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Posted on June 7, 2002 (5760) By Rabbi Pinchas Winston | Series: | Level:

Friday Night:

G-d told Moshe, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan which I will give to the Children of Israel. From every paternal tribe send one man; one prince from among them.” Moshe sent them from the desert of Paran, as G-d had instructed him They brought back an evil report to the Children of Israel of the land which they had spied, saying, “The land which we spied is a land that consumes its inhabitants and all the people that we saw there were of great stature” Just then, the Glory of G-d ap-peared by the Appointed Tent, before the Children of Israel. G-d asked Moshe, “How long will this people provoke Me? How long will it be before they believe in Me, after all the signs which I have shown them?” (Bamidbar 13:1 – 14:11)

Well, there is no better parshah to deal with the theme of Eretz Yisroel than this one, the one that specifically deals with rejection of the land, and G-d’s response to such rejection: exile and persecution. It’s right there in the Chumash, both the punishment of 39 extra years of desert-wandering, and, all the attacks from our enemies that occurred during that period.

Perhaps one of the best expressions of how life in Eretz Yisroel is intertwined with living by the Torah is the following:

… The entire Torah is written on the ground of Eretz Yisroel; every mitzvah and halachah corresponds to a specific place in Eretz Yisroel … (Emunas Etechah, p. 261)

In the spiritual sense, that is. Obviously if you look down at the ground you will not see writing, at least not the kind to which the above statement is referring. Yet, it doesn’t make a difference whether Torah is physically written on the ground, or considered to be there on a spiritual plane. It means the same thing: the very land of Eretz Yisroel is one with the words and messages of Torah!

To better appreciate the impact of this statement, and others that support it (such as:

Three wonderful gifts were given by The Holy One, Blessed is He, to the Jewish people, and all of them were given through hardship. They are Torah, Eretz Yisroel, and, The World-to-Come. (Brochos 5a)

Eretz Yisroel lacks nothing. (Brochos 36b)

A person who sees himself unclothed in Bavel in a dream is without sin (Rashi: Because outside the land there is no merit, only sin, and one who stands without clothing is like one lacking those sins); in Eretz Yisroel, he is without mitzvos (Rashi: Because there are many mitzvos there, and to be naked is a sign of being without mitzvos). (Brochos 57a)

Three inherit the World-to-Come: One who lives in Eretz Yisroel … (Pesachim 113a)

Eretz Yisroel was created before the rest of the world. (Ta’anis 10a)

G-d personally waters Eretz Yisroel; the rest of the nations receive sustenance through a messenger. (Ta’anis 10a)

Eretz Yisroel receives rain, but the rest of the world just receives the residual. (Ta’anis 10a)

Anyone who lives outside of Eretz Yisroel, it is as if they worship idols. (Kesuvos 110b)

It is better to live in Eretz Yisroel in a city that is mostly inhabited by non-Jews than to live in a city outside of Eretz Yisroel that is mostly inhabited by Jews. (Kesuvos 110b)

Anyone who walks four amos (6 – 8 feet) in Eretz Yisroel is assured a portion in the World-to-Come. (Kesuvos 111a)

One who lives in Eretz Yisroel lives without transgression. (Kesuvos 111a)

Why is Eretz Yisroel compared to a deer? Just like the skin of a deer does not contain its flesh, neither does Eretz Yisroel contain its fruit … so too is Eretz Yisroel the fastest to ripen its fruits … (Kesuvos 112a) … Just like the skin of a deer does not contain its flesh, neither does Eretz Yisroel contain its flesh when they live on her. (Gittin 57a)

Ten measures of wisdom fell to the world, nine of which fell on Eretz Yisroel, and one on the rest of the world. (Kiddushin 49b)

The air of Eretz Yisroel makes a person wise. (Bava Basra 158b)

If a murderer flees from Eretz Yisroel to Chutz L’Aretz, he is executed immediately. If he flees from Chutz L’Aretz to Eretz Yisroel, he is not executed but tried again, because the merit of being in Eretz Yisroel might allow them to find merit in his favor. (Makkos 7a; Yerushalmi, Makkos, Halachah 8)

Eretz Yisroel is a land of Da’as, and has great capacity to unify all things important in creation, especially the Jewish people (Sanhedrin 43b).

There is no wisdom like the wisdom of Eretz Yisroel (Bereishis Rabbah 16)

The goal of inheriting a portion of Eretz Yisroel has been to help each Jew find his own portion within Torah Sh’b’al Peh. (Zohar Chadash 2:137b)

… The essence of Torah Sh’b’al Peh (Oral Law) is within it (Eretz Yisroel; Pri Tzaddik, Parashas Massey 4).

