Spies Uncovered in Israel
by RABBI LEIBY BURNHAM
ויהס כלב את העם אל משה ויאמר עלה נעלה וירשנו אתה כי יכול נוכל לה
“Caleb silenced the people toward Moses and said, ‘We shall surely ascend and
conquer it, for we can surely do it!’ ” (Bamidbar 13:30)
In this week’s Torah portion, we read about the meraglim (the scouts, or spies) that the Jews sent forth to investigate the land of Israel before they would enter it. The meraglim came back with a negative report, causing the Jews to lose spirit, and even suggest that they should return to Egypt. One of the main complaints lodged by the scouts was the presence of giants, which they claimed to be unconquerable. Of the 12 scouts sent out, two remained faithful to Israel, describing the land in glowing terms, and telling the people that they could surely prevail over the giants.
Soon the people began attacking Moses, claiming that by bringing the Jews to Israel, he was leading the whole people to its death. Caleb, one of the faithful spies, told the people, “Aloh na’aleh viyarashnu osah”— “We shall surely go up and inherit it [Israel].” According to Rashi, Caleb told the people that even if Moses would tell the people to go up to the heavens, they should begin making ladders, for they would be successful.
This comment seems bizarre, as ladders cannot possibly be used to ascend the heavens. Flying to heaven isn’t either possible—even in today’s technologically advanced society—as heaven has no geographical location. Why, then, would Caleb choose this message to rally the people to follow Moses?
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein offers the following insight: In life, when we have a task or mission to accomplish, our responsibility is to get started, not to think about whether we can complete the task or not. As the Mishnah states in Ethics of Our Fathers, “You are not responsible to finish the job, yet you are not free to desist from it.” Our job is to start the task, to put our best effort into it. G-d will then decide whether or not we accomplish our goal.
The scouts missed this point. They saw the giants in the Land of Israel and concluded that they would be unable to conquer them. They didn’t realize that the ultimate success of their mission was in G-d’s hands (and in fact, He eventually did cause the Jews to miraculously conquer the giants). Their job was to travel to Israel and demonstrate their faith that G-d would complete the conquest.
Caleb chose a clearly impossible means for reaching heaven as a way of demonstrating the importance of getting started on G-d’s mission—even when we lack adequate means for achieving the goal.
This message should serve as a guide in our own spiritual life. How often do we pass up on significant spiritual opportunities simply because we think we can never reach the lofty plane we aspire to? Caleb teaches us that we have to start building the ladders and let G-d take care of getting us to heaven!
It’s All a Matter of Perspective
by RABBI OZER ALPORT
ויציאו דבת הארץ אשר תרו אתה אל בני ישראל לאמר הארץ אשר עברנו בה לתור אתה ארץ אכלת יושביה הוא
“They brought forth to the Children of Israel an evil report on the Land that they had spied out, saying, ‘The Land through which we have passed to spy it out is a land that devours its inhabitants.’” (Bamidbar 13:32)
The episode of the sin of the spies is one of the most tragic in Jewish history. The entire nation was in the wilderness, poised to enter and conquer the promised land of Israel, only to have it all taken away from them because they believed the negative report of the spies. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 104b) cryptically explains that the spies sinned by preceding their mouths to their eyes and reporting facts which they didn’t actually see. How is this to be understood, and what lesson can we take from it?
Rabbi Moshe Shapiro explains that in any encounter, a person is able to see or find what he is looking for. Even before he fully takes in and evaluates the new situation, he will likely already have rendered a conclusion. He will then proceed to find evidence to support his conclusion. Rabbi Yechezkel Levenstein explains that the primary sin of the spies was their character trait of נרגנות – irritability. This refers to a person who is constantly full of complaints and has nothing positive to say about anything. Since the spies had already decided that they didn’t want to live in Israel, they interpreted everything they saw through a negative lens and returned with a report shaped by their bias.
The importance of how we view a situation and interpret events is illustrated by the following story. In the early 1950s, a large shoe company with stores across North America wanted to make more money by expanding to new markets. They sent two salesmen to Africa to explore the prospects of opening branches throughout the large and untapped continent.
