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Posted on June 15, 2012 (5772) By Shlomo Katz | Series: | Level:

Parshas Shlach

The Strategy

Volume 26, No. 33

Sponsored by the Edeson & Stern families on the 50th anniversary of their parents / Bubbie & Zaidie Esther & Jacob Edeson

Mr. Lewis Kest on the yarhzeit of his wife Sarah bat R’ Zvi a”h

The Sabrin family in memory of father Shlomo ben Chaim a”h (Sol Sabrin)

In this week’s parashah, Moshe Rabbeinu sends twelve spies to Eretz Yisrael, with disastrous results that are well known. Many commentaries attempt to understand Moshe Rabbeinu’s motives in sending the spies, and where his plan went awry. Among the questions that many commentaries ask is why Moshe told the spies to investigate if the land is “good or bad”; surely he knew that Hashem was not leading them to a land that was bad!

R’ Yitzchak Karo z”l (1458-approx. 1520; uncle of R’ Yosef Karo z”l, who authored the Shulchan Aruch) explains as follows:

As any commander of an invading army would do, Moshe intended to send spies to discover the best approaches to the Land and its weak points. (This is the same explanation as Ramban z”l gives.) Naturally, R’ Karo continues, Moshe did not want the spies to deliver their report in public, for if they did, word might leak back to the Canaanites of what the spies had discovered, and then the Canaanites would strengthen their fortifications where necessary.

On the other hand, Moshe knew that Bnei Yisrael were a suspicious lot, and he feared that if the spies delivered their message in private, Bnei Yisrael would assume Moshe had something to hide. Therefore, Moshe instructed the spies publicly: “See the Land–how is it? And the people that dwells in it–is it strong or weak? Is it few or numerous? And how is the Land in which it dwells–is it good or is it bad? And how are the cities in which it dwells –are they open or are they fortified? And how is the land–is it fertile or is it lean? Are there trees in it or not?” Moshe was counting on the spies’ intelligence and wisdom to understand that some of those questions were meant to be answered in public, while others were meant to be answered only in private.

At first, the plan worked, i.e., they delivered two separate reports, as we read (13:26-27), “They went and came [1] to Moshe and to Aharon and [2] to the entire assembly of Bnei Yisrael . . . and brought back the report to [1] them and [2] the entire assembly . . . They reported to him . . .” But, Bnei Yisrael sensed this and demanded to know what the spies had told Moshe and Aharon. In response (13:30), “Calev silenced the people toward Moshe,” i.e., he pretended to tell them what the spies had told Moshe, “We shall surely ascend and conquer it, for we can surely do it!” However, the other spies had turned evil and contradicted him. (Toldot Yitzchak)


“They arrived at the Valley of Eshkol and cut from there a vine with one cluster of grapes, and bore it on a double pole, and of the pomegranates and of the figs.” (13:23)

Rashi z”l explains how the Spies carried these fruits and concludes his comment: “It is an accepted fact that a load which a person can by himself lift up on to his shoulder is only the third of the load he can carry if people assist him in lifting it up.”

R’ Zalman Zev z”l (1789-1866; “R’ Velvel Maggid”; the maggid / preacher of Vilna) observes: A similar principle applies to sin–i.e., the more people that are involved or the more public it is, the easier it is for the sinner to bear and, therefore, the more difficult repentance is. This is the meaning of the prophet Yirmiyah’s rebuke (Yirmiyah 6:15), “Were they ashamed that they had committed abominations? They will never feel shame; they will not know humiliation.” [Because there were many people committing the same sin, they were not ashamed.] (Teomei Tziviyah ch.10)


“But the men who had ascended with him said, ‘We cannot ascend to that people for it is too strong for us!'” (13:31)

“They awoke early in the morning and ascended toward the mountaintop saying, ‘We are ready, and we shall ascend to the place of which Hashem has spoken, for we have sinned!'” (14:40)

What changed between the time that Bnei Yisrael accepted the opinion of the spies that, “We cannot ascend,” and the time that Bnei Yisrael said, “We shall ascend”? R’ Shneur Zalman of Liadi z”l (1745-1813; the Ba’al Ha’Tanya) explains: In their hearts, all of the Jewish People are believers. Sometimes, the yetzer hara manages to overcome a person and causes him to act or speak contrary to his innate belief. That is what happened here. However, as soon as Bnei Yisrael heard how angry Hashem was at their saying, “We cannot ascend,” their evil inclinations immediately were subdued and their emunah was able to express itself if the statement, “We shall ascend!”

