The Spies and the Mitzvah of Challah
Volume 20, No. 33
28 Sivan 5764
June 24, 2004
the Sabrin family
in memory of father
Shlomo ben Chaim a"h (Sol Sabrin)
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Yoma 17
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Terumot 50
Most of this week's parashah relates the story of the Spies that Bnei
Yisrael sent to examine Eretz Yisrael and the tragic aftermath of that
excursion. Afterwards, the Torah teaches the mitzvah of Challah / giving a
kohen a portion of each dough that one kneads. The Torah says (15:19,
21): "It shall be that when you will eat of the bread of the Land, you
shall set aside a portion for Hashem. . . From the first of your kneading
you shall give a portion to Hashem, for your generations."
Why, asked R' Joseph B. Soloveitchik z"l (died 1993) is this mitzvah
taught in this parashah? Why is it not mentioned in next week's parashah
together with the other produce-related, Eretz Yisrael-dependent laws,
such as Terumah?
R' Soloveitchik's answer is quoted as follows: The commandment to separate
Challah is different from Mitzvot such as Terumah and Ma'aser in that the
latter apply to the produce of Eretz Yisrael wherever the produce may be,
while the former applies to a dough kneaded in Eretz Yisrael regardless of
where the wheat grew. [Ed. note: By rabbinic decree, Challah is separated
even in the Diaspora.] Terumah and Ma'aser are indicative of the intrinsic
holiness of Eretz Yisrael and of the blessing attributable to the Land
itself. Not so Challah. That mitzvah is a reminder of G-d's blessing that
rests on the handiwork of the residents of Eretz Yisrael.
The mitzvah of Challah belongs specifically after the episode of the
Spies, for their very doubt was whether Bnei Yisrael were strong enough to
conquer and inhabit the Land. In the context of those doubts, the Torah
teaches that the efforts of those who inhabit the Land are blessed.
(Quoted in Shiurei Ha'rav Al Masechet Challah)
"One man each from his father's tribe shall you send, every one a
leader among them." (13:2)
Throughout the ages, commentaries have struggled to understand the sin of
the Spies. As our verse testifies, they were leaders of their tribes!
Where did they go wrong?
R' Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg z"l (rosh yeshiva in Berlin and Switzerland;
died 1966) offers the following explanation: The Spies were indeed leaders
of the nation, but there are two kinds of leaders. Some leaders have
farsighted vision and can anticipate and prepare for the future needs of
their charges. Other leaders do not have this ability; their strength is
in rallying the people to achieve a predetermined goal.
The Spies were the latter type of leaders - they had the skills to lead
Bnei Yisrael through the desert, but not to prepare them for new
surroundings in Eretz Yisrael. Indeed, the Zohar indicates that the Spies'
negative report was influenced by their fear that they would lose their
leadership positions once the nation settled in the Land.
Can the Spies be faulted for not being fit for the task that was assigned
to them? R' Weinberg explains that they were faulted only because they let
their personal biases influence their report. That bias weakened their
resolve to do the best job possible. Had they not thought about retaining
their jobs, they would at least have retained their faith in Hashem.
"These are their names - For the tribe of Reuven -- Shammua son of
R' Avraham Saba z"l (1440:1508) notes that there appears at first glance
to be no rhyme or reason to the order in which the Spies are listed. By
tribe, that order is: Reuven, Shimon, Yehuda, Yissachar, Ephraim,
Binyamin, Zevulun, Yosef (Menashe), Dan, Asher, Naftali, Gad. This is
neither the order of the tribes' birth, nor is it the order of their
In fact, the list is a modified version of the order in which the tribes
traveled. R' Saba explains that the factor that influenced the order of
the tribes here is the relationship of the tribes to Eretz Yisrael. Two-
and-one-half tribes chose to settle outside the Land - Gad, Reuven and
half of Menashe. Gad, the instigator, is therefore listed last. Reuven
should have been listed second to last, but because he was the bechor /
firstborn, his descendants' failing is overlooked and he is listed first.
[Shimon follows Reuven because they camped and traveled together. Yehuda
comes next because of his importance and the fact that one of the two good
spies, Kalev ben Yefuneh, came from Yehuda. Yehuda and Yissachar are
paired because they camped and traveled together.] Ephraim and Binyamin
are pushed ahead of Zevulun because the other good spy, Yehoshua bin Nun,
came from Ephraim, while the Bet Hamikdash was destined to be built in
Yosef is mentioned together with Menashe (rather than with his other son,
Ephraim) because Yosef and Menashe both chose to remain outside of Eretz
Yisrael; Yosef, when he did not ask his brothers to bury him in Eretz
Yisrael immediately after his death, and Menashe, when half of his
descendants chose to receive their land east of the Jordan River. Indeed,
it was Yosef's apparent lack of attachment to the Land that caused some of
his descendants to accept land outside of Eretz Yisrael.
