Numbers in [square brackets] are the mitzva-count of the Sefer HaChinuch.
KOHEN – First Aliya – 20 p’sukim (13:1-20)
G-d tells Moshe to send scouts to “spy out” the Land. The emphasis in the wording of the pasuk is on Moshe being the one sending the Meraglim, not at G-d’s command nor by his “desire”.
[SDT] the L’CHA of Lech L’cha means, “for your benefit”. You are not going just because I command, but it is to your advantage to go. The KLI YAKAR suggests a similar meaning of the L’CHA in Sh’lach l’cha. How can we say that the sending of the Meraglim was to anyone’s benefit? The result of the Meraglim was that Moshe’s life was prolonged by 40 years.
The representatives of each tribe are named and the Torah testifies to the high caliber of each man.
[SDT] Back in Bamidbar, when the Tribal leaders were named, both Efrayim and Menashe were identified as the sons of Yosef – both within the same pasuk. Here, only Menashe is identified with Yosef, and Efrayim’s scout – Yehoshua – is listed 3 p’sukim earlier. Commentaries note that Yosef had been involved in “negative reports” against his brothers, as was the scout of Menashe, Gadi b. Susi. Yehoshua, of course remained clear of the taint of DIBA RA’A and is therefore not mentioned together with Yosef
And Moshe called Hoshea b. Nun, Yehoshua.
[SDT] Rashi says that by adding a YUD to Hoshea’s name, he was giving him a bracha that he should be saved from the group decision of the other Meraglim. MIMA NAFSHACH – Why did not Moshe bless the others similarly? And why would Yehoshua need a bracha when Kalev apparently did not? Whether or not a Scout will come back with the proper attitude or not was based on each individual’s personality, perceptions, and conclusions. That was up to each of the 12 individuals. That’s not why Moshe gave a special bracha to Yehoshua. Moshe had a separate fear vis-a-vis Yehoshua. He could imagine Yehoshua joining the Meraglim in discouraging the People from entering the Land so that Moshe’s life would be prolonged. Eldad and Meidad had prophesied that Moshe would die and Yehoshua would lead the people into the Land. Moshe’s bracha to Yehoshua was to keep Yehoshua honest, so to speak, so that he would not join the “evil advice” for any reason.
Moshe gives the scouts instructions and an itinerary, hoping that they will return with an encouraging report for Bnei Yisrael. It was the time of the ripening of the grapes, BIKUREI ANAVIM.
[SDT] The ARI Z”L said that the Mitzva of Bikurim is a TIKUN for the Sin of the Spies. The first link between the two is the reference to the time of the visit to the land being the time of BIKUREI ANAVIM. But the link is much deeper. The Meraglim brought a large cluster of grapes (among other fruits) discourage the people from going into Eretz Yisrael. Rashi says that they would say to the people, “See these weird, unusually large fruit? Then imagine how strange and difficult the people in the Land are”. Rashi explains that the ten Meraglim brought back fruits, but not Kalev and Yehoshua. What a terrible misuse of the
fruits of Eretz Yisrael! What one should do with the fruit is to take the finest first fruits, put them in a basket, bring them to Yerushalayim, and joyously proclaim before G-d the gratitude for having been brought to the Land.
Rabbi Menachem Zemba, HY”D, of the Warsaw ghetto, made a beautiful observation to drive the point of ARI Z”L home. The Mishna in Bikurim asks, How does one designate fruits as Bikurim? It answers with three examples. A person goes into his fields and sees a fig that ripened, a cluster of grapes that ripened, a pomegranate that ripened. He ties them off with a GEMI (a natural ribbon)… Says Rav Zemba, these are the very same fruits that the Meraglim took back to the people.
Of all the mitzvot related to the Land, it is Bikurim that has a component of the spoken word. The main feature of the Sin of the Spies was their bad-mouthing Eretz Yisrael. Bikurim is most suited to repair their damage. Take the same fruits but say the right things about them.
LEVI – second Aliya – 20 p’sukim – 13:21-14:7
The Torah describes the 40-day “tour” of the scouts. When they returned, they reported to the People about the truly beautiful land to which they had been sent. They showed the samples of the fruits they brought back with them. They described the apparent strength of the inhabitants (in an attempt to scare the people). And they mentioned Amalek (knowing it would have a discouraging effect). Kalev silenced the people and tells them that they should go to the Land; “we can do it!”. The other ten scouts objected and spoke against the Land, causing widespread panic among the people. Moshe, Aharon, Kalev, and Yehoshua are greatly troubled by the words of the Meraglim and by the reaction of the people. Kalev and Yehoshua proclaim the goodness of the Land.
[SDT] …and we were in our eyes like grasshoppers (compared to the giants of Canaan) and so we appeared to them. The Kotzker Rebbe and others define two components of the Sin of the Spies from this part of the pasuk. First, that we saw ourselves as small and insignificant. Second, that we were concerned about how others perceived us. With G-d obviously on our side (we know what happened to Egypt and we witnessed so many miracles performed on our behalf), we should not have viewed ourselves that way. And, how others perceive us is their problem, not ours.
