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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


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

The chapter of the meraglim, spies, follows immediately after the closing chapter of the previous parshah, which details the incident of Miriam Ha'Neviayah's criticizing Moshe Rabbeinu and the consequential punishment which she experienced. Despite the fact that the spying incident took place shortly after Miriam's debacle, the spies did not learn a lesson concerning the gravity of malicious gossip. They saw what happened to Miriam, yet they still had no compunction whatsoever about slandering Eretz Yisrael. The commentators question this exposition (Midrash Rabbah 16:6; cited by Rashi). They quote Chazal in the Talmud Arachin 16a, who deplore the speaking of lashon hora, applying a kal v'chomer, a priori logic. The spies spoke only against stone and wood (trees and rocks of Eretz Yisrael); they did not slander people. Yet, they were gravely punished. How much more so should one take extreme care not to spread anything negative about a fellow Jew? It is an interesting kal v'chomer, but, if this is the case, how could the meraglim have derived any lesson from Miriam? She spoke against a person of the highest caliber. They spoke only against inanimate wood and stone.

Horav Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal, zl, offers an enlightening explanation concerning the juxtaposition of the incident of the meraglim upon the incident of Miriam, thereby illuminating for us a new perspective on the evil of lashon hora. The Talmud Arachin 15a posits that teshuvah, repentance, is not an option for one who has spoken lashon hora. While Torah study can serve as a preventive measure, once the evil has exited his mouth he is beyond repair. This, in and of itself, is difficult to understand. It is accepted that nothing stands in the way of teshuvah. Why is it that no option of teshuvah is available in the sin of lashon hora?

The Shem MiShmuel explains (based upon a statement in the Talmud Bava Metzia 58b) that, when one publicly humiliates someone, he (the one who does the humiliating) receives all of the sins of the one whom he has humiliated. Thus, Rav Teichtal suggests that he who slanders his fellow is no different than the malbin pnei chaveiro, he who shames his friend. He, too, will receive all of the aveiros, sins, of the subject of his slander. Accordingly, one who speaks lashon hora against his fellow has a serious problem with regard to his teshuvah. One can only repent for those sins of which he is aware. Now that he has "taken on" new sins, which originally were held against the man whom he slandered, he has a new cache of sins of which he is unaware, and for which he cannot repent. One can only repent for his personal transgressions; he cannot repent for those sins, which are committed by others.

Having said this, we must acknowledge a new level of stringency concerning the aveirah of lashon hora. One who speaks lashon hora loses the option of teshuvah. His sin is irreparable. The meraglim spoke lashon hora against the Holy Land - or wood and stone. The Talmud considers speaking against inanimate rock and wood to be secondary to speaking against a human being. Is speaking against the Holy Land, which Hashem praises so much, something to belittle? Imagine, Hashem praises Eretz Yisrael with the greatest accolades, and the meraglim blast the country, undermining what Hashem said about it - and this is to be considered less critical than speaking against a person. Why?

Considering the above hypothesis, which delineates the harshness of lashon hora, we understand that, when speaking against wood and stone, one still retains the benefit of teshuvah as an option to repair his sin, while for lashon hora against people, this option does not exist.

Since we have established the primary severity of lashon hora, we understand that the slanderer does not have the ability to perform teshuvah; thus, when one slanders a holy, virtuous man who is "sin-free," someone of the caliber of Moshe Rabbeinu, our quintessential Rebbe and leader, the option for teshuvah exists - since no sin is transferred from the subject to the slanderer! We now understand why the meraglim could have derived a lesson from Miriam who spoke against a person, when they only spoke against wood and stone. In this regard, both the person against whom Miriam spoke and the wood and stone against which the meraglim spoke have one thing in common: neither has sinned, allowing for the slander against them to be "teshuvah-receptive."

Nonetheless, we can hardly compare lashon hora against a human being to its counterpart against inanimate objects. The meraglim should have learned their lesson. Sadly, they did not, and that is what precipitated the reaction of Klal Yisrael, which became the catalyst for our eventual national day of mourning, Tishah B'Av. It all started when the people ignored the lesson they could have derived from Miriam.