Less than a week had passed when the first agent sent back a disappointing telegram. He wrote, “I’m coming home at once. No money can be made here. Nobody even wears shoes!” After receiving the bad news, the management felt that they had no choice but to explore other potential options for growing their business. Just as they were preparing to send agents to scout out another distant region, they received an important lesson in the power of one’s perspective. More than a month after his partner had quickly despaired, the firm received a cable from the second salesman: “Ship 15,000 shoes immediately to fill my five stores. Africa is a land filled with great opportunity – nobody has shoes, and everybody needs a pair!”
The Arizal teaches that each month is mystically associated with an idea that we are supposed to rectify during that month. He writes that our mission in the month of Tammuz is to rectify the concept of ראי-יה – how we view things. Not coincidentally, Parshat Shelach is usually read just before this month begins, and it revolves around the story of the spies which, as our sages explain, led to the eventual destruction of the Holy Temple – the mourning period for which begins in Tammuz. The spies sinned by seeking out the bad in every encounter. We would do well to learn from their mistakes and adopt a perspective of seeking out the good in every life situation.
Timing is Everything
by RABBI LEIBY BURNHAM
וישכמו בבקר ויעלו אל ראש ההר לאמר הננו ועלינו אל המקום אשר אמר ה’ כי חטאנו
“They awoke early in the morning and ascended toward the mountaintop, saying, “We are ready, and we shall ascend to the place of which G-d has spoken, for we have sinned!” (Bamidbar 14:40)
In this week’s portion, Shelach, we read about the meraglim, the spies who were sent to scout out the Land of Israel before entering it.
Ten of the spies came back with a negative report. Their description of the Land of Israel as full of giants, impenetrable cities, deadly plagues and even “mutated fruit” threw the Jewish people into a crisis of faith.
As evening fell, the Jews lost hope of entering the Land. They spent the night crying over the tragic fate they envisioned lay before them. They were so distraught that they asked to return to Egypt.
G-d, however, had promised that the land was good. It was their ancestral homeland and theirs to inherit. Yet, because they believed the spies’ slanderous report, the Jewish people were sentenced to wander in the desert for forty years. Their children, the next generation, would enter the Land instead.
The morning after this decree, a group of Jews realized their error and attempted to rectify it by leaving immediately for the Land of Israel. Moses sent word that this course of action was prohibited, as G-d had already decreed that they must remain in the desert. Moreover, were they to take this action, G-d would not be with them, and they would fall prey to the Amalekites and Canaanites.
The group refused to listen. They pushed forward on their own – only to be massacred by the Amalekite and Canaanite forces.
The commentators point to an ironic twist of events in the story line: Less than twenty-four hours before, these people had been so sure that Israel was a death trap that they had begged to go back to the slavery of Egypt! How is it possible that the very next morning, their perspective had changed so radically that they were willing to risk their lives to go there?
Rav Simcha Zissel of Kelm (known as the Alter of Kelm, Lithuania, 1842-1898, whose teachings focused intensely on character development, or mussar) answers this question with a penetrating insight into human nature.
We often find ourselves on the cusp of greatness; the dreams and aspirations we worked so hard to achieve are finally within our grasp. And just at that very moment, we are immobilized by negative thoughts, doubt and indecision.
The reverse seems to happen when we embark on the wrong path. The obstacles seem to disappear, and we sail smoothly – in the wrong direction!
On a spiritual level, this seeming inconsistency can be understood from the fact that anything worthwhile must be achieved through genuine effort and hard work. G-d wants us not only to earn our greatness, but to value it as well.
When things do go smoothly or we are confronted with significant challenges on the path to doing the right thing, it can be tremendously beneficial to pause for introspection. Roadblocks and brick walls may be an indication to keep on pushing. Conversely, when things are going smoothly, we might need to rethink some of the choices we’ve made.
As the Jewish people were about to enter the Land of Israel and begin living on a more spiritual plane, they were beset by a massive onslaught of negativity. By the next morning, the struggle was over. The doubts and distortions suddenly melted away as they experienced a higher level of spiritual clarity. Unfortunately, they missed that opportunity for greatness.
This episode is particularly instructive for our generation. People tend to seek the easy path and even pray that they lead a comfortable and stress-free life. However, the very struggles, doubts and hardships that we confront are the key to our personal growth. True greatness comes from overcoming challenges.
