.
Moshe instructed the meraglim to take a penetrating look at the land. "See the Land, what it is; and the nation that lives there: Are they really strong? Do they consider themselves mighty? Are they many? Do they view themselves as all-powerful, or are they a nation affected by the land's climate?" Moshe was acutely aware of the issue that plagued the spies. He understood the damage that a smidgeon of arrogance, left unchecked, can cause. As a person who personified the very epitome of humility, Moshe understood its significance. He saw the meraglim were headed toward infamy - if they did not allay their misplaced fear born of arrogance.
Regrettably, they did not take the hint. They did not take the definition of wisdom to heart. Had they heeded the words of Chazal to perceive what can result from a minor infraction; had they been chachamim who are roeh es ha'nolad, they would not have fallen into the trap set for them by the yetzer hora.
We now understand the Baal HaTurim's emphasis on the word chacham. Had they acted with chochmah, wisdom, the entire debacle for which we are still paying today would never have occurred. This is true for so much of our everyday lives. We make minor, foolish mistakes which we view as isolated, insignificant errors that have little or no bearing on our lives. How wrong we are! These "minor" errors are the toldos, which sadly lead to avos. A little chochmah at the right moment will prevent much of life's problems later on. Every time we do something which we feel is "not so terrible," we should stop to think of the consequences that it might catalyze. This is the definition of a wise person.
Moshe called Hoshea bin Nun Yehoshua. (13:16)
Rashi explains that Moshe Rabbeinu added the letter yud to Hoshea's name, thereby transforming it to Yehoshua, so that his name would begin with Yud-Kay, the letters of G-d's Name. The Hebrew name, Yehoshua, means, "G-d will save." Moshe was praying that Hashem would spare his primary student, Yehoshua, from falling under the mutinous influence of the spies. Chazal give a number of reasons that Moshe singled out Yehoshua over Calev. Surely, it was not favoritism. Moshe was concerned that Yehoshua's extreme humility would get the better of him and not permit him to stand up to the meraglim. Alternatively, Yehoshua, being Moshe's primary student, respected his revered Rebbe. Thus, a weakness on the part of Yehoshua would not only reflect ill on Moshe, but would also impugn the integrity of his nevuah, prophecy. This would undermine the very underpinnings of Klal Yisrael's emunah, faith.
While the above explains Moshe's concern for Yehoshua, it does not explain why, once he was davening, he did not include Calev. Furthermore, when the spies entered the Land, Calev alone left to pray at the graves of the Patriarchs. Why did Yehoshua not join him in this venture? The Chafetz Chaim, zl, explains that, when the winds of heresy begin to surge, they devastate in their wake anyone: who is ill-prepared; who is not firmly anchored in Torah, mitzvos and faith in Hashem. Even those whose commitment is firm and uncompromising struggle to maintain their commitment. They have to follow one of two paths for overcoming the challenge and not falling prey to temptation and pressure. One can either plunge into the fray, declare his true identity as being in total opposition to those who would deviate from the truth, and state his intentions unequivocally: "If you want a fight, I am prepared!"
The second approach is the direct opposite of the first. Rather than open up with powerful rhetoric, one can be silent, remaining in the background and even giving the impression that he is in agreement with the subversive factions. If they do not perceive him as a threat, they might just leave him alone to go about his business - in private. It is only when he is within the safe confines of other believers that he will render his true opinion and refute the heresy expounded by those who have chosen to deviate from the truth.
Obviously, each one of these approaches has its upside and downside. The one who is openly contentious - who publicly states his challenge to the heretics whose goal is to impugn and eventually eradicate the Torah way of life - will have nothing to fear concerning his personal commitment. The more he rises to their challenge, the stronger he must be. His beliefs must be unambiguous, his devotion intransigent. He is constantly in a state of battle readiness, prepared to do whatever it takes to defend the way of truth against its usurpers.
The downside is that the opposition will fight back, and often it will be a downright dirty battle. Sadly, in war, there are few rules and very little decency. No one wants to lose; for some, it is not an option, but it does happen. Even the winner often emerges broken and tarnished. On the other hand, when one appears to acquiesce with the mutineers, he will be left alone. Why fight with someone who agrees with you? He is safe from contention, as he is accepted as one of "theirs." Clearly, in such a situation, there is always a distinct fear that subtle acquiescence will lead to partial agreement and eventual capitulation.
