Posted on June 3, 2010 (5770) By Rabbi Yochanan Zweig | Series: | Level:


“Send forth men…” (13:2)

This week’s parsha introduces the episode of the spies who spoke disparagingly concerning Eretz Yisroel. As a result of the spies’ actions the entire generation of Bnei Yisroel who accepted their evil tidings were doomed to die in the desert.[1] Rashi explains that the reason why this parsha is juxtaposed to the story of Miriam’s affliction with tzora’as recorded at the end of last week’s parsha, is that the spies should have taken a lesson from Miriam regarding the consequences of speaking Loshon Horah.[2]

The prohibition of speaking Loshon Horah is amongst the most severe offenses recorded in the Torah. The Chofeitz Chaim enumerates the many positive and negative precepts violated when engaging in Loshon Horah.[3] Why did the spies, who where the greatest leaders of the generation, require the incident with Miriam to teach them a precept which is clearly delineated in the Torah?

The Torah identifies the sin of the spies as “vayatziu dibas ha’aretz asher taru osah” – “and they presented evil tidings concerning the land that they had spied out”.[4] Although we can infer that giving such a negative account of Eretz Yisroel reflected the spies’ deep-rooted lack of faith in Hashem’s ability to fulfill His promise that Bnei Yisroel would enter Eretz Yisroel, the Torah focuses upon the Loshon Horah spoken concerning the Land.[5] Based upon this verse, the Chayei Adam records speaking disparagingly about Eretz Yisroel as a separate prohibition. Why is it so grievous an offense to speak Loshon Horah regarding a piece of land; an inanimate object?

In last week’s parsha, immediately after recording the Loshon Horah which Miriam spoke against Moshe, the Torah states “veha’ish Moshe anav me’od” – “and the man Moshe was exceedingly humble”.[6] What is the connection between the two verses? Speaking Loshon Horah is generally portrayed as “bein adam l’chaveiro” – “a sin against society”, the heinous nature of the sin reflected by its anti-social repercussions. Although the aforementioned is valid, the Torah is revealing to us that the most destructive force which is unleashed when we engage in Loshon Horah is the damage we inflict upon ourselves. The Torah records the exceedingly humble nature of Moshe immediately after Miriam’s criticism of him to teach us that he was completely unaffected by her comments. The damage caused by Miriam’s words was the damage she caused herself. Loshon Horah causes part of the transgressor to die; this is reflected by the tzora’as – dead flesh, which is a natural by-product of the transgression. Consequently, Aharon pleaded with Moshe to pray for their sister, “al nasehi kemeis” – “let her not be like a corpse”.[7]

This message was not apparent until the story of Miriam, when it became evident that a person has violated the sin of Lashon Horah even if the subject of the tidings is unaffected. This should have prevented the spies from speaking Loshon Horah, even against an inanimate object.

3.See Hilchos Issurei Lashon Horah based on the Sefer Chofeitz Chaim
5.Sotah 35a

With Strings Attached

“…and remember all the commandments of Hashem…” (15:39)

The Torah stipulates that the tzitzis should serve as a reminder of our obligation to perform all of the mitzvos.Rashi explains that the numerical value of the word tzitzis is six hundred (“tzadi” is ninety, “yud” is ten, “tzadi” is ninety,”yud” is ten and “taf” is four hundred), and when we add the eight threads and five knots, we reach a total of six hundred thirteen, corresponding to the six hundred thirteen mitzvos in the Torah.[1] The Ba’alei Tosafos question how Rashi arrives at the number six hundred for the word “tzitzis” when the spelling of the word from the Torah contains only one “yud”. The answer given by the Ba’alei Tosafos is that the word “tzitzis” is recorded in the Torah three times, and on one of those occasions the word is written “letzitzis”, with a “lamed” which adds an additional value of thirty; by dividing the number thirty into three, for the number of times “tzitzis” is written, we restore the correspondence between the word “tzitzis” and the number six hundred.[2] It seems highly unlikely that upon seeing the tzitzis a person will make these intricate calculations leading him to remember all of the mitzvos of Hashem.

Why is remembering the mitzvos expressed in this type of manner? The Ramban questions Rashi’s explanation that we should include the five knots and eight strings in order to reach a total of six hundred thirteen, for the Talmud teaches that the Torah-mandated obligation of tzitzis involves only the top knot, while the other four are Rabbinically mandated. Therefore, how can Rashi include all five knots in the calculation which is made to fulfill the Torah’s obligation of remembering the mitzvos?[3] Rashi teaches that the mitzva of tzitzis is equal to all of the other six hundred twelve mitzvos in the Torah. This creates a unifying thread between tzitzis and the other two mitzvos in the parsha, refraining from idol worship and observing the Shabbos, which have the same quality.[4] It is understandable that performing idol worship is equivalent to violating the entire Torah, for it negates Hashem’s supremacy, as is violating the Shabbos, for Shabbos is the affirmation of Hashem as Creator of the universe. What is the basis for tzitzis being equivalent to all of the other mitzvos? Furthermore, a person is not even obligated to wear tzitzis; the requirement of tzitzis from a Torah perspective is only applicable if a person wears a fourcornered garment. How can a mitzva which is not even a constant requirement be so important?