SH’LISHI – third Aliya – 18 p’sukim – 14:8-25
If G-d wants us to go there, then we will obviously be able to prevail. Just don’t rebel against Him. The People wanted to stone Kalev and Yehoshua for those words. G-d is “angered” by the people and “suggests” to Moshe that He destroy them. Moshe argues on behalf of the people. His argument is that other nations will say that G-d did not have the ability to bring Bnei Yisrael into Canaan, so He killed them in the wilderness. This would be a Chilul HaShem. Moshe then invokes a modified version of Divine Attributes and pleads for forgiveness for the people. (Part of Moshe’s words at this point have been incorporated into our davening.) G-d agrees to Moshe’s pleas. (G-d’s response to Moshe also becomes part of the Yom Kippur davening.) G-d declares that this is the tenth time that the People have “tested” His patience (so to speak). He promises that the men of this generation will not enter the Land – except for Kalev (and Yehoshua).
The People are told that Amalek and the Canaanites occupy the valley and that they (the People of Israel) will have to divert towards the Midbar.
Compare and Learn
Towards the end of last week’s sedra, we have the episode of Miriam’s talking about Moshe and her punishment for her relatively mild transgression of LASHON HARA. Commentaries point out the juxtaposition of the episode of the spies.
There is more to this than “simply” two examples of Lashon HaRa, one about a person and one about Eretz Yisrael. There are important elements and details to be learned one from the other.
For example, it is not just the speaker of Lashon HaRa that transgresses. Those who listen to LH passively, without objecting, those who accept the LH as truth – they too transgress. The Sin of the Spies was not restricted to 10 people. Thousands of those who heard what was said and accepted it, and panicked because of it, they too were guilty. And they were punished, as we know.
But translate this into our time. It is not enough for you to refrain from bad-mouthing Eretz Yisrael, you cannot stand by idly when others do it. Kalev jumped up as soon as he heard what the Meraglim said. He grabbed the microphone (figuratively) and did his best to repudiate the words of the Meraglim and made his own impassioned pitch for Aliya.
We must not “put down” Israel, its people, life here, etc. We must object when others do. And I would suggest that saying something negative in a joke is also problematic.
R’VI’I – fourth Aliya – 27 p’sukim – 14:26-15:7
The Torah elaborates upon the devastating pronouncement by G-d. The People shall roam in the Midbar for a number of years equal to the number of days of the spies’ trip.
The Sin of the Spies occurred on Tish’a b’Av 2449, more than a year out of Egypt. The total amount of time in the Midbar from Exodus to entry into the Eretz Yisrael is 40 years. So the punishment is really for less than 39 years, not 40. The answer is that the Sin of the Spies is the culmination of the “angering” of G-d. We can say that it began back at the Sin of the Golden Calf. The 40-year punishment is retro-active to Cheit HaEigel.
Note the reoccurrence of the number 40. From all indications, the number 40 represents the completion of a process, be it positive or negative. An embryo develops into a fetus in 40 days. Even earlier, there are certain things associated with “40 days before the baby is formed. The process of Moshe’s acquiring of Torah took 40 days and 40 nights. As did the attainment of forgiveness for the people – 40 days on Har Sinai following the Golden Calf and 40 years for the Sin of the Spies. All living things (except No’ach and those with him in the Ark) were killed off during 40 days of the Flood. A mikve must contain a minimum of 40 measures of water. Cleansing of another type – via the punishment of MAKOT – is achieved by 40 (less 1) lashes. The complete definition of Creativity, vis-a-vis the prohibited categories of Melacha on Shabbat is also 40 (less 1). Forty years is the age that Pirkei Avot assigns to the acquisition of deep understanding. There are several 40 year periods in the Tanach, periods of peace, periods of war, length of a king’s reign… 40 is a special number.
The people deeply regret their behavior and plan to enter the Land immediately. Moshe warns them not to, because G-d no longer wants them to do so (at this point). Some of the people went anyway – without the protection of the Aron – and are defeated by Amalek and Canaan.
The Torah next sets down the details of the flour and oil offering and libation of wine that are to accompany most korbanot.
It is important to note the context of these laws. Right after being told that the older generation (males) will not enter the Land, G-d comforts them by teaching procedures that will apply in Eretz Yisrael, specifically mitzvot that are to be “pleasing to G-d”. It is as if G-d says, “Don’t be too dismayed; your children will live in Eretz Yisrael and will serve Me in the Beit HaMikdash”.
Chamishi– fifth Aliya – 9 p’sukim – 15:8-16
The details of the MINCHA & NESECH are completed in this portion. The equality of Torah law for all Jews is reiterated and emphasized.
It seems obvious that this area of mitzva was purposely put here in the aftermath of the Sin of the Spies. There are at least two other places in the Torah where the topic is presented, and where it fits well in the context. It seems superfluous here except as a message for the post-Meraglim period.
Shishi– sixth Aliya – 10 p’sukim – 15:17-26
The mitzva of Challa is presented .
