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Torah Dialogue: Parshat Shelach

06/18/2020 03:05:45 PM


Rabbi Edward Davis (RED)

SHABBAT SHALOM. Today is 28 Sivan 5780. We bensch Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, which will be this Monday and Tuesday. The Molad (the re-appearance of the moon) will be early Sunday morning (Saturday night) at 12:26am and 14 chalakim (about 47 seconds), Jerusalem time. We omit Av HaRachamim.


1.     In Parshat Devarim Moshe wrote that it was the people’s idea to send a Spy Mission into the Promised Land. Here, in today’s Parshah, it seems that it was Hashem’s idea. Rashi points out that Hashem was not commanding Moshe to send the mission, but He agrees to it. He leaves the decision up to Moshe. By agreeing, Moshe was hoping that the people would abandon the request. If Moshe would say NO, the people would be wondering, “What is he trying to hide?” By agreeing he would hope that the people would conclude that Moshe had nothing to hide. It is up to the people. But it is risky. They, the people, could lose the right to settle in the Land. And that is what happened. Or maybe the tribal leaders who would be the spies were not interested in entering the Land. In the desert, they were prominent leaders. Once they entered the Land, Bnei Yisrael would be dispersed throughout the country and these men would lose their united sphere of influence. (RED)

2.     The list of the spies is given in the order of their personal greatness (Ramban). This is intriguing because Calev is mentioned third, and Yehoshua is mentioned fifth. That means that there were two spies who were greater than our two heroes. What is also interesting is that there was no ringleader. In the next story in the Torah, Korach was the evil leader of the rebellion. He was the ringleader; Datan and Aviram were next in line. In the Spy story, there is no individual villain. They were a unified group, albeit doomed to failure. But it leads us to conclude that the unified front means that the feeling of the insecure future of Klal Yisrael was felt uniformly among the people. The period of Hashem fighting for them, performing miracles as He did in Egypt, was a thing of the past. Now the people had to form an army (as they did in the beginning of BaMidbar) and were destined to fight for themselves. Maybe the people were truly not ready for the next step.

3.     Moshe calls Hoshea, Yehoshua. The Midrash says that when Sarai became Sarah, the yud from her name was given to Yehoshua. The hey that is added to Sarah indicates that Sarah belonged to a larger group. Hey represented universalism. The yud indicates individuality and not belonging to a larger group. Yehoshua did not want to be part of the group of spies. Hence Moshe’s Berachah was a correct one. Avraham had a hey added to his name as well, to indicate that he was the father of a larger group, for many nations (Rav Soloveitchik). A different idea was once presented by Rav Moshe Shapiro, zt”l, in Eretz Yisrael when he developed the idea that the letter hey meant the World to Come. Adding the letter hey to both Avraham and Sarah placed them on a much higher level than the rest of the world.

4.     In the aftermath of the Spy Mission, Hashem rewards Calev with his family heritage including Chevron and the patriarchal burial plots. And it was to be given to Calev’s descendants. “And his offspring shall possess it” (14:24). No reward is mentioned for Yehoshua. The Ramban states that the omission is not so noteworthy, since Yehoshua’s ultimate reward was being Moshe’s successor. Yehoshua will lead Bnei Yisrael in invading and conquering Canaan. The Torah Temimah takes a contrary approach (in his Tosefet Berachah). He wrote that the Torah omits Yehoshua’s blessing because Yehoshua did not have any children. With no offspring to possess any part of Eretz Yisrael, there is no reason to mention him and cause him more sadness. But simply put, the Torah rewards Calev since he attempted to silence his colleagues. Seemingly Yehoshua did not. But the Talmud (Sotah 35a) records that Yehoshua did attempt to silence the spies. The spies refused to listen to him since Yehoshua had no children and therefore had no vested interested in the conquest of Canaan. Actually the spies had good reason not to listen to either one of them. Yehoshua was Moshe’s disciple; Calev was Moshe’s brother-in-law. (RED)