— to mention but a few,) one has to appreciate the following concepts:

1. Conceptually, what is a Jew?
2. What is the purpose of creation?
3. How is This World meant to fulfill the above?

Regarding the first question, there are very strict halachic definitions of who constitutes a “Jew,” either through birth or conversion. Historically, there have ALWAY been those who have challenged the halachic definition of the Jew, but their ideas have been at best an opinion and misguided response to the TRUE definition as handed down throughout the generations. In the end, you can fool most of the people most of the time, but you can’t fool G-d ANY of the time, and the halachic definition of a Jew came from HIM at Mt. Sinai via Moshe Rabbeinu.

However, conceptually, there is more to a Jew that what fulfills the halachic requirements. A Jew is supposed to be someone who views himself as only “passing through” This World, on the way to a more spiritually dynamic and fulfilling level of existence (Pirkei Avos 4:16). A Jew is someone who is supposed to fend off spiritual stagnation, forever enhancing his or her relationship with the Master of the Universe.

For THAT is the PURPOSE of creation. All of it. Every last detail and every last electron exists merely as a stage upon which man is supposed to exercise his free-will in pursuit of oneness with his Creator (Derech Hashem 1:2:1). The fact that so few people are aware of this, and even fewer approach life with this fundamental in mind, doesn’t change the urgency of he need to do both.

How does one achieve this?

Wisdom. Wisdom is that knowledge which DIRECTLY leads and INSPIRES one to make the pursuit of G-d the top priority. You will notice that not all knowledge does this, and that some knowledge even seems to inspire just the opposite. Hence, whereas all wisdom is, by definition, knowledge, not all knowledge automatically constitutes wisdom, and one has to know the distinction between the two, and how to transform the former (knowledge) into the latter (wisdom).

The Torah’s entire role is to teach us this crucial and godly ability, without which mankind becomes like a raft floating aimlessly and helplessly down a rushing river. Be it in the form of a narration, a story, or a mitzvah, the goal is the same: to train the mind to distinguish between simple knowledge and profound wisdom, and how to extract out of the former the latter.

By nature, the world should have been able to teach us this, and for some, it did. For, the Midrash teaches that:

When G-d created the world, He looked into the Torah like a blueprint. (Bereishis Rabbah 5:2)

Thus, the world, just like an actual building, is a three-dimensional expression of a multi-dimensional conceptual reality. One should, theoretically, be able to look at every last detail of physical creation and surmise Divine wisdom from within them.

However, with the exception of a few, very spiritually talented individuals, this has not be the case, and the physical world has been totally misread — and, as a result, abused — throughout our long and twisted history. Consequently, in the year 2448 from creation (1313 BCE), G-d handed over the set of “blueprints” to make our job of becoming wiser, a lot easier. Together with this “blueprint” of creation, the world is supposed to help us become wiser and closer to G-d!

Apparently, though, there is one place in the world where the Torah actually merges with the physical reality, making the lesson of life a matter of fact: Eretz Yisroel. Even today, in a world that has become exceedingly materialistic, Eretz Yisroel remains to be a physical projection of the Torah, even though so many who live on the land practice just the opposite, and try to undermine Torah.

However, this reality does not change the fact that a Jew who walks the land can directly connect to the Torah through the soil itself, or, by merely inhaling the air. For the sake of free-will, Jews have to be able to reject this phenomenal opportunity, just like as in the desert, when some turned against G-d and Moshe Rabbeinu, even as the Divine Presence hovered above their heads!

However, for the Jew who wants to be a Jew in the halachic and philosophical sense of the term, by constantly enhancing his or her relationship with his or her Creator, and use the Torah to do so, then such people can do so with far less steps, far fewer intermediaries by simply BEING in Eretz Yisroel, for ONLY in Eretz Yisroel does Torah, the land, and the World-to-Come merge and become one. To LEARN there, and to LIVE there, well, that’s another level all together!

This is why rejection of Eretz Yisroel in this week’s parshah is seen as rejection of G-d, and for that matter, the entire purpose of creation. For, anyone who truly wants to fulfill the purpose of creation and put their closeness to G-d above and beyond anything else in life, by definition, and, at the very least, has to yearn to become one with the land himself. And YEARNING to be there is the first step to getting the proper help from Heaven to fulfill that dream in both the halachic and philosophical sense.