We were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so were we in their eyes. (13:33)

The meraglim felt a sense of low esteem when they heard the Canaanites refer to them as grasshoppers. These people were giants and, to them, the Jewish spies appeared quite puny. Why is it necessary to inform us how they felt about themselves? All that is necessary for the reader to know is that the Canaanite giants perceived the Jews as tiny insects. Perhaps the lesson is that, as long as one maintains his own self-esteem, others will also respect him. Once the meraglim felt like grasshoppers, they were, in turn, viewed as grasshoppers. One cannot be put down unless he has already lost his self-esteem. It begins with you and ends with you. As long as one maintains his self esteem and carries himself with dignity, no one can affect him. It is when he loses his dignity that others complete the damage.

On the other hand, once the meraglim said, "We were like grasshoppers in our (own) eyes," why is it necessary to write that they were bothered by the Canaanites' opinion of them? As long as they felt inadequate, it should have been sufficient reason for them to be miserable. The first Bobover Rebbe, Horav Shlomo Halberstam, zl, distinguishes between one who has false humility and one who is truly humble. Some people present themselves as humble, but Heaven help those who do not give them the respect and honor, which they feel they deserve. For all intents and purposes they act with humility, deferring to others what they really want for themselves. If someone else (other than themselves) were to pass them over, they would be insulted and outraged.In some not so subtle manner, they would inform the person that they deserve better. This is false humility. It is all show for the purpose of attention. Indeed, no greater arrogance exists than false humility.

The meraglim were distinguished men of noble pedigree and social standing. The mere fact that they were chosen to represent their individual tribes is, in and of itself, a powerful indicator of their stature in the nation. In public, however, they portrayed themselves as humble Jews, paragons of modesty, meek and submissive - until someone else put them down, until they heard the Canaanites referring to them as grasshoppers. Then the truth about their false humility came out. They were bothered by this negative inference to their stature. They were not so humble after all.

But the entire assembly said to pelt them with stones. (14:10)

Rashi comments: "Them" refers to Yehoshua and Calev. Is this a rational reaction? We can accept anger and even threatening bodily harm against those who would do us harm. We seek to avenge ourselves from those who have caused us pain and trouble. Yehoshua and Calev, however, had done nothing negative to the Jewish people. They posed no threat. Ten spies disputed them. What power could they hold with which to dissuade the people? Indeed, if the entire assembly was prepared to stone them, it means that everyone was against them. What threat or potential danger did these two harmless individuals present to the future goals of the nation?

According to the Midrash, Aharon HaKohen and Moshe Rabbeinu were the intended victims of the story. Perhaps this vengeance against them could be rationalized as payback for liberating them from Egypt. Had they remained in Egypt, they would not have had to "endure" going into Eretz Yisrael and falling victim to the giants of the Land. Calev and Yehoshua, however, were essentially not the problem. Why target them?

Horav Bentzion Firer, zl, explains that, sadly, this is the natural way of the world. No one wants to hear-- and certainly not to concede -- to the truth. People have a habit of running from the truth their entire lives. We have become so accustomed to living a lie that the thought of confronting the truth produces a greater fear than living the lie. Truth enters into one's heart and refuses to leave until it is acknowledged. This, for most of us, is a difficult weight to bear.

Klal Yisrael knew the truth. They were acutely aware that Eretz Yisrael was an eretz tovah, good land. It was conquerable. If Hashem could liberate them from Egypt, first punishing and then destroying their persecutors, He could do the same to the pagans that inhabited Eretz Yisrael. Egypt went down in the Red Sea, Amalek was history. Why not the Canaanites? Why should they fare better than the other enemies who had challenged Hashem? The Jewish People knew all of this. In fact, the spies also knew this, but they would rather live a lie than confront the truth. It was so much easier not to rock the boat, to leave well enough alone. So, when the truth presented itself, it was time to shoot the messenger.

No one loves the messenger who brings bad news; no one cares for the messenger who delivers the truth. Who wants to be told that he is living a lie? To be told that the foundation upon which he has built his entire ideology is spiritually infested with falsehood can be devastating. It is so much easier to kill the messenger. That is what Klal Yisrael attempted to do by pelting Yehoshua and Calev with stones.

