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Posted on June 15, 2017 (5777) By Shlomo Katz | Series: | Level:

Volume 31, No. 33
23 Sivan 5777
June 17, 2017

Moshe Rabbeinu charged the Spies (13:20): “Strengthen yourselves and take from the fruit of the Land.” And so they did. The Gemara (Sotah 34a) relates that eight of the Spies carried the poles from which a huge cluster of grapes hung, one carried a fig, and one carried a pomegranate, and Yehoshua and Kalev carried nothing. The latter two Spies understood that their colleagues’ intention was to show Bnei Yisrael that the Land produces “freakish” fruit, and Yehoshua and Kalev wanted no part of this.

However, notes R’ Chaim Palagi z”l, Midrash Tanchuma seems to say the opposite, for it records that the Spies did not want to pick fruit. Kalev unsheathed his sword and said, “Either you pick fruit or I will kill you, unless you are able to kill me first.” How can these two accounts by our Sages be reconciled?

He explains: One of the ways that real property (land) can be acquired according to Halachah is by picking some of its produce. When Moshe Rabbeinu told the Spies, “Strengthen yourselves and take from the fruit of the Land,” that was his intention–that they pick fruit to symbolically acquire the Land, which would make Bnei Yisrael’s conquest of the Land easier when the time came. Moshe Rabbeinu never intended that the Spies bring any of the fruit back to show Bnei Yisrael.

Picking fruit to acquire the Land is what the Spies refused to do, until Kalev forced them to. They did want to bring fruit back to show off; but, for that purpose, they could have bought fruit in the market or collected abandoned fruit. Showing off the fruit was what Kalev and Yehoshua wanted no part in. (Birkat Mo’adecha L’Chaim: Drush L’chodesh Shevat p.578)


“Shelach lecha / Send forth men for yourself and let them reconnoiter the Land of Canaan . . .” (13:2)

Rashi z”l comments: Hashem told Moshe, “I am not commanding you to send spies. If you want, send them. I already told them the Land is good. Now, I will give them the opportunity to make a mistake!” [Until here from Rashi]

After such a warning, why did Bnei Yisrael send spies nevertheless? R’ Avraham Yoffen z”l (1887-1970; Rosh Yeshiva of the Novardok Yeshiva in Bialystok, Poland; New York and Yerushalayim) explains:

R’ Yisrael Lipkin Salanter z”l (1810-1883; founder of the Mussar movement) teaches that a person must downplay the challenges that face him. [This will be explained below.] R’ Salanter’s student, R’ Simcha Zissel Ziv z”l (1824-1898; the Alter of Kelm) says that the source for this is the rationale given by our Matriarchs Rachel and Leah for leaving Lavan’s home (Bereishit 31:14-15), “Have we still a share and an inheritance in our father’s house? Are we not considered by him as strangers?” Yaakov had just related to them Hashem’s command (31:13), “Now — arise, leave this land and return to your native land.” In the face of that command, would it have mattered if Rachel and Leah still felt at home with Lavan? We learn from this that rather than face a difficult challenge head-on (in Rachel and Leah’s case, the challenge of leaving forever their father’s home), one should use rational arguments to lessen the challenge, which is what our Matriarchs did. One should not necessarily force himself to be “brave” in the face of a challenge.

R’ Yoffen continues: There are five ways to lessen the difficulty of a challenge. The first is to think of the consequences of one’s choice: what looks at first glance like a gain may, in fact, be a loss, and vice-versa! This simple “calculation” may be a more effective tactic than working on one’s Yir’at Shamayim / fear of Heaven. In the words of R’ Yosef Yoizel Horowitz z”l (1847-1919; the Alter of Novardok), “Driving away every ridiculous thought by picturing G-d’s wrath is like using a cannon to kill a fly.” A more practical and less dramatic approach may be called for instead.

The second way to lessen a challenge, continues R’ Yoffen, is to question whether one is analyzing the situation honestly. Are one’s biases affecting his decision-making about whether something is Halachically or morally proper? [It is told, for example, that when the Alter of Novardok was debating whether to visit a certain person to request a donation for his yeshiva or for some other reason, he worried that the cold, rain or snow outside might be biasing him. To mitigate this, he would walk to the person’s house and, having removed the potential bias caused by the bad weather, would analyze whether to knock on the door.]