So… if all is “quiet on the western front,” it might just be time to put in for a transfer!
For Discussion Around the Shabbat Table
Moses sent twelve spies to the Land of Canaan and instructed them to bring back a report on the land and its inhabitants. Ten of the spies came back with a negative report, and warned that it would be impossible to conquer the land. The people believed their warnings, became distraught over their impending demise, and went so far as to declare that it would be better to return to Egypt than to die in the desert. As a result of this lack of faith, the nation was made to wander for forty years before entering the land of Israel.
1) In describing how they felt in the company of the land’s inhabitants, the spies said, “We were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we were in their eyes”. Since they were describing their smallness as compared to the threatening physical stature of the locals, what purpose is there in adding that they felt like grasshoppers “in their own eyes”?
2) By including the comments about appearing like grasshoppers in the story line, the Torah seems to imply that these comments contributed to the nation’s ultimate punishment of having to wander in the desert for forty years. What is it about this comment that would be so displeasing to G-d?
3) Two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, came back with an optimistic, overwhelmingly positive report. Why would the Jewish people, who personally witnessed G-d’s open miracles in Egypt and in the splitting of the sea, favor the pessimistic reports over those of Joshua and Caleb?
4) Was the sin of the spies a lack of trust and belief in G-d or a deficiency in their love for the land of Israel?
Neither positive commandments (e.g. hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah) nor negative commandments (e.g. the prohibition against stealing) are conditional. The mitzvah of tzitzit, on the other hand, only applies if we wear a four-cornered garment (though there is a rabbinic enactment to acquire a four-cornered garment in order fulfill this mitzvah).
- Tzitzit is a mitzvah that is meant to remind us of all the other mitzvot. One would think that it is even more important than other mitzvot, which are not conditional. Why might the mitzvah of wearing tzitzit be conditional?
- The mitzvah of tzitzit is conveyed in the Torah with the expression “vayomer,” a softer expression than the usual “vayedaber” which is used for most other Why might this softer expression be used for this mitzvah?
Q: It is mind-boggling to contemplate the abrupt about-face on the part of the Jewish people. At the beginning of the parsha, they were planning to enter and miraculously conquer the land of Israel. Nevertheless, upon hearing the negative report of the spies, they abandoned their dreams and their plans, despairing of the possibility of ever conquering the fierce inhabitants of the land. They expressed their desire (Bamidbar 14:2-3) to die in the wilderness or even return to Egypt rather than attempt to enter the land of Israel. Yet upon hearing G-d’s decree that they will be forced to wander and die in the desert without the ability to ever see or enter the land of Israel, they immediately changed their attitude and expressed their plans to ascend to the land of Israel. They were so strong in their newfound convictions that they even attempted to do so over the warnings of Moses, ultimately paying the price for their efforts with their lives (Bamidbar 14:44-45). How can this radical change in attitude be understood?
A: Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv, often referred to as the Alter of Kelm, answers that the nature of humans is to rebel against authority and commands. Rabbi Yaakov Emden explains that it is for this reason that the Gemara in Kiddushin (31a) states that a person who performs a mitzvah that he is obligated to do will receive more reward than somebody who performs the same mitzvah but isn’t required to do. Because the former knows that he must do the mitzvah regardless of his desire to do so, he will feel constrained and will encounter much more internal resistance in his attempts to perform the mitzvah than will the latter, who knows that he is free to opt out of the mitzvah at any time. If the former nevertheless succeeds in overcoming his internal opposition and performs the mitzvah, he is indeed deserving of a greater reward. We may therefore explain that in the beginning of the parsha, the Jewish people knew that they were commanded to enter and conquer the land of Israel. As excited as they were for the ultimate conclusion to their redemption from Egypt, they nevertheless harbored frustration and resistance to the fact that they were commanded to do so. As soon as they had an excuse to believe the spies’ negative report and rebel against G-d’s instructions, they were only too eager to do so. However, upon hearing that G-d not only wouldn’t make them go to Israel but in fact decreed that they must die in the wilderness, effectively forbidding them from entering Israel, the exact same dynamic which had caused them to rebel against the command to go to Israel now caused them to want to defy the new instructions and enter Israel immediately. (Rabbi Ozer Alport)
Q: The Torah discusses a person who scorns the word of G-d and breaks His commandments, declaring that such a person will be cut off from G-d and his sin will be upon him (Bamidbar 15:31). The Gemora in Sanhedrin (99a) understands this verse as referring to a person who studies Torah but neglects to teach it to others. Although there is a positive mitzvah to teach Torah to others, it is difficult to understand why the failure to do so should be judged so harshly?