Unfortunately, in the case of the Generation of the Wilderness, it was too late to undo the damage that their words caused. Nevertheless, every person can learn from this not to despair when heretical or immoral thoughts cross his mind. The yetzer hara only has permission to confuse a person, but it is never able to uproot a Jew’s core beliefs. (Likkutei Amarim, end of ch.29)


“Speak to Bnei Yisrael and say to them that they shall make tzitzit for themselves . . .” (15:38)

R’ Yitzchak Meltzen z”l (1854-1916; Lithuania and Eretz Yisrael) writes: The word “tzitzit” can mean “hair,” as in Yechezkel (8:3), “He took me by the lock of my head.” Also, it can mean a place from which to watch, as in Shir Ha’shirim (2:9), “Observing through the windows, mei’tzitz / peering through the lattices.” Combining these two meanings, we can understand the mitzvah of tzitzit as saying to us: Pay attention! These strings are your lifeline; they can connect you to G-d. However, if you are not conscious of this fact, if you are not watching, they will accomplish nothing, just as tying a string around your finger will not help you remember anything unless, at the time you tie the string, you say to yourself, “This is a reminder of such-and-such.” Similarly, if you see the tzitzit all day long, but have never thought about what they are meant to remind you of, then they will remind you of nothing. (Siddur Ishei Yisrael: Siach Yitzchak)


“It shall be tzitzit for you, that you may see it and remember all the commandments of Hashem and perform them . . .” (15:39)

R’ Yehoshua Rokeach z”l (1825-1894; second Belzer Rebbe) asks: The Gemara (Nedarim 23a) teaches that the mitzvah of tzitzit is equal to all other mitzvot. Yet, the Midrash Mishlei teaches that any mitzvah performed properly is equal to all of the mitzvot. If so, what is special about tzitzit?

He explains: Rashi z”l writes (commentary to Devarim 11:18), “Even in exile, distinguish yourselves with mitzvot–wear tefilin and make mezuzot–so that they will not seem new to you when you return to the Land. In truth, the Belzer Rebbe continues, every Jew wants to walk in the way of G-d, and the key to success is not to try to imitate the nations among whom we live. Sometimes, Jews are embarrassed to stand out, which is why the mitzvot of tefilin, mezuzah and tzitzit are so important. Even a Jew who is embarrassed to dress differently than those around him will remember who he is if he practices those three mitzvot. It is this aspect of the mitzvah of tzitzit that makes it equal to all other mitzvot, since it has the potential to bring about the observance of other mitzvot that might otherwise fall by the wayside due to assimilation. (Quoted in Orchot Rabboteinu: Tzetil Kattan p.32)

R’ Chaim Yosef David Azulai z”l (1724-1806; Eretz Yisrael and Italy) writes: The gematria of the Hebrew words “Bnei Yisrael” equals 603. Add eight, the number of strings in one corner of the tzitzit, and you have 611, the gematria of the Hebrew word “Torah.” Thus, “Speak to Bnei Yisrael and say to them that they shall make tzitzit” equals the whole Torah. (Quoted in Siddur Ha’Chida)


Letters from our Sages

Below is an open letter from R’ Shlomo Shapiro z”l (1831-1893), rabbi and chassidic rebbe of Munkatch, Hungary (now Ukraine), to his community written in 1882, not long after he assumed his position in that city. The letter is printed in Igrot Shapirin, No. 27. (The writer’s yahrzeit, 21 Sivan, fell this week.)

Hear me, my brothers; listen to me, my nation! May my beseeching come before you; may my conversation be sweet to you! Listen to me, and may G-d listen to you! In every city where our brethren Bnei Yisrael dwell (may G-d lengthen their days and shower good upon them), if G-d forbid someone departs from them and leaves this life (may the days of all of Israel be lengthened, theirs and their children’s), they perform great honor for him; they will perform the ultimate kindness for him; they will carry him on their shoulders; his brethren will surround him; a huge crowd will accompany him; his relatives will walk among them in tears; they will lift their voices in wailing and eulogy in the streets . . .

Now, I have come to this city, Munkatch, may Elokim protect it, a metropolis of Jews, whose righteousness is like the mountains of G-d, who are filled with Torah and awe of G-d, and who yearn heart and soul for the living words of G-d–may our Master in Heaven assist them and increase their lives, and bless all of their activities. [Nevertheless,] I have found here a ravine that needs to be fenced . . . ; I saw, and my heart was anguished, my soul was distressed . . . When one of our brothers is called by the Loftiest One to return to the eternal home, they place him in a wagon, and two horses lead him. The driver sits above while the deceased lies below, with the backs of the driver and the two horses toward him. The few people who accompany him are far behind, avoiding the feet of the horses. There is no sound of sighs, no sound of crying, no sound of pain . . . The few people who accompany him past the city limits are engaged in their conversations and their business; the deceased is forgotten from the heart while he is still among them.

Listen, please, my brothers! The Mishnah (Berachot 2:1) teaches that those who are carrying the coffin, their replacements, and the replacements of the replacements are all exempt from Kriat Shema and Shemoneh Esrei. Is this referring to the horses in our city? If the Mishnah, and likewise the Shulchan Aruch, exempts those carrying the coffin, their replacements, and the replacements of the replacements from the Torah obligation of Kriat Shema, any person of intelligence can see how great a mitzvah it is! Here, unfortunately, that mitzvah is abandoned. . .

May Hashem repair our breaches with mercy, and may death be eliminated . . .

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 start with 5758 (1997) and may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.

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