Subscribe to a Weekly Series

Posted on June 15, 2023 (5783) By Shlomo Katz | Series: | Level:

Volume 37, No. 33
28 Sivan 5783
June 17, 2023

Sponsored by Zev and Marlene Teichman on the yahrzeit of her father, Louis Leonard Esterson (Aryeh Leib ben Yonah a”h – 27 Sivan)

This week’s Parashah opens with the Spies’ mission and their negative report about Eretz Yisrael. The Spies said (13:28), “The people that dwell in the Land is powerful, the cities are very greatly fortified, and we also saw there the offspring of the giant.” Bnei Yisrael believed this report and despaired of conquering the Land.

But one of the Spies, Kalev ben Yefuneh, spoke up against his comrades. He said (13:30), “We shall surely ascend and conquer it, for we can surely do it!” Rashi z”l explains that Kalev was saying: “Even if the land were in heaven and Moshe were to say, ‘Make ladders and go up there,’ we should listen to him because we would be successful in all he tells us to do.”

What was Kalev telling Bnei Yisrael? R’ Meir Bulman shlita (rabbi of SEHC-Knesset Yehoshua in White Oak, Maryland) explains: Some commentaries teach that the Spies were motivated by fear of transitioning from the miraculous life Bnei Yisrael lived in the desert–Mahn from heaven, water from a rock, Clouds of Glory around and above them–to the natural life they would lead in Eretz Yisrael. Kalev’s message was: Do you think life will be different in Eretz Yisrael? Even when we live a life subject to the “laws of nature,” everything is still in Hashem’s control. Our job is only to put in the effort, but the outcome–success or failure–comes from Him.

Kalev illustrated his message using a ladder as a metaphor. When one climbs a ladder, his feet must be firmly planted beneath him, but his hands must continually reach above him to pull him higher and higher. Will he reach the ladder’s top in the heavens? Yes, if he has the proper attitude.

So, too, said Kalev, we can conquer Eretz Yisrael and live in the Land subject to the laws of nature, because success is not up to us. True, our new reality will require us to be firmly planted in nature in a way that we were not in the desert, but we can succeed if we always reach for higher rungs of the ladder, i.e., we continually reach toward Hashem, for ultimate success is up to Him. (Heard from R’ Bulman, 23 Sivan 5783)


“Chevron had been built seven years before Tzo’an of Egypt.” (13:22)

R’ Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z”l (1865-1935; first Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael) writes: Our Sages say that Tzo’an was the place where Egyptian Pharaohs were raised and trained. Thus, it was a place of preparation for royalty. Paralleling this, Chevron is where King David lived during the first seven years of his reign when he was accepted by only part of the nation. There he prepared to conquer Yerushalayim and rule over all of the Jewish People. Chevron also is where the groundwork was laid for other important events in Jewish history. For example, the Torah relates that Yaakov sent Yosef “from the valley of Chevron” to visit his brothers–which led to Yosef being sold and Bnei Yisrael descending to Egypt.

Why is Chevron connected with seminal events in Jewish history? R’ Kook explains: Chevron is where the Patriarchs and Matriarchs are buried. And, its name means “connection.” Thus, it reminds us at all times of the importance of maintaining our connection to our roots.

What is the significance of Chevron being built before Tzo’an? R’ Kook answers: Our Sages say that Hashem always creates the remedy before the malady. [Thus, for example, Esther was placed in Achashveirosh’s palace before Haman rose to power, though neither Esther nor anyone else could understand why she was there.] Egypt enslaved Bnei Yisrael in the hopes of quashing the latter’s greatness even before it could blossom. Thus, the antidote–Chevron, where Jewish leaders were prepared for greatness–had to be built before Tzo’an, where Egyptian leaders were groomed. (Me’orot Ha’Rayah: Chanukah p.80)


“They have tested Me these ten times and have not heeded My voice.” (14:22)

Based on this verse, the Mishnah (Pirkei Avot 5:6) states that Bnei Yisrael tested Hashem in the desert ten times.

R’ Yehuda Lerma z”l (1580-1642; Chief Rabbi of Belgrade, Serbia) writes that Bnei Yisrael’s intention was to test a different one of the Thirteen Articles of Faith each time. (He explains elsewhere that Korach tested the remaining three.)

For example, at the Yam Suf, Bnei Yisrael said (Shmot 14:11), “Were there no graves in Egypt that you took us to die in the Wilderness? What is this that you have done to us to take us out of Egypt?” There, they seemed to be testing whether there exists a G-d that could save them.