These two variant approaches were manifested by the two allies in faith - Yehoshua and Calev. Whether it was their individual personalities, upbringing, or family background, they maintained divergent techniques for dealing with the heretical threat of the spies. Moshe was well aware of the character and temperament of his student, Yehoshua. He was certain that Yehoshua would not tolerate a challenge to his Rebbe's leadership and would certainly not countenance a mutiny against Hashem. He would be vocal, and he would set forth before the people the shitah, position, of the Torah. Thus, Moshe had reason to fear that Yehoshua might become a physical casualty of the rebellion. Yehoshua would not be silent. He would be silenced - by the usurpers! Thus, Moshe prayed for him to be spared.
Calev, however, was of a different disposition. (We must remember that, according to the Midrash, Calev was married to Miriam HaNeviah and fathered Chur, who stood up to the rabble inciters of the Golden Calf. He was murdered for his trouble.) While Calev was not immediately concerned about the spies, since he would play along with them, he worried about the long-term effect of being in their midst. Would he be influenced by them? This is why Calev went to the graves of the Patriarchs. He went to pray, to petition their support in enabling him to survive this new challenge spiritually.
Yehoshua had his derech, approach, to dealing with the challenge presented by the faithless. Unquestionably, his approach was safer and less prone to pressure. Yet, Calev's way also worked. In order to succeed as Calev did, however, one must act totally l'shem Shomayim, for the purpose of Heaven - as did Calev.
Moshe called Hoshea bin Nun, Yehoshua. (13:16)
One needs only to open up the Chumash, peruse the words of commentary found in Chazal, and study our turbulent history, to observe that Eretz Yisrael is not only a special land - it is ours - as bequeathed to us by Hashem. The subject should be closed. Nonetheless, throughout the millennia, there have been those who have taken umbrage with this position, laying claim to the Holy Land for which they have no right. We have suffered and have been persecuted to preserve our legacy of ownership… and, we will persevere, if we remember that Hashem gave us the Land, because He wants us to have it.
I came across an exposition from the distinguished Ravad, Rosh Yeshivah, Horav Nissan Alpert, zl, that underscores this idea. I feel it is well worth repeating, specifically because of its compelling nature. Chazal teach that originally when Hashem changed the name "Sarai" to "Sarah," He allocated the displaced yud for Yehoshua's name. In other words, the name, Yehoshua, is a construct of Hoshea and an "infusion" of Sarah Imeinu. What is the connection between the two?
Rav Alpert suggests that the relationship between Sarah and Yehoshua is by design. Indeed, had Yehoshua not had a part of Sarah within his name, he could not have been the one through whom Eretz Yisrael would be transferred to the Jewish People. It was necessary for Yehoshua to internalize certain basic hashkafos, philosophies, which Sarah possessed, specific values which were germane to her.
There was one specific hashkafah which was associated with Sarah. (This does not mean that Avraham Avinu did not agree; it is just that he does not seem to place as much emphasis on it.) Sarah had a clear and uncompromising belief that Eretz Yisrael is the inheritance /gift of the Jews and that absolutely no other nation or people had any right to it whatsoever.
It was Sarah Imeinu who demanded that Hagar, with her son Yishmael, be sent from her home. "For the son of that servant shall not share in the inheritance with my son, Yitzchak" (Bereishis 21:10). Sarah was stating clearly that neither Yishmael nor any of his descendants should have any portion in Eretz Yisrael. I may add that, if Hashem gave it to us - it is for us - and we have no right to negotiate giving it away.
Yehoshua, who was selected by Hashem to serve as Moshe Rabbeinu's successor to lead the Jewish People into the Land, received part of his name from Sarah - specifically so that he would not forget Sarah's plea to Avraham: Yishmael must be expelled and not receive a portion of the Land.
Hashem agreed with Sarah. Avraham was told by Hashem, "Whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her." We must maintain this commitment to the Land. As Sarah taught us, this is our Land and it must, therefore, remain in our hands - in its entirety. Yishmael's minions have no right to the Land. Threatening the world community through brutal acts of terrorism does not provide them with a license to the Land. It just demonstrates how correct Sarah Imeinu was in assessing the character of their forebear.
And they will say about the inhabitants of the Land, "They have heard that You, Hashem are in the midst of this people… and that Your cloud stands over them, and that in a pillar of cloud You go before them by day, and in a pillar of fire at night." (14:14)
The above pasuk underscores Hashem's overwhelming love for the Jewish People, as perceived by the gentile nations. While it is unquestionably true, their perception of His love is interestingly based on a vision of chesed, kindness, which, albeit impressive, requires elucidation. "You, Hashem, are in the midst of this people": The nations are impacted by Hashem's close relationship with us. How do they see this closeness? What unique manifestation of love impacts them most? "That Your cloud stands over them, and that in a pillar of cloud You go before them": The Ananei HaKavod, Clouds of Glory, protected the Jews and accompanied them throughout their wilderness journey.