A: Rabbi Avrohom Yaakov Pam explains that the very fact that a person is able to keep his learning to himself reveals that he doesn’t grasp the sweetness of the Torah that he studies. If he appreciated and personally experienced its beauty and depth, he would literally be unable to contain it within himself. As proof for his claim, Rabbi Pam quotes the Chasam Sofer, who writes that Moses was the only human who understood the mysteries of the purification of the red heifer. Nevertheless, the fact that he wasn’t permitted to share it with a single person caused him so much agony that he would have actually preferred not to be privy to the secret! Similarly, Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz was wont to quote an earlier source who writes that if angels appeared to a person to reveal to him Divine secrets, he would have no pleasure from the intrinsic knowledge until he was able to share it with others. In light of the above, we now understand that if a person studies Torah and feels no burning need to teach it to others, he doesn’t appreciate the value of the Torah that he studied. This is indeed the ultimate fulfillment of “scorning the word of G-d,” and is deserving of the most severe of punishments! (Rabbi Ozer Alport)
The Torah forbids (Bamidbar 15:39) one to sin by straying after his heart and eyes. The Gemara in Berachos (12b) understands the prohibition against following one’s heart as an admonition against heresy, and one’s eyes as an injunction against forbidden thoughts. Why is heresy associated with one’s heart and not with one’s mind, from which it presumably originates?
Jumping Points for Discussion and Further Study
by RABBI ELAZAR MEISELS
Choose Your Spies Wisely
“And G-d spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Send, for yourself men, and have them scout the Land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Children of Israel…’” Bamidbar 13:1,2
Send For Yourself – According to your opinion [you may send them]. I do not command you [to send them]. If you wish, send [them]. Because the Jewish people came and demanded, ‘let us send men before us,’ as it is said, ‘all of you approached me, etc.’ Moses conferred with the Divine Presence. G-d said, ‘I told them that it is good, as it is said, ‘I will bring you up from the suffering of Egypt, etc. (to a land flowing with milk and honey)’ By their lives! I’ll give them an opportunity for error with the report of the spies, so that they will not inherit it.” – Rashi
Send For Yourself Men – The last letters of the words, “Shelach Lechah Anashim” [Send for yourself men] are Chet, Chof, and Mem,which spells “Chacham” [wise man]. This teaches us that G-d instructed Moses to send only Chachamim [wise men]. – Baal HaTurim
The obvious question is why G-d would agree to send spies when He clearly wasn’t in favor of the idea. There are numerous explanations but one that stands out is an idea suggested by the mystics, which paints Moses, and possibly the Jewish people, in a more favorable light. Moses was not for sending the spies- he knew full well that it was a terrible idea- but he recognized that there was little he could do to prevent the people from acting upon their wishes. G-d’s advice for Moses was that he himself should select the spies from among the greatest and most righteous of the nation, in the hope was that these people would be less likely to seek to appease the public and present negative information about the Land of Israel. That the people agreed to Moses’ choosing is to their credit, and indeed, had the people sent their own choices, the results would have been far worse. At least these spies reported on the positive aspects of the land, as well.
THE QUALITY OF THE PRODUCE
“Moses sent them to spy out the Land of Canaan, and he said to them, ‘Ascend here in the south and climb the mountain. See the Land, how is it?.. .And how is the Land, is it fertile or is it lean? Are there trees in it or not? Strengthen yourselves and take from the fruit of the Land…” Bamidbar 13:17-20
Are there trees in it – A tree is a metaphor for a tzaddik [righteous man]. Moses asked them to determine whether there were any righteous people who dwell in the Land and whose merit could protect its inhabitants. – Rashi
If Moses sought to determine whether there were righteous people, why did he not instruct them to search in the study halls where such people tend to convene? What was his intent in comparing them to trees? Just as a tree spreads its branches and covers a wide swath, so too, a righteous person influences a large segment of a population, not just those in his immediate surroundings. The type of righteous person who could protect the Land was only such an individual, not one who remained ensconced in the safety of the study hall all day without affecting his surroundings.