5.     The Mitzvah of Challah is discussed here in the text. The Mitzvah is called Challah, which is the same name we use to describe the loaf of bread that we eat on Shabbat. When making bread, we mix the ingredients together and form the dough. At this point, the first task is to take a portion of the dough and give it to a Kohen. Since there are no absolute Kohanim today, we burn the separated dough. I believe that we call the bread Challah as a reminder to observe this Mitzvah. This is a tribute to the Jewish people, who observe this Mitzvah at all times that we bake bread. In many homes, the only time we bake bread is to make Challah for Shabbat. In neighborhoods where kosher Challah is readily available and sold in the grocery stores, it is nice to see how many women take the time to make homemade Challah. May it be a Segulah. (When we bake a cake, Challah is not taken because the batter is so loose. When we make cookies, Challah should be taken.) (RED)

6.     Right before the Torah gives us the Mitzvah of Tzitzit, it describes a Jewish person who willfully desecrated the Shabbat and gathered wood. In judgement, he is stoned to death for his sin. Rashi says (from the Sifre) that only one person desecrated the Shabbat out of the whole nation. According to the Vilna Gaon, there was a general laxity in the desert in obeying the Shabbat laws. Today it is estimated that less than 10% of the world Jewish population observes Shabbat. In Israel we see ultra-Orthodox Jews, in some neighborhoods, getting visibly upset in seeing Shabbat desecrated. They yell and/or throw rocks at Shabbat desecrators. Here in America, we grow up seeing Jews desecrate Shabbat all the time, and we are not upset about it. [RED’s Note: Once we spent a Shabbat in Boca Raton to attend a family Simchah. A lady approached me and told me that she made the decision to become observant when she was driving her car on Shabbat morning on Stirling Road and was forced to stop, by the police, to allow our congregants to walk across the street, wheeling their strollers. She thought to herself that she wanted to be one of them, walking to Shul on Shabbat, and not one of the drivers on Shabbat. I guess that was a benefit of not throwing rocks at her!]

7.     The verb “to see” is recorded in a similar verb form three times in the Torah. The first time is in Shemot (1:16), when Pharaoh is addressing the midwives and says to them, “When you deliver the Hebrew women, and you see (them) on the birthstone, if it is a son...” The second and third times are in this week’s Sidrah (13:18), “See the Land, How is it?...” and (15:39) “ shall see it (the Tzitzit)...” The verb “to see” means much more than physically seeing; it means comprehending and absorbing what you see. The first time “to see” is used it refers to understanding where we come from. The second “to see” applies to the Land, to see where you are going. And the third time “to see” is used, it applies to Tzitzit. Understand who you are at all times; in front of whom you are bound to stand in judgement. Your past, your present, and your future are extremely important, a sense of awareness that we are required to have at all times in life. (Tosefet Berachah)



The story of the Haftorah relates another spy story–Joshua sent two spies to help plan the conquering of Jericho.  Tradition identifies the two spies as Calev and Pinchas, who go to Jericho, to the home of Rachav.  Rachav relates how the locals are terrified of God and Israel. The spies immediately return to Joshua and are beholden to Rachav for her protection.  She in turn seeks protection for her family (although no mention is made of a husband or children).  A red string will identify her house when the conquering begins.  (Perhaps this is the origin of some Jews tying a red string on their wrists to ward off the Evil Eye and to preserve and to acquire health and family.)  This invasion of Bnei Yisrael into Canaan pits the Jewish army against all the Canaanite nations.  These idolaters could technically remain as resident aliens by adopting the laws of the Noachide Code.  Joshua was quite successful in the conquest of Canaan, but the Rabbis say that had Moshe succeeded with the initial group and brought the Jews into Canaan, the Jews would have been able to build the Holy Temple immediately and that Temple would have stood forever.  Thus not only was God to bring in a new generation, but it was necessary to bring a new leader.

Wed, October 28 2020 10 Cheshvan 5781