The third approach is to train oneself in advance to withstand challenges, just as soldiers train in peacetime for future battles. Part of this training involves understanding the purpose and benefits of facing challenges. Also, one should view every challenge he faces as preparation for the next, greater challenge. It is a big mistake, writes R’ Yoffen, to seek a life free from challenges.

The fourth way to lessen a challenge is to leave the place or situation that presents the challenge. However, this advice must be qualified. For example, if a person is in a place where he feels inferior to another person and therefore wants to subdue or hurt that person, running away won’t cure his resentment. The time to use this approach is when one feels superior to another person but knows that it would be wrong to act on that feeling of superiority by lording over the other person. In such a case, the best advice may be to distance oneself from the situation.

Finally, the fifth approach–which is particularly applicable to matters of Emunah and Bitachon / faith and trust in Hashem–is to investigate the facts to the greatest extent possible. For example, although we are called upon to believe in Hashem, the Sefer Chovot Ha’levavot [by Rabbeinu Bachya ibn Pakudah z”l (11th century; Spain)] writes that a person should seek logical proofs of our beliefs to the extent he is capable. The only qualification is that he conduct his research after he has steeled himself with Yir’at Shamayim / Fear of Heaven so that he will continue to believe even that which he cannot prove.

That is what Bnei Yisrael thought they were doing by sending spies. Hashem told them that Eretz Yisrael is good, and they were willing to believe Him. Nevertheless, to lessen the challenge inherent in believing, they wanted to investigate. That, alone, was not improper.

Then what went wrong? R’ Yoffen explains that the Spies lost sight of their mission and thought that Hashem was giving them permission to make their own decision. They forgot that their mission was to confirm what Hashem had told them; they thought they were supposed to start with a clean slate. As a result, their biases–in particular, says the Zohar, their knowledge that they would lose their positions of authority once Bnei Yisrael reached Eretz Yisrael–prevented them from seeing objectively.

[Ed. note: One might ask: Is it honest to “investigate” if we already know what conclusion we want to reach? The answer may lie in the recognition that we never investigate anything of significance without some bias or pre-conceived notion. That is human nature. Thus, adding the “bias” that we want to believe what Hashem said does not lead to a foregone conclusion; it merely counteracts whatever biases we have that might favor other conclusions.] (Ohr Ha’mussar p.159)


A Torah Tour of the Holy Land

“They arrived at the Valley of Eshkol and cut from there a vine with one eshkol / cluster of grapes, and bore it on a double pole . . . He named that place the Valley of Eshkol because of the eshkol / cluster that Bnei Yisrael cut from there.” (13:23-24)

Midrash Tanchuma teaches: Thus it is written (Yeshayah 46:10), “From the beginning I foretell the outcome, and from earlier times, what has not yet been.” Everything is visible to Hashem. Eshkol was Avraham Avinu’s dear friend (see Bereishit 14:24). He was named Eshkol because of the cluster that Bnei Yisrael would, in the future, cut from his land. [Until here from the Midrash]

R’ Chanoch Zundel z”l (Eishishok, Lithuania; died 1867) explains that the Midrash is answering two questions. First, if the Spies named the place “Valley of Eshkol,” how can the verse say, “They arrived at the Valley of Eshkol”? When they arrived, it was not the Valley of Eshkol! Second, why does the verse say, “He named that place”? If the Spies named it, the verse should say, “They named that place”! The Midrash answers these questions by stating that someone named Eshkol had lived there hundreds of years earlier. (Etz Yosef)

The word “Eshkol” is spelled without a “vav” the first time it appears in our verses, i.e., when “they arrived at the Valley of Eshkol,” and with a “vav” all the other times. The absence of one letter hints that, when they arrived, the naming of the place was not yet complete, because the event to which its name refers had not yet occurred. (Peirush Kadmon)

R’ Yehosef Schwartz z”l (1805-1865; Germany and Eretz Yisrael; Torah scholar and geographer) writes: The above Midrash suggests strongly that the Valley of Eshkol is in the vicinity of Chevron. [Chevron is where Avraham lived, and his friends presumably lived nearby.] (Tevuot Ha’aretz p.91)

There are many wadis (dry river beds) near Chevron, and there is no agreement which one is the Valley of Eshkol. (Note 244 to Kaftor Va’ferach ch.11)