Hashem's response was swift and to the point: "To what point will this people anger Me, and how long will they not have faith in Me?" (Ibid. 11) Their sin was a deficiency of emunah, faith. Their problem was niutz, provocation. They knew the truth, understood who Hashem was. Yet, they did not care. They wanted to anger Him, to mutiny against the Almighty.

How often do we debate an issue simply because we do not want to confront the truth? We express our disagreement with the position taken by others; do we contend, however, because we truly believe in our position, or is it because we are afraid to confront the truth that we are wrong? We must remember that acceding to the truth is the only alternative to living a lie.

There are those who go along with a specific ideology because they do not want to "rock the boat." They know the truth, but refuse to take a stand for fear of reprisal, for fear of being shunned, no longer accepted as part of their community. The Torah writes that Calev ben Yefuneh was spared from the effect of the meraglim because ruach acheres haysa ito, "he had a different spirit." He did not follow the trend; did not abscond to external pressure; did not hide from the truth; stood his ground because he was doing what was right - even though it was an unpopular stance. The popular spirit of the times was to waver from the truth; people were falling prey to the influence of the meraglim. Not Calev: He was of a different spirit. He stood against the wave of change, the winds of heresy and malcontent. Firmly rooted in the truth of Torah, Calev truly was of a different spirit.

They awoke early in the morning and ascended toward the mountain top saying, "We are ready, and we will ascend to the place of which Hashem has spoken, for we have sinned. (14:40)"

The nation was chastened. They now realized that they had overreacted to the slanderous news conveyed by the meraglim, spies, and that they must do something to repair the rift created by their sins. Nonetheless, there is a time and place for everything. They had forfeited their chance to enter Eretz Yisrael. Without Hashem's mandate and leadership they could never conquer the Land. Now was not the time. Some people simply do not understand the meaning of "no." A group of Jews decided to prove that they were willing to move on, to wage war against the inhabitants of the Land. They had been wrong once. Now, they were going to make up for it.

This group of Jews did not succeed, because one can never succeed without Hashem. Their ascending the mountain on their own was unsanctioned. They declared, "We have sinned." They expected forgiveness. Hashem did not respond favorably. Simply, the sin was too recent, too fresh. Thus, their declaration was insufficient to assuage Hashem's wrath. Furthermore, their sincerity was suspect. Were they really repentant, or was it all show, so that they would be allowed to enter the Land?

Rarely do we find that sincere repentance is not accepted. If a problem exists, it is because its sincerity is questionable. In this case, however, the people clearly realized that they had erred egregiously. They needed to repent - and they did. They indicated this by risking life and limb to move on, ascend the mountain and take on the inhabitants of the Land. Is this not a "good thing"?

Shlomo Hamelech says (Mishlei 8:33), "Listen to my instruction and be wise; do not disregard it." The words al tifrau, translated as, "do not disregard it," is related to the word piraon, payment. Eizor Eliyahu quotes Horav Bunim, zl, m'Peshicha who interprets this pasuk as an admonition to the one who repents that he should not expect (and certainly not demand) immediate payment (from Hashem) for his good deed. Teshuvah is reparation for one's transgression. It must be performed wholeheartedly and sincerely, and then allowed to "gel" and sink in. One repents to appease Hashem, to perform His will. Hashem does not owe him anything. Therefore, even after the nation conceded their guilt, confessed their sins, their teshuvah did not maintain the same efficacy as that of (the teshuvah performed for) the sins of the Golden Calf. Following the meraglim debacle, the nation thought that their teshuvah would facilitate their entry into the Promised Land. They thought that they had fulfilled what was demanded of them; they had said, "So sorry"; now let us move on.

Sadly, it does not happen that way. Eretz Yisrael was lost to them as a result of their sinful reaction. The teshuvah was to repair their relationship with Hashem. What was done - was done. They did not think so. Teshuvah that is contingent upon immediate forgiveness and pardon is not much of a teshuvah.

Children say they are "sorry" and expect immediately to go back to pre-mischief status. We do the same. We err, take a spiritual plunge, and expect immediate reinstatement following our completion of a prescribed course of teshuvah. Well, it does not work that way. We should repent and hope that Hashem will accept it. Will "things" return to their original state? That depends on our level of sincerity. Only Hashem knows the truth.