The Satmar Rebbe zt”l [Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum] wondered how Moses expected them to determine whether one was truly a righteous person when that is something that is only reliably assessed by one who can determine what transpires within the heart and mind of an individual, something these spies certainly weren’t capable of. Furthermore, if that was indeed his intent, why did he add that they should bring back fruit from these metaphorical trees? By mentioning the fruit, explained the Satmar Rebbe, Moses was providing them with the secret to determining who was and who wasn’t a righteous person. If one examines only the individual in question, he is liable to be easily fooled, because inwardly corrupt individuals can outwardly present as truly righteous people. Instead, one must examine his fruit – i.e. what he has produced. If his students are upstanding and worthy individuals, that is a sign that he, too, is an authentic tzaddik. If, however, his produce is flawed, that is a sign that he is a charlatan and possesses no merits that can protect the inhabitants of the Land.
RIGHTING OLD WRONGS
“You shall strengthen yourselves and take from the fruit of the Land. The days were the season the first ripe grapes…When they came to Nachal Eshkol, they cut from there a vine with a cluster of grapes, which two men carried on a frame, and of the pomegranates and of the figs.” Bamidbar 13:20-23
Grapes, Pomegranates…Figs – “How does one set aside Bikkurim fruits (offering the first fruits in the Temple)? A person descends to his field and sees a fig that ripened, a cluster (of grapes) that ripened, a pomegranate that ripened; he ties a string around it and he says, ‘these are Bikkurim.’” – Mishnah, Tractate Bikkurim 3:1
In the name of the Arizal (Rabbi Isaac Luria, 1534-1572) it is said that the mitzvah of Bikkurim is a form of rectifying the sin of the Spies. They spoke negatively about the Land, so we must take extra measures to show our appreciation for it by offering the Bikkurim. This explains why the Bikkurim are only brought from the Seven Species for which the Land of Israel was praised in the verse. Perhaps, the reason why the above-quoted Mishnah, when explaining the mitzvah, only mentions the fig, grape, and pomegranate, since that’s what the Spies brought back to slander the Land.
It Matters Not What They Think
“There we saw the giants, the sons of the giant, from among the Nephilim, and we were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we were in their eyes.” Bamidbar 13:33
And So We Appeared In Their Eyes – “We heard them say to each other, ‘There are ants in the vineyard like people.’” – Rashi
On the surface, this statement sounds innocent enough. After all, it’s most intimidating to hear giants speak of how insignificant you are to them. Certainly, it couldn’t have inspired much confidence in them. Yet, the Kotzker Rebbe viewed this little exchange as emblematic of all that went wrong with the spies. As emissaries of the Jewish people who’d been promised G-d’s direct protection, they had no business worrying about what others thought of them. They were on a national mission, and their personal feelings should not have been factored in whatsoever. By giving credence to the humiliating words of the giants, they betrayed the trust the people had vested in them and demonstrated their inadequacy for their role.
A ROUGH LAND-ING
“Forgive now the wickedness of this people according to the greatness of Your kindness, and as You have forgiven this people from Egypt until now.” Bamidbar 14:19
Forgive now – When praying for Divine mercy in response to the sin of the spies, Moses omitted mention of the merit of the Patriarchs, unlike his plea following the sin of the Golden Calf, when this point was featured prominently. This is because the sin of the spies entailed speaking negatively of the land toward which the Patriarchs had such a strong connection and which meant so much to them. Uncertain whether mentioning them in this context would reflect positively upon the Jewish people, he omitted mention of them altogether. – Rabbeinu Bachya
Forgive now – The Hebrew word used in this verse for forgiveness is ‘selach,’ instead of a similar word, ‘kaper.’ This is because kaper implies a very thorough form of atonement, wherein the entire sin is wiped away, leaving no trace of its former existence. Sadly, the sin of the spies was too grave to allow for that form of atonement. Instead, Moses requested that at least we should be granted selichah, which means that G-d will dole out the consequences in smaller doses to make them more tolerable. – Sifsei Kohen
As You have forgiven…from Egypt until now – Why did Moses assume that G-d would continue to forgive as he had until now? Isn’t there a point at which G-d no longer feels obligated to do so? Moses goes on to argue that if G-d will destroy them, the Egyptians will reason that He did so because He was incapable of caring for them any longer. This is because the Egyptians knew firsthand how they had sinned in Egypt and yet, G-d still redeemed them and forgave them. If He were now to destroy them because of their sins, the Egyptians would assume that it was not their sins, but rather His inability that led Him to act thus. This is why Moses mentioned G-d’s salvation in Egypt. – Ksav Sofer
Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov explained that the reason Moses mentioned G-d’s mercy in Egypt was to point out that even though they sinned in even worse fashion there (having worshipped idols), still G-d had mercy on them. Certainly, this sin could not be worse, and therefore G-d must have mercy upon us and not destroy us for our sins.
NO RIGHT TO FIGHT
“Moses related these words to the Children of Israel and the people mourned exceedingly. When they got up early in the morning, they began climbing toward the top of the mountain declaring, ‘We are now ready! We shall go forward to the place that G-d described. We (admit that) we were mistaken’… The Amalekites and Canaanites who lived on that mountain swooped down, and defeated them, pursuing them with crushing force all the way to Chormah.” Bamidbar 14:39-45
We were mistaken – When we said that it would be better for us to return to Egypt. – Rashi
We were mistaken – They recognized that they had lacked sufficient dedication and were now prepared to risk their lives to ascend to Israel. The problem was that now they no longer had Moses on their side, or the Holy Ark (to protect them). – He’Emek Davar
Pursuing them with crushing force – The Amalekites and Canaanites were so strong that no two soldiers stuck together any longer. Instead, they scattered in all directions. – Ksav V’kaballah
The people realized that they lacked sufficient trust in the Almighty and wished to rectify that by rededicating themselves to the task. What they failed to appreciate is that, their dedication notwithstanding, they still needed the Almighty on their side and He no longer was prepared to go to battle on their behalf. They would remain in the desert until they perished, and He would assist their children instead, in conquering the Land of Israel. Choosing to rely on their own might, they nevertheless ascended the mountain and quickly discovered that without the Almighty’s assistance, their enemies were far too powerful to overcome.
Going Home Isn’t That Easy
“They awoke early in the morning and went up to the peak of the mountain, saying, ‘We are ready to go up to the place of which G-d spoke, for we have sinned.’ They defiantly went up the mountain peak…The Amalekite and the Canaanite descended…and they smote and crushed them until Chormah.” Bamidbar 14:40-45
This tragic episode reveals how sensitive the issue of conquering the Land of Israel really is. Regardless of how passionate we may feel toward the land, it simply cannot be had on our terms. Our ability to acquire the land is predicated upon G-d’s permission to do so. Regardless of our strength or dedication to this ideal, we will not be successful in capturing it until He allows us to do so. Conversely, when G-d decides that the time is ripe for the Jewish people to control the land, our military prowess or lack thereof will not be a factor either. Under the leadership of Joshua, the people occupied the land with minimal effort. Rashi (Devarim 1:8) writes that had the sin of the spies not occurred, even that minimal effort would not have been necessary.
“G-d said to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them that they shall make themselves tzitzit on the corners of the garments… That you may see and remember all the commandments of G-d and perform them…” Bamidbar 15:37-39
You shall remember all of G-d’s commandments – This reminder will only come to one who actually focuses on the meaning of the tzitzit and their significance. The word tzitzit hints to this because it literally means to ‘peer into,’ which implies more than merely seeing something, but rather also focusing upon it and its message.