Aside from the perfunctory elements of the mitzva of tzitzis, the mitzva contains another more fundamental concept. The commentaries explain that tzitzis is akin to a uniform which identifies a slave as belonging to his master.[5] Consequently, it is no coincidence that tzitzis is included as a part of the reading of Krias Shema, for wearing tzitzis indicates an ongoing reaffirmation of the acceptance of the yoke of Heaven. It is the extension of the declaration made in Krias Shema. In order to increase the efficacy and potency of the tzitzis as the tool by which a person remembers and reaffirms his commitment to perform the six hundred thirteen mitzvos, i.e the expression of his acceptance of the yoke of Heaven, the Torah states “ve’asu lahem tzitzis” – “and they shall make for themselves the tzitzis”.[6] This means that the reminder does not stem from looking at the tzitzis after donning them, rather the Torah requires that our Sages create a reminder from the tzitzis itself.

When a person ties a string around his finger in order to remind himself of something of great significance, it is not the string which is of primary importance, rather the message that he has attributed to the string. Similarly, the Torah instructs our Sages to find symbolic references within the tzitzis so that donning tzitzis itself will be a reminder of our acceptance of the yoke of the Almighty. Therefore, if need be, we can make elaborate calculations, including even Rabbinically mandated stipulations to assign the tzitzis the symbolic representation of the acceptance of all of the mitzvos. It is far more effective a reminder if we are the ones who create the symbolism ourselves.

It is for this reason that the Torah does not mandate wearing tzitzis; if the Torah had, the effectiveness of the tzitzis as a reminder would have been dampened, for the reason to wear the tzitzis would have devolved into an act which is done only to fulfill the Torah imperative. A Rabbinical creation of the constant obligation to wear tzitzis is more effective as the reminder for we have designated its symbolism. Since tzitzis contains the fundamental principle of acceptance of the yoke of the Almighty, it can be grouped with refraining from idol worship and keeping Shabbos.

2.Menachos 39a see Tanchuma Sheach..
5.Tos. Menachos 39a, Sefer Hachinuch, Seforno 15:39

We Are Connected

“Moshe heard the people weeping concerning their family groups…” (11:10)

The Talmud relates that any commandment which we initially accepted with rejoicing, such as bris milah – circumcision, would be performed joyously in later generations. However, any commandment that was received with resistance, would be fulfilled in later generations with aggravation. Specifically, since Bnei Yisroel wept over being prohibited from marrying their family members, the result was that there would never be a Kesubah, a marriage document that records the couple’s financial obligations to one another, written that did not involve some form of dispute.[1] Why are circumcision and prohibited relationships the two examples utilized?

The Maharal questions why, in fact, it became prohibited to Bnei Yisroel to marry their family members. According to the Talmud, in preparation for receiving the Torah, Bnei Yisroel underwent complete conversion i.e. circumcision, ritual bathing, and the bringing of sacrifices.[2] By Torah law, when a person converts he severs all preexisting family relationships. Therefore, technically, if a brother and sister were to convert, as Jews they would be permitted to marry one another based upon the dictum “ger shenisgayer kikatan shenolad dami” – “A convert has the status of a newborn child.” Therefore, asks the Maharal, why did the conversion process of Bnei Yisroel not sever all preexisting family relationships, permitting them to marry their family members?[3]

The reason why conversion severs preexisting family relationships is that when a person becomes a Jew, he disconnects himself from his previous heritage, and connects himself with the heritage that began with our Forefather Abraham. This is the reason for the custom of naming converts “ben Avraham” – “the son of Abraham”. The conversion of Bnei Yisroel at Har Sinai did not sever their previous heritage; on the contrary, it reaffirmed and reconnected them back to their ancestry. It is because of their connection to their ancestry that they merited to receive the Torah. Therefore, all previous family relationships remained intact. The misonenim were complaining that since they had undergone conversion, they should have been permitted to maintain relationships with family members, as is standard for the laws of conversion. Their mistake was that Bnei Yisroel’s conversion was not a standard one, rather, it was akin to the circumcision which they had to undergo. The function of circumcision is to reconnect us to the covenant of Abraham, as we recite in the blessing for circumcision “lehachniso bevriso shel Avraham Avinu” – “to enter him, i.e. the one being circumcised, into the covenant of our Patriarch Abraham”.

It is for this reason that Chazal compare Bnei Yisroel’s reaction to the precepts governing prohibited relationships and circumcision. They are alluding to the source of Bnei Yisroel’s mistake; although they underwent conversion, this process did not serve to sever their preexisting heritage, rather to reaffirm it.

1.Shabbos 130a
2.Krisus 9a See Rashi Shemos 24:6
3.Gur Arye Bereishis 46:10 See introduction to the Shav Shmaytsah