It shall constitute Tzitzis for you, that you may see it and remember all the commandments of Hashem and perform them. (15:39)

We are to wear Tzitzis, so that when we look at them, we will remember all of the other mitzvos in the Torah. In other words, wearing Tzitzis generates mitzvah observance. "Seeing" catalyzes remembering, which engenders positive action via religious observance. Indeed, the Rambam writes that one should be diligent in his observance of Tzitzis, because of its compelling effect vis-?-vis all other mitzvos. In his commentary to the Chumash, Rashi writes: "The parsha of the mekosheish eitzim-- he who had transgressed Shabbos by picking twigs and carrying them in a public place-- is juxtaposed upon the parsha of avodah zarah, idol worship, because Shabbos desecration is tantamount to idol worship. It is equal to all mitzvos. Likewise, the mitzvah of Tzitzis is compared to all mitzvos." We now have three mitzvos -- avodah zarah (aveirah); Shabbos; and Tzitzis -- which are each compared to all mitzvos. What is it about Tzitzis that grants it such significance?

In his Mizmor L'David, Horav David Cohen, Shlita, explains that the root of all sin can be traced back to the physical body's two "brokers": the eyes and the heart. This is indicated by the pasuk in the parsha of Tzitzis, V'lo sasuru acharei levavchem v'acharei eineichem, "And do not explore after your heart and after your eyes after which you stray" (Ibid.). The Torah is teaching us that the primary motivation for sin is following the negative influence of the heart and eyes. Tzitzis reminds us of the mitzvos and is to be a preventive symbol to protect us from the influence of our roving eyes in consort with our straying heart.

Having established that Tzitzis is the protective agent which guards one from the wandering eye and seductive heart, thus reinforcing his commitment to all mitzvos of the Torah, we understand its part in his mitzvah observance. The Rosh Yeshivah quotes the Midrash (Shir Hashirim 7:8), "Hashem created two yetzarim, inclinations: the evil-inclination to worship idols; the evil inclination toward moral turpitude. The evil inclination/tendency towards idol worship was basically abolished by our sages. The inclination toward immorality sadly is still in force. One who is able to withstand its effect, Hashem considers it as if he has triumphed over both - idol worship and immorality."

Avodah zarah/heresy/sins generated by false misconceptions and perverted ideologies are products of the heart. The eyes, however, play a determinative role in leading us astray in areas of morality. While the focus is on morality, it is really a catch word that includes all sin which is the product of overactive passion -- from morality to gluttony, to any area in which one defers to his base desires. Pleasure has many guises and definitions, all of which fall under the category of acharei einichem, "after your (yetzer hora of the) eyes."

Man is confronted with two battlefields in life: avodah zarah, which wreaks havoc with his spiritual dimension, destroying his ability to think rationally and logically; z'nus, immorality, which plays on his base sensual desires, in all areas of his physical dimension. The antidote/ protective agent to preserve his dignity and strengthen his ability to succeed in this war is the mitzvah of Tzitzis, which serves as a reminder and a shield to keep him in check and maintains his commitment to Hashem.

Sounds great, but how does it work? How does the mitzvah of Tzitzis achieve such lofty goals? Furthermore, what is the connection between Tzitzis and yetzias Mitzrayim, the Egyptian exodus? Chazal (Berachos 12b) state that the mitzvah of Tzitzis was placed in the Krias Shema because it includes within it five concepts: Tzitzis/yetzias Mitzrayim; the yoke of mitzvos; daas minim, to guard against heretics/heretical thoughts; hirhur aveirah, immoral thoughts which lead to sin; idolatrous thoughts leading to idol worship. While four of the above are- in one way or another -- somehow mitzvah/religious observance related, how does remembering the Egyptian exodus enter into the picture? It is not a mitzvah; it is the remembrance of a seminal, historical event.

The Rosh Yeshivah quotes the Rambam in Hilchos Teshuvah (3:4) who explains the mitzvah of Tekias Shofar, sounding of the ram's horn, as an awakening/wake-up call to introspect our life, mull over our actions and behaviors, repent and return to Hashem. We should remember who we are and Who created us. He concludes: (he is addressing) "those who forget the truth as a result of the frivolities and nonsense of the times." In other words, we get caught up in the nonsensical behavior of contemporary society, so that we forget who we are and what our unique mission in life is.