Two major aspects of this precious Mitzva are:
It is performed with the essential food of humans – Bread is the staff of life. This elevates the mundane physical necessity of food to a spiritual level.
Secondly, the fact that we are to give Challa to a Kohen – specifically after most of the work has been done, meaning that we give Challa from the ready-to-pop-into-the-oven dough rather than the raw produce of other gifts to the Kohen – indicates that it is not merely the gift that is significant, but the service to the Kohen that we perform that is important as well.
Challa is one of the Mitzvot that are Sages have kept active by rabbinic decree since the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, so that its practice and lessons should not be lost to us. Often, reciting and learning appropriate Torah passages is sufficient to remember a “suspended” mitzva. Not with this one.
Next the Torah presents the details of the Chatat (sin offering) of the community (in cases where the leaders of the community inadvertently misled the people.) Here again it seems obvious that this topic is brought up because of the context of the Sin of the Spies. This mitzva is not counted here, but it certainly conveys G-d’s attitude (so to speak) about Cheit HaMeraglim. We recognize that sometimes our leaders must bear the responsibility of leading us astray (but not always – often we must be accountable and not claim that we were just following orders). The ideas (and text) of this portion form part of our Yom Kippur service.
SH’VI’I – 7th Aliya – 15 p’sukim – 15:27-41
On the other hand, many times each individual must be accountable for his own actions; we cannot always blame our leaders. The Torah in this portion discusses the Chatat of the individual. These offerings are appropriate only for inadvertent violation; intentional violation (idolatry is implied in this context) is punishable by KAREIT (excision, being cut off…), and is atoneable by other methods.
Following the Sin of the Spies and preceding the sin of the woodgatherer, the Torah presents us with both types of sin offerings – the communal and the individual. Especially since these topics are dealt with (and counted among the Taryag) elsewhere, it is more than reasonable to consider these to be “contextual mitzvot” (Remember that many mitzvot are presented totally detached from any “story” in the Torah, and many stories are related without mitzvot attached. Contextual mitzvot are not as common, but by combining story and mitzva, they pack a strong punch.)
The Torah next tells us of the woodgatherer (traditionally identified as Zelafchad) who was locked up pending details from G-d as to how a public desecrator of the Shabbat is to be punished. G-d’s command was to stone the violator. And so it was done.
Woodgathering on Shabbat would not usually be a capital offense, especially in a midbar, where carrying would be a rabbinic prohibition. However, with the multitude of Bnei Yisrael in the Midbar at this point, conditions of a R’SHUT HARABIM were present.
The final portion of the sedra is the third passage of the Sh’ma – the portion of Tzitzit. It contains the mitzva to put Tzitzit on the corners of a four-corner garment  and that one of the strings of each corner should be dyed t’cheilet, the special blue dye.
The Torah’s command regarding tzitzit is to put them on the four cornered garments that we wear. If we don’t wear such a garment, then there is no mitzva to fulfill. Our Sages have required us to purposely wear a four cornered garment, viz. talit (called Talit Gadol) and arba kanfot (a.k.a. talit katan). It is significant to note that the Rabbis do not often require us to create the circumstances that would then obligate us to perform a mitzva. They did so with tzitzit because it is not merely a mitzva that we “perform”, but it is a mitzva that we wear. It is an integral part of our everyday mundane lives, what a shame to be denied this inspirational mitzva because the style of clothing has changed and we no longer wear four cornered garments.
The Torah links the mitzva of tzitzit with all the mitzvot of the Torah; tzitzit serve as a reminder of the Jew’s all-encompassing commitment to G-d.
This is followed by the warning not to follow the evil temptation of the eye (mind) or heart (emotion) . The Torah then reiterates the importance of belief in G-d in general, and in His having redeemed us from Egypt, in particular. Thus, the twice daily recitation of the Sh’ma constitutes the fulfillment of the mitzva to remember the Exodus “all the days of your life”, in addition to its own mitzva, the recitation of the Sh’ma.
Note that the two positive mitzvot of Parshat Shlach deal with two main, basic needs of humans – food and clothing, physical necessities that have significant spiritual dimensions as well. (Challa and tzitzit are examples of many other mitzvot that relate to food and clothing, e.g. brachot, kashrut, modesty.) Shlach also contains various aspects of korbanot (even though they are not counted from this sedra) the former are the basics; the latter are the spiritual and lofty. It is as if the people are being rebuilt from scratch following the devastating sin of the spies.
The last 5 p’sukim, (the tzitzit portion) are reread for the Maftir.
Haftara – 24 p’sukim – Yehoshua 2:1-24
Paralleling the main theme of the sedra, the Haftara tells us of other spies – two of them, according to the Midrash they were Kalev and Pinchas – who were sent by Yehoshua into Yericho. Rahav, who had heard of the wonders that happened to the People of Israel, protects the spies from the men who are searching for them. In exchange for her protection, Rahav receives a promise that she and her family will be spared when the Israelite army attacks the city. Tradition tells us that Rahav subsequently became a sincere convert to Judaism and the wife of Yehoshua.