Horav Eliyahu Baruch Finkel, zl, observes that such earth-shattering miracles as manna, the Heavenly Bread which nourished them for forty years, and the Be'irah shel Miriam, Well of Miriam, which accompanied them and, until the end of their sojourn, provided sustenance, are not included. These were wondrous miracles that, although designed for the Jews, nonetheless also benefitted their gentile neighbors. The leftover manna would dissolve and become rivulets, which was later drunk by gazelles and deer. The gentile nations would trap and eat them, tasting in them the taste of the manna, realizing thereby the laudatory level achieved by Klal Yisrael, for whom the manna was initially designated. Likewise, the Well of Miriam and a host of other miracles which benefitted Klal Yisrael all seem to pale in comparison with the protection accorded to them by the Pillar of Cloud. Apparently, the Cloud was the apex of Hashem's love for our people. Why?
The Bach (Ohr HaChaim 625) wonders why Succos was selected as the Festival for remembering the Clouds of Glory, rather than the manna or Well of Miriam. Rav Eliyahu Baruch explains that it was the Clouds of Glory that demonstrate Hashem's love for us, and this takes precedence over everything else. This, however, does not explain "why" the Cloud is so special.
Rav Eliyahu Baruch cites the Talmud Bava Metzia 86a, which attributes each of the three Heavenly gifts - manna, Well, Cloud - to Avraham Avinu's actions in reaching out to the Heavenly guests, disguised as Arab wayfarers, who visited him. In the merit of "butter and milk" which he gave them, we received the manna; for hovering over them to see what they might possibly need, they merited the Cloud; for bringing the water, Avraham's descendants merited the Well of Miriam. Thus, Klal Yisrael were the beneficiaries of Avraham's incredible hospitality to others.
The entire Chazal is interesting. Avraham Avinu showed his incredible hospitality in other ways. For example, he (although sick and in extreme pain) personally ran to slaughter three calves, to provide his guests with fresh meat and tongue. His personal dignity meant nothing to him when he assisted others. Nor were the financial expenditures involved an issue if he was in the process of providing hospitality. Nevertheless, the most significant aspect of his actions was the fact that he stood there - at attention, in anticipation, in total negation of his selfhood - just so that he could provide for them. This is considered the most noble, most meritorious of his deeds on behalf of others. This indicates that it is not necessarily what one does that matters most; it is how and with what attitude one executes his kindness to others. Avraham's "hanging around," waiting, hovering over them, demonstrated that he really cared, he really wanted to perform kindness for them.
What an important lesson for those who are "caregivers," "kindness givers," baalei chesed. It is not what you do, but how you do it that makes the difference. To perform a chesed as if one is being forced is not a chesed. To give tzedakah, charity, as if one's teeth are being pulled is not tzedakah. True, the poor man, beneficiary, is receiving aid, but one's negative attitude undermines his goodness. We either do it correctly, or we are not doing it. There really is no other way.
For it had not been clarified what should be done with him. (15:34)
They knew that one who profanes the Shabbos is put to death. They were just unclear as to the nature and procedure of the execution. In an alternative exposition, the commentators state that actually they were well aware of the type of execution which is meted out to a mechallel Shabbos, one who desecrates Shabbos. Nonetheless, they were uncertain as to what to do with the mekoshesh eitzim, the man who gathered wood on Shabbos. Why? It seems that the mekoshesh's intentions were noble. He wanted the people to realize the seriousness of Shabbos desecration. They should know that one who desecrates Shabbos is put to death.
We now understand their overriding concern about executing a fellow Jew who got carried away with his zeal for conveying the critical nature of Shabbos. Perhaps such a Jew should not be executed. After all, he acted l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven. He was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to impart a message concerning the sanctity of Shabbos. Should we not be lenient with such a person?
There is a flipside to this argument, one that is becoming more compelling, as we see people of all ilk resonating to this form of excuse for committing every type of sin and immorality. "It is l'shem Shomayim" has become a rationale to justify the most deplorable activities. "How else can we reach out to them?" "If we do not get into the mud with them, they will never give us the time of day" and other such excuses. L'Shem Shomayim is not an excuse for transgressing the Torah.