Shabbos Day:

They brought an evil report of the land which they had spied to the children of Israel (Bamidbar 13:32)

The truth is, the spies were not the first to reject Eretz Yisroel. The first one to refuse an invitation to live there was Yisro himself, Moshe’s father-in-law:

Moshe said to Chovev ben Re-uel the Midianite, the father-in-law of Moshe, “We are traveling to the place of which G-d said, ‘I will give it to you.’ Come with us, and we will treat you well, because G-d has spoken about good for Israel.” He answered him, “No, I will instead go to my land, to my family.” (Bamidbar 10:29-30)

However, in spite of Yisro’s reasoning, Moshe pleaded further:

He said, “Please, do not leave us, for you know our encampments in the desert [Rashi: you know how we camp and you have witnessed the miracles] … (31)

Nevertheless, in the end, it was to Midian that Yisro went, in spite of the personal pleas of the great Moshe Rabbeinu, and his own son-in-law.

Rashi explains what Moshe’s thinking was — aside from his own personal desire to have his father-in-law join his family in the Holy Land:

“… in order that people should not say, ‘Yisro did not become a convert out of love; at first he thought that converts would also have a portion of the land, and now that he has seen that he does not have a portion, he has left them.” (Rashi)

In other words, according to Rashi (who is quoting the Sifra), Moshe was worried about his father-in-law, that onlookers would question the sincerity of Yisro’s conversion. However, all Yisro had to do was keep up his performance of mitzvos back in Midian, which he did, as Rashi adds:

Chovav … because he loved (chibaiv) the Torah … (Rashi, 10:29)

— and everyone would then know that he had become a full-fledged Jew, and remained that way. They (critical onlookers) might understand that, with no promise of his personal portion of Eretz Yisroel, he would want to return back to the place he did have land.

The truth is, as Rashi later points out (10:32), Yisro’s descendants DID receive a portion of Eretz Israel — Yericho — just as Moshe had promised. Furthermore, as we have just said, Yisro’s life in Midian would have attested to the sincerity of his conversion, so what then was Moshe worrying about that he insisted so strongly that Yisro accompany them all the way to their final destination?

To begin with, let us recall Yisro’s initial entrance into the camp of the Jewish people, and the effect it had on the entire Jewish nation, back at the beginning of the parshah that bears his name. That is the parshah within which the Jewish people made the critical and irreversible error of rejecting Moshe’s direct teachings — at the advice of Yisro!

Yisro, perhaps in his innocence and in good faith, had suggested that the authority of Moshe be shared, in order to spare Moshe the burden of judging the entire nation daily, and to spare the nation the burden of having to line up before Moshe for judgment. However, as we see toward the end of Moshe’s life, the Jewish people were held accountable for this dramatic turn of events:

“How can I carry you as a burden by myself, with the trouble you cause, and your fighting? Appoint wise men of understanding with good reputations amongst the tribes, to become leaders, [I told you].” You answered me and said, “What you said is good for us to do!” (Devarim 1:12-14)

“You immediately decided that it was beneficial to you. You should have really answered, ‘Our teacher Moshe! From whom is it more fitting to learn– from you or your student?’ … But I knew what you were thinking. You thought, ‘Many judges will now be appointed over us; if one does not recognize us, we will bring him a gift and he will show us favor!’.” (Rashi)

Now, the Jewish people were poised to accepted the Divine gift of Eretz Yisroel, and a lifestyle different from all others they had previously known:

For, the land you are about to possess is not like Egypt from where you came, and in which, if you sowed seeds, you had to bring water to them as you would for a garden of green herbs. The land you are about to possess has mountains and deep valleys, and is watered by rain from the sky-a land which Hashem, your G-d, cares for, Hashem, your G-d pays attention to continuously the entire year. (Devarim 11:11-12)

Moshe knew that all transitions are difficult, but few can be as difficult, perhaps, as that from the desert to Eretz Yisroel — when the “desert” is one that blooms everywhere you go, food falls from Heaven, clothing is never an issue, and personal hygiene is as simple as walking. There was bound to be backlash.

However, perhaps, without an instigator, the people would have held their peace until living on the land long enough to witness the hand of G-d in their everyday lives. Perhaps, over time, the backlash would have receded until it became forgotten, and the people, their Torah, and their land would have all become one with their Creator.

And, perhaps, it was Yisro’s departure — so close to that of the account of the spies on their mission to better “appreciate” the land of Eretz Yisroel — that set things in motion to cause many Jews to eventually reject Eretz Yisroel for their OWN reasons. Could it be THIS that Moshe Rabbeinu was also trying to avoid by pleading with his father-in-law to accompany them to … to where?