"`Hashem, Slow to Anger, Abundant in Kindness, Forgiver of Iniquity and
Willful Sin, and Who cleanses -- but does not cleanse completely,
recalling the iniquity of parents upon children to the third and fourth
This verse is part of Moshe's prayer on behalf of the Jewish People after
the sin of the Spies. Moshe's prayer included most, but not all, of the
Thirteen Attributes of Mercy mentioned in Shmot 34:6- 7. (The full list
is: "Hashem, Hashem, All Powerful, Compassionate and Gracious, Slow to
Anger, and Abundant in Kindness and Truth; Preserver of Kindness for
thousands of generations, Forgiver of Iniquity, Willful Sin, and Error,
and Who Cleanses -- but does not cleanse completely, recalling the
iniquity of parents upon children and grandchildren, to the third and
The following Attributes are missing from Moshe's prayer in our parashah:
Hashem, All Powerful, Compassionate and Gracious, Truth; Preserver of
Kindness for thousands of generations, Forgiver of Error. Why?
R' Avigdor Katz z'l (Vienna; 13th century) explains: Commentaries explain
that the repetition, "Hashem, Hashem," teaches that G-d is merciful both
before a person sins (although G-d knows he will sin) and after he sins.
Here, there was no purpose in mentioning the first "Hashem" as the Jewish
people had already sinned.
Regarding the omission of "All Powerful," Moshe could not pray that G-d
have mercy because of that attribute, since the Spies' sin had been in
doubting whether Hashem was in fact powerful enough to defeat the
Canaanites. (See Bemidbar 13:31 - "We cannot ascend to that people for it
is stronger than Him!")
Moshe could not mention "Compassionate and Gracious" because the Spies had
spoken lashon hara. A person who speaks lashon hara is called a "fool"
(Mishlei 10:18), and the prophet Yishayah teaches (Yishayah 27:11), "For
it is not a nation of understanding [i.e., it is a foolish nation];
therefore, its Maker will not show it compassion, and its Creator will not
be gracious to it."
Next, Moshe could not appeal to G-d's attribute of "Truth," since the
Spies had not spoken the truth.
Moshe could not pray to G-d as the One who practices Chessed / Kindness
for that would have "reminded" G-d of Avraham, the greatest human
practitioner of Chessed. Avraham, too, had expressed doubt when Hashem had
promised him the Land. (See Bereishit 15:8)
Finally, Moshe could not appeal to G-d as the "Forgiver of Error," for an
error is an unintentional sin. Here, the Spies had sinned intentionally.
(Quoted in Nimukei Chumash L'Rabbeinu Yishayah)
Letters from Our Sages
This week, we continue with excerpts from the will of R' Yaakov Lorberbaum
z"l (died 1832; the "Nesivos").
9. When praying, have in mind the meaning of the words. When saying the
Honored and Awesome Name, have in mind what is written in the Shulchan
Aruch [i.e., that the Four Letter Name means, "Master of the World, Who
Was, Who Is, and Who Will Be," and "Elokim" means, "Powerful and Capable
of Anything, and Master of All Forces."] Regarding esoteric intentions
based on the wisdom of the kabbalah, one must be on guard and extra
cautious not to come to heresy. Nowadays, one should not rely on any
person to teach him this wisdom, especially on one who has not filled his
belly with Talmud and Halachah. As for those who glorify themselves as
knowing this wisdom, do not believe them or desire them or listen to them,
even on the smallest matter. . .
21. Over and over I warn you: Distance yourselves very, very much from
having others rely on your trustworthiness, lest your honesty be
questioned in the end. Also, it is so easy to think of justifications [to
take advantage of others], especially when one loves money; therefore, be
very careful not to be in such a position unless it is impossible to avoid
22. I further warn you not to cause any person to take an oath, G-d
forbid . . . It is preferable to lose all of one's money than to be a
rasha / sinner for one moment before G-d. If someone is obligated by
Halachah to make an oath to you, let him get away with a cherem / ban
instead. You will not lose out because of this; to the contrary, what good
is his oath if he cannot be trusted with money?
23. Avoid the need to litigate. If there is any dispute between you and
your colleagues, compromise, and do not litigate. Look, my sons, at what
Chazal said: "Yerushalayim was destroyed only because people stuck to the
letter of the law." If this was sufficient to destroy Yerushalayim, how
much more so should one avoid it with all his powers?
24. I also warn you that if you have business dealings with someone who
does not understand [the terms of the deal], speak to him clearly and make
him understand everything. Do not say: what difference does it make - he
is willing? . . . This is the meaning of "Love your fellow as yourself."
Do everything with the same straightforwardness that you would wish for
yourselves, and that which is hateful to you, do not do to others . . .
Copyright © 2006 by Shlomo Katz
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
Hamaayan needs your support! Please consider sponsoring Hamaayan in honor of a happy occasion or in memory of a loved one. Did you know that the low cost of sponsorship - only $18 - has not changed in seventeen years? Donations to HaMaayan are tax-deductible.