They shall make Tzitzis on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations…that you may see it and remember all the commandments of Hashem. (15:38,39)
The Eliyahu Rabbah (Ohr HaChaim 24:3) quotes, "It is found in the Rishonim that, whoever passes the Tzitzis over his eyes during the recital of Krias Shema, is ensured that he will not become blind. Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, writes that he was questioned by an ophthalmologist concerning this segulah, talisman, that protects from blindness. How does it work? What reason is there? Rav Zilberstein explained, quoting the Chida, who explains why Egypt was struck with the plague of Choshech, darkness. The Egyptians "closed their eyes," made themselves forget the good fortune which they experienced with the arrival of Yaakov Avinu. Therefore, they were plagued with an inability to see. He supports this thesis, explaining that the word choshech, darkness, has the same letters as shochach, forget. Because they forgot (Yaakov's favors), they were plagued with darkness. Also, adds Rav Zilberstein, darkness has the same letters as kicheish, deny. The Egyptians denied that they were in debt to Yaakov and, by extension, his descendants. Therefore, when a Jew passes the Tzitzis over his eyes, in order to remember and to underscore that, unlike the Egyptians who forgot, we choose to remember the exodus from Egypt. We are not like our oppressors.
The Tallis Gadol which one wears for prayer has another significance to it, in that "it" attests to the character of its wearer during his encounter with Hashem during Tefillah. Horav Aharon, zl, m'Belz, would encourage the boys who became bar mitzvah (and begin wearing Tefillin daily) to accept upon themselves not to speak other than words of Torah while wearing the Tefillin. One of the boys kept his word, adhering to his promise throughout his teenage years until he became a chassan, engaged to be married. At this point, the Rebbe summoned him into his office and asked him, "Are you prepared to extend your acceptance not to speak idle talk even when wearing the Tallis Gadol?" (This refers to Shabbos and Yom Tov.) The young man agreed, "Yes, I accept not to speak devarim bitailim, idle talk, when I am wearing my Tallis."
The Rebbe then shared with the young man a frightening scenario: "When you will leave this world and stand before the Heavenly Tribunal, you will be overcome with fear. This is the moment of Truth when all is revealed and everyone is judged. You will be able to say the following: 'As all Jewish deceased, I am standing before the Tribunal wrapped in the Tallis, which I wore during davening throughout my life. Since, during my lifetime, I refused to speak idle talk, speaking only words of Torah, I would like to do the same right now! I ask that the Tribunal only speak words of Torah with me - not to discuss my past, the indiscretions that I(might have) committed in my life.'"
It is related that when the Tallis belonging to the Taz became old and unacceptable (at least in the eyes of his members) to wear, the Jewish community of Lvov (where he was Rav) purchased a new Tallis for him. He absolutely refused to wear it. He said, "My old Tallis can testify before the Heavenly Tribunal that I had no stray thoughts during (the prayer of) Shemoneh Esrai."
When we next don our Tallis, we should pause for a moment and think that (possibly) this Tallis might accompany us to the moment of truth. It can serve in our defense - or prosecution, depending upon our demeanor when wearing it.
V'Torascha u'Devarcha yasim al libo.
Regardless of how far a Jew has strayed, he can come back, and, when he does, he is embraced and accepted. The tefillah underscores the good fortune, ashrei, of he who listens to Hashem's mitzvos and applies to his heart Hashem's Torah and word. Is there any word of Hashem which is not Torah? Hashem does not have conversations with us. He gave us His Torah, and it is our sole source of His word. It is our directive for living. In his commentary to the siddur, Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, offers a practical explanation, based upon the Ramban's commentary to Parashas Shemini, where he addresses the tragic deaths of Nadav and Avihu.
After Aharon's two sons died, Moshe Rabbeinu said to Aharon HaKohen, Hu Asher dibeir Hashem… b'kerovai akadesh, "This is what G-d says to say: 'I will become holy through My close ones.'" (Vayikra 10:3) The question is raised: Where did Hashem say this? There is no such pasuk in the Torah. Rashi renders his explanation. The Ramban, however, teaches us a powerful insight. Hu asher dibeir Hashem, is not a reference to a specific "word" of Hashem, because, indeed, there was not one. Dibeir Hashem refers to Hashem's gezeiros, decrees. When a person sustains a difficult period in life, a period of adversity, either personal or familial - whether it be illness, financial crisis, or emotional challenge - he must realize that this is a decree from Hashem and that it is Hashem's way of delivering a personal message to him. As a result of this adversity, he must become a different person. Hashem speaks with us for the purpose of elevating us. Moshe was telling Aharon that the enormous tragedy that befell him was Hashem's message to him. Thus, happy and fortunate is the one who listens to Hashem's mitzvos and takes to heart, not only His Torah, but also His word.
The Klahr Family
In loving memory of our grandparents
Phillip and Lillian Finger
who were long-time friends and family
of the Hebrew Academy.
R' Zalman Fishel ben R' Chanina Halevi a"h
and his wife Ettel Leah bas R' Yeshaya Halevi a"h
The Fifteenth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.
He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588
Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to email@example.com