In our Parashah, Bnei Yisrael do not question whether G-d exists, but only whether He is more powerful than the Canaanites. This effectively was testing whether Hashem is the Creator–for the Creator is necessarily more powerful than His strongest creation. (Lechem Yehuda)


“Bnei Yisrael were in the Wilderness and they found a man gathering wood on the Shabbat day.” (15:32)

“Hashem said to Moshe to say, ‘Speak to Bnei Yisrael and say to them that they shall make for themselves Tzitzit on the corners of their garments . . .” (15:37-38)

Why does the Mitzvah of Tzitzit follow the incident of the wood-gatherer?

The Midrash Yalkut Shimoni relates: Hashem said to Moshe, “This man transgressed Shabbat.”

Moshe responded, “You know that on every day of the week, a man has Tefilin on his head and on his arm, and he sees them and turns back from sinning. [In earlier generations, Tefilin was worn all day, not just during Shacharit.] Now, on Shabbat, when he is not wearing Tefilin, he sinned.

Hashem replied, “Go and give them something that they will do on Shabbat and Yom Tov. Therefore it says, ‘They shall make for themselves Tzitzit’.” [Until here from the Midrash]

R’ Gedaliah Eisman z”l (1910-2011; Mashgiach Ruchani of Yeshiva Kol Torah in Yerushalayim) asks: It is understandable that wearing Tefilin or Tzitzit can raise a person’s awareness and save him from an unintentional sin! However, the wood-gatherer sinned intentionally, as is evident from the fact that he was put to death!

R’ Eisman answers: When one performs a Mitzvah (e.g., wearing Tzitzit), and it is not done by rote or out of habit, that Mitzvah can create in him a consciousness of G-d and a connection to holiness that can prevent him from ever falling to a level where he would transgress Shabbat.

R’ Eisman continues: We say in Lecha Dodi on Friday night: “Likrat Shabbat / Toward the Sabbath–come, let us go . . .” How can one know whether he will encounter Shabbat when he goes toward it? Maybe he will find nothing! The answer is in the following lines of the song, “For it is the source of blessing”–if one lives with the awareness that Shabbat observance is the source of all blessings, then “Last in deed, first in thought”–your initial thought of encountering and experiencing Shabbat as it is meant to be will, in the end, be realized. (Gidulei Mussar: Elul V’yemei Ha’din p.24)



R’ Mordechai Yaffe z”l (Poland; 1530-1612) writes: After Ma’ariv on Friday night, it is customary to recite the paragraph beginning ‘Va’yechulu’ aloud while standing. The reason is that this recitation gives testimony that Hashem created the world, and witnesses are required to testify together while standing, which we learn from the verse (Devarim 19:17), “Then the two men shall stand before Hashem.” (Levush Malchut 268:7)

R’ Eliyahu Shapiro z”l (1660-1712; Poland and Central Europe) comments in the name of his grandfather, R’ Aharon Shimon z”l: This explains a Midrash which states: “If one recites ‘Va’yechulu’ on Friday night, two angels place their hands on his head and say (Yeshayahu 6:7), ‘Your iniquity is removed and your sin shall be atoned’.” The Halachah is that witnesses (e.g., those who sign a Get / divorce document) should be told to repent before they sign because a Rasha / sinful person is not acceptable as a witness. Likewise, when a person testifies that Hashem created the world, his sins must be forgiven so that he will be a valid witness. (Eliyahu Rabbah)

R’ Chaim Yosef David Azulai z”l (1724-1806; lived in Eretz Yisrael and Italy, but traveled throughout Europe and North Africa; known as “Chida”) clarifies: One should concentrate intensely when reciting Kiddush, and he should think thoughts of repentance, for reciting ‘Va’yechulu’ is meant to testify that Hashem created heaven and earth and that He rested on the seventh day. A sinful person is not fit to testify; therefore, one should think thoughts of repentance so that he will be fit to testify. (Avodat Ha’kodesh: Moreh B’etzba 4:143)

R’ Zvi Elimelech Shapira z”l (the Bnei Yissaschar; died 1841) adds: Know that there are several Mitzvot in the Torah that are called “Edut” / “Testimony”–among them, reciting Kri’at Shema twice a day. When doing any of these Mitzvot, one should take care to repent beforehand in order to be a kosher witness. (Derech Pikudecha: Hakdamah 6)