… to the place of which G-d said, ‘I will give it to you.’

You mean Eretz Yisroel, don’t you Moshe Rabbeinu?

Physically, yes. But spiritually? It is “The Place” that G-d is giving to us — HaMakom — one of the principle names used to describe G-d in the capacity as being the “place” of all existence! In other words, Moshe Rabbeinu was teaching Yisro — and all in attendance throughout ALL the generations: Having a piece of the land is one thing, but having a piece of G-d is something altogether different, and that is something that you can only really have in Eretz Yisroel, as the Talmud confirms:

Anyone who lives outside of Eretz Yisroel, it is as if they worship idols. (Kesuvos 110b)

and advises:

It is better to live in Eretz Yisroel in a city that is mostly inhabited by non-Jews than to live in a city outside of Eretz Yisroel that is mostly inhabited by Jews. (Kesuvos 110b)

And, maybe, if Yisro didn’t get the message then, perhaps, the Jewish people previously influenced by him would in the next parshah, and all the generations to follow. We know what happens in this week’s parshah. We’re still finding out what’s happening to the Jews in all the generations since.


G-d spoke to Moshe, saying, “Speak to the Children of Israel and tell them: When you come to the land to which I am bringing you and you eat the land’s produce, you must separate an elevated gift for G-d. You must separate the first portion of your kneading as a Dough-Offering (Challah) (Bamidbar 15:17-20)

To most, “challah” is that delicious bread we savor on Friday nights right after we recite Kiddush and drink the wine. However, to those who bake their own challos, it is also a term denoting the obligation to remove an olive-size piece of dough from each batch of dough that is about two pounds, ten ounces in weight. If the dough is at least three pounds and 10.7 ounces in weight, then a special blessing is recited at the time of the removal.

In Temple times, challah was one of the gifts given to the Kohen by the people. However, today, it is put into the oven and left there until it becomes inedible, after which it is disposed of in a somewhat honorable way. Many religious women make a point of baking their own challos each week (when time permits), particularly on Erev Shabbos, just to perform this mitzvah.

This latter point is interesting because of the fact that this mitzvah appears in this week’s parshah, when considering the Talmud’s explanation as to why this mitzvah has particular relevance to women:

Why [does a woman have the mitzvah of] Challah? Rav Chisda said, The Holy One, Blessed is He, said, “Š ‘First’ I called you, and regarding ‘First’ I have warned you Š” (Shabbos 31b)

This explanation is somewhat vague, but when we learn the following, it becomes clearer:

Rebi Yochanan son of Chanina said: Twelve hours there were on that day (Day Six of creation); the first hour, his dust was gathered together; the second hour Š he was made a lifeless form Š the third hour, his limbs were shaped Š (Sanhedrin 38b)

In other words, when G-d set about making the first man, He did so in a manner that resembles the way we make bread. Into one location G-d gathered dust of the earth like flour being brought together from which to make a dough. And then, like the baker who pulls off an olive-size piece of dough from the batter as Challah, so, too, did G-d “extract” Adam from the ground, giving him the status as the “Challah” of creation.

Thus, when “she ate and also gave to her husband with her” (Bereishis 3:6), Chava caused the “Challah of creation” to become blemished. Thus, as part of the tikun for this, a woman elevates her own dough each week, as well as light Shabbos candles for very much the same reason.

However, as true as this may be, in this week’s parshah, women are the heroes. For, as the Midrash points out, the women were not involved in the sin of the spies. Quite the contrary! the women agreed with Kaleiv and Yehoshua, who urged the Jewish people to overcome their fears of the new land and go up and possess it as a gift from G-d! So why place this mitzvah here, in this week’s parshah?

The answer to this question also lies in an earlier parshah, Naso, which contained within it the mitzvah of the Sotah — the suspected adulteress. For, if one considers the essence of the sin of the Sotah, it is that she was discontent with her lot in life, and felt compelled to go beyond her “misgeret,” her Torah framework to achieve a sense of personal completion and gratification.

This was, in the case of the first woman, Chava, at the prompting of the snake, the proverbial yetzer hara, whose whole drive it is to make man unhappy with his lot in life, in order to drive him to forever seek more, and more, and more. Until the snake had arrived on the scene, Chava had been well aware of the existence of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but, content with her lot in life, had felt no need to trespass the command of G-d and eