Shabbat Parshat Shelach
Moshe instructs the twelve tribal representatives in their mission to survey the land of Israel:
“And you shall see what kind of land it is. And as for the people who live in it, are they strong or weak, few or many? And how is the land in which they live: is it good or bad? And what are the cities in which they live: are they in open areas or fortresses? And how is the land: is it rich or poor? Does it have trees in it, or not? And you shall strengthen yourselves and take some of the fruits of the land.” And the days were the days of the firstfruits of the grapes (Bamidbar 13:18-20).
Rashi explains that the days of the firstfruits of the grapes is when the grapes become ripe for taking firstfruits. Grape picking in Israel is during the months of Tammuz and Av. But, what is the significance of this being the time that the scouts explored the Land?
Our Sages teach that we thereby know that the 9th of Av is the national day of tragedy: The Children of Israel left Sinai on the 20th of Iyar (10:11) and spent 30 days at Kivrot Hataava (11:20). Then they traveled to Chatzerot, where they waited for 7 days during Miriam’s confinement (12:15), followed by their encampment in the wilderness of Paran, from where they dispatched the scouts on the 29th of Sivan (Taanit 29a; Seder Olam Rabba 8).
And they returned from exploring the land at the end of forty days (verse 25),on the 8th of Av.
And the entire community raised their voices, and the people cried that night (14:1),which begins the 9th of Av. According to ARI (R. Yitzchak Luria, 1534-1572), the mitzvah of Bikkurim (bringing the firstfruits to the Temple) is atonement for the scouts’ rejection of the Land. R. Menachem Zemba (1883-1943) notes that although all 7 types of produce with which the Land is praised are brought as Bikkurim, the Mishnah specifically mentions the 3 species that the scouts brought back:
And they arrived at the Stream of Eshkol, and from there they cut a branch and one cluster of grapes, with two carrying it on a pole, as well as from the pomegranates and the figs (13:23).
“A person goes down to his fields and sees a fig that has ripened, a cluster that has ripened, a pomegranate that has ripened …” (Bikkurim 3:1). Nevertheless, why does the Torah use the expression the days of the firstfruits of the grapes as a way to tell us that they returned on the eve of the 9th of Av? Couldn’t it have stated the date more directly? Rashbam sees this as simple foreshadowing.
Moshe commanded them: strengthen yourselves and take some of the fruits of the land and they will do so, delivering the fruits of the season.
Other commentaries connect the season with the dangerousness of the espionage mission, inasmuch as Moshe encouraged them to “strengthen themselves.” Daat Mikra (Y.Z. Moshkovitz) says they need not fear when they take some fruit at that time of year because many people are bringing fruits from place to place, and they will “blend in.” But Chizkuni (R. Chizkiya ben Manoach, mid 13th Century) sees just the opposite: Many guards are stationed in the Land during this season, precisely because everyone is carrying fruits. Therefore Moshe exhorted them to have courage. Sforno (R. Ovadia ben Yaakov Sforno, c. 1470-c.1550) notes that the days of the firstfruits of the grapes is at the beginning of the season, when the grapes first ripen and all the fruits are not yet completely ripened:
“Nevertheless our Teacher Moshe was sure that the size of the fruits and their taste, even at that time, would suffice to attest to the praise and goodness of the land.” Keli Yekar (R. Ephraim Shlomo of Lunshitz, 1550- 1619) finds multiple symbolism in the significance of grapes:
Like grapes in the desert I found Israel (Hoshea 9:10). Yalkut Shimoni (Vayeshev 40:146) shows how Israel is likened to a vine:
Finally, that same Midrash cites the dream of Pharaoh’s cup-bearer:
Its clusters ripened with grapes (Bereishit 40:10), which Yosef understood meant “the time has come for Israel to be redeemed.” Similarly, the days of the first fruits of the grapes is a subliminal message (which, unfortunately, ten of the scouts failed to grasp): Since they have received the Torah, Israel is “ripened,” completely ready to lay claim to its Land.