Rabbi Aharon of Belz used to urge his followers who reached the age of Bar Mitzvah to accept upon themselves never to violate the sanctity of the tefillin, by accepting upon themselves to refrain from speaking idle chatters while wearing them. One young man in particular, took this upon himself and carried it out admirably throughout his teenage years. When he reached marriageable age and stood beneath the chuppah, Rabbi Aharon requested that he commit to a similar vow regarding his tallit as well. So long as he wore his tallit, he must never engage in idle chatter, only in matters of sanctity such as prayer and Torah study. The young man agreed to this request and faithfully abided by his promise. Much later, Rabbi Aharon summoned him to his study and told him that when his time comes and he will stand before the Heavenly Tribunal, they will attempt to discuss with him all aspects of his life to see how they measured up to G-d’s expectations. The fear will be great, and he will find himself incapable of rendering an effective defense. Instead, he should explain to them that he comes before them bedecked in a tallit, in the manner of all deceased Jews, and his rule while wearing the tallit is that he does not discuss anything other than Torah or prayer. In this manner, they will have no choice but to render a favorable judgment on his behalf!
“These shall be your tzitzit, and you shall see them, you shall remember all of G-d’s commandments to observe them. You will then not stray after your heart and eyes, which have led you to immorality.” (15:39)
You shall remember all of G-d’s commandments – The numerical value of the word “Tzitzit” is 600 (Tzaddi=90×2, Yud=10×2,Taf=400). Add another 8 for the eight strings [4×2,] and 5 for the five knots made on the eights strings, and the total is 613. – Rashi
This calculation of Rashi is not proof positive, since according to the Torah only one knot is mandatory. Rather, the Tzitzit, by their very presence, are designed to remind us of the commandments. Rashi was only demonstrating how the instructions offered by our sages on how to assemble them dovetailed with this objective. – Sifsei Chachomim
And you shall see them – The tzitzit should always be seen so that they can remind us to observe the commandments. This is why we are exempt from wearing them at night when they can’t be seen, and it also explains why women are exempt from wearing Tzitzit, since they’re time-bound. – Rabbeinu Bachya
The tzitzit are designed to remind us that a person must never let down his guard against the evil inclination. He must be aware that at all times his heart and eyes are potential entry zones for undesirable influences, and that if he is not vigilant, he’ll quickly be ensnared by them. To assume that since it’s so easy to be led astray there is no harm in doing so, or that it’s pointless to resist, is a terrible mistake. The tzitzit surround us on all four corners and constantly remind us that self-control is well within our grasp.
Hey, I Never Knew That
by RABBI MORDECHAI BECHER
After Moses pleaded with G-d to forgive the Jewish people for their sins, G-d replied, “I have forgiven them according to your words” (Devarim 14:20). Nachmanides (and the Ohr Hachaim commentary) explain that since Moses did not pray for complete forgiveness of the Jewish people, only for limiting their punishment, G-d only responded to his request but not more than that. The Sfat Emet commentary (Likutim, Parshat Beshalach) points out that there is a subtle rebuke to Moses in this statement, hinting that he should have asked for complete forgiveness, and that indeed G-d would have granted his request. This may be the reason that we recite this verse often in the special prayers, Selichot, preceding Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, in order to encourage us to pray to G-d for maximum forgiveness.
The State of Israel’s famed Mossad spy agency is not the first espionage service of the Jewish people. The Jews sent spies to Israel before their entry into the land, and when they returned with a pessimistic report the Jews despaired. Nachmanides (Devarim 13:2) points out that there was no sin in sending spies, since doing so is a normal precaution to take before beginning a war. Moses himself sent spies to Ya’azer before conquering it (Devarim 21:32), and Joshua sent spies to Jericho. (Joshua ch. 2) We find spies sent by the Tribe of Dan (Judges 18:2) and also by King David (Sanuel I:26:4). Two of Israel’s most famous spies in modern times, Eli Cohen and Wolfgang Lodz, in Syria and Egypt respectively, both infiltrated and befriended the highest echelons of the government and military command in each country and sent vital intelligence back to Israel.
Word of the Week
By Rabbi Mordechai Becher
“They shall make for themselves ציצית—tzitzit on the corners of their garments…” (Devarim 15:38). Rashi explains tzitzit as fringes, as does Targum Onkelos who uses the Aramaic word cruspedai which means fringe, edge or border (Jastrow Dictionary). Rabbi David Kimchi (Sefer Hashorashim) relates the word to ציץ —tzitz, which means to “peek out” as a fringe does, and similarly Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch translates it as “something which protrudes.” The same root is also used as a verb meaning “sprouting” or “budding” like grass sprouting (Psalms 72 and 92) and as a noun to describe the bud itself (Isaiah 40).