The yetzer hora's function is to engender forgetfulness, to cause spiritual amnesia. It uses the ploys of contemporary society's mishigassen, foolish, inane behaviors and cultural aberrations, to tempt us away from our goals and objectives. We get all caught up in these nareshkeitin, preposterous absurdities, that occupy the minds of the weak and immoral, and we feel that we have to act likewise. This is because we have lost track, forgotten who we are!

Tzitzis helps us to remember! It is the Jew's uniform. Tzitzis empowers us to remember the truth, what life is really about and our G-d-given mission while we are in this world, but sometimes we forget. Sforno (pasuk 39) comments that, by gazing upon the Tzitzis we will "remember that we are servants of Hashem and that we accepted all of His Torah and promised to perform His mitzvos. This is achieved when we look at the Tzitzis, which are similar to the chosam ha'melech ba'avadav, king's insignia upon his servants." The Tzitzis reminds us that we belong to Hashem. He is our king. We are His servants. When we remember to Whom we belong, we have just solved much of our problem in overcoming the yetzer hora.

I am reminded of a poignant story related by Horav Yaakov Galinsky, zl. The Maggid was incarcerated in a Siberian prison together with prisoners of other nationalities. His cellmate was a Polish general who, together with his defeated Army, was taken prisoner of war by the Russians. Their treatment was, at best, miserable. Added to the long hours of hard labor of working in the most desolate location in the world, was the temperature. Siberia redefines freezing cold. While the guards wore heavy fur coats and multiple layers of underwear, the prisoners, most of whom were Jewish, were wearing nothing more than a thin shirt and a cotton jacket. Without food, the body has difficulty producing heat. Those who survived this frozen purgatory did so with incredible siyata diShmaya, Divine assistance.

Let us return to Rav Galinsky's cellmate. Every night at approximately 2:00 am, the Polish general arose from his "bed" and removed a small box from beneath it. He took out his original uniform, complete with medals and stars, donned it, faced the mirror (large metal sheet) on the wall, saluted once - then took everything off and placed it back in the box.

Rav Galinsky watched this spectacle every night, assuming that defeat had done more to the Polish general than imprison him. This man had become unhinged. His irrational behavior was beginning to bother Rav Galinsky. Finally, he asked the man for an explanation. "My friend," the general began, "I want you to know that, prior to my capture, I was a distinguished Polish general, and I commanded thousands of troops. Alas, with the turn of events, I am now a prisoner of war. Lest I forget my true self, my real status in life, I don my uniform every night. The Russians will not succeed in making me a prisoner as long as I remember that I am a general!"

So, too, do we wear our Tzitzis as chosam shel avdus, to display our allegiance to Hashem. We are His servants, His soldiers, His People. The Tzitzis remind us that we belong to no one but Him.

Va'ani Tefillah

Atah gibor l'olam Hashem.
You are eternally mighty, Hashem

Simply translated, Atah gibor l'olam, "You are strong forever." Hashem's strength neither wanes like that of a mortal, nor does it become weaker as the result of illness or injury. Hashem's strength is eternal, immutable and towers above anything that our minds can imagine. Horav Nissim Gaon interprets l'olam as a separate entity, a quality exclusive of gibor. In other words, Hashem is gibor, and He is l'olam. Horav Mordechai Leib Mann explains that these two attributes coalesce together in order to explain why Hashem's gevurah, strength, is so special, unlike any other form of strength known to man. It is because Hashem is eternal. True strength and power are measured by their eternal nature. Anything, any form of power, is limited by its temporal nature. Something, which is truly strong/powerful, does not have limitation. Its very limitations comprise its weakness.

Furthermore, Horav Aryeh Leib Broide, adds that we find that the wicked assert that Hashem has become "old"; He has weakened. Indeed, Haman harasha, the evil Haman, contended that the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash was the result of Hashem's "aging." He just could not keep up protecting the Jews. The destruction just "got away" from Him. We, therefore, declare, Atah Gibor l'olam, "You never age; your truth is forever!"

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