Israel is a “land flowing with milk and דבש — honey” (Devarim 13:27). Rashi (Shemot 13:5) explains that דבש — devash is a substance that flows from dates and figs, fruit nectar. The Gemara (Ketubot 111b) relates that when Rami bar Yechezkel came to Bnei Brak and saw some goats under a date palm, their milk dripping and mingling with the honey that was dripping from the dates, he proclaimed, “I have seen with my own eyes a land flowing with milk and honey.” The opinion of Rabbi Akivah is that devash means bee’s honey (Mechilta D’Rashbi 13:5) and that is how the word is used in Modern Hebrew. Rabbi David Kimchi (Sefer Hashorashim) identifies devash as a term for dates themselves, whereas Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch understands it to mean thicken (verb) and a viscous liquid (noun).
We are obligated to take a small portion (challah) of dough before baking and give it to the kohen—priest (Devarim 15:19-21). Many women fulfill this mitzvah every week (although nowadays the portion is burnt), since it is customary to bake bread for every Shabbat (Code of Jewish Law, O.C.242:2). Does one fulfill this custom of honoring Shabbat by buying bread (challot) for Shabbat, or does one specifically have to bake it oneself? Rabbi Bentzion Abba Shaul maintains that since bakeries nowadays bake special loaves specifically for Shabbat, if one buys such bread one fulfills the custom of bread for Shabbat (Responsa Ohr Lezion 2:47:1). Rabbi Menashe Klein rules that the custom is for women to bake challah themselves for Shabbat, and they do not fulfill this custom by buying bread (Mishneh Halachot 15:95). Obviously other obligations, such as caring for children, earning a living (and maintaining one’s sanity!) must also be taken into account when deciding to fulfill this custom.
The Torah obligates us to put tzitzit — fringes on four-cornered garments. In general, wool and linen are the most common materials mentioned in the Torah. Do nylon and rayon garments require tzitzit? The Talmud (Menachot 40b) states that leather garments are exempt from tzitzit. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, (Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim 2:1) maintains that since leather is not woven like classic fabrics, it is exempt even if one were to cut up the leather finely and weave it. Hence, nylon garments are exempt from tzitzit according to Rabbi Feinstein. Rabbi Zvi Pesach Frank (Har Zvi, Orach Chaim 1:9) rules that if threads were made of the nylon and it was woven into a fabric, then one is obligated to put tzitzit on that garment.
Parsha at a Glance
Moses sent one spy from each tribe to investigate the Land of Canaan (Israel). He instructed them to take note of the strengths and weaknesses of the land and its inhabitants.
Ten of the spies (meraglim) returned with a negative report. True, the land was flowing with milk and honey, but it was also filled with people of enormous size and strength. The spies feared that the Jewish people would be destroyed if they attempted to conquer the land.
Two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, gave a positive report. They urged the people not to give into fear and to remember that G-d was with them. The people rejected their pleas and gave into a mass hysteria of crying and mourning.
This blatant lack of faith on the part of the Jewish people awakened G-d’s wrath. Only Moses’ fervent prayer saved them from being annihilated. As a punishment, however, G-d decreed that they spend forty years in the desert; only the next generation would be privileged to enter Canaan. The spies who gave the negative report perished in a separate plague.
The morning after this debacle, a group of people decided to remedy the sin of the nation and demonstrate their trust in G-d by entering the Land of Israel by force. They were warned by Moses that this plan was destined to meet with failure, because G-d was not with them. Ignoring Moses’ words, they forged ahead and were massacred by the Amalakite and Canaanite armies.
The parsha includes the episode of a man who received the death penalty for intentionally gathering sticks in violation of the laws of Shabbat.
The mitzvot in the parsha include: libations to be performed upon entering the Land of Israel; giving a portion of baking dough, or challah to the kohanim; instructions on how the nation or an individual can receive forgiveness in the event of intentional or unintentional idolatry; and the laws of requiring tzitzit on the corners of four-corned garment, which serve as a reminder to follow all 613 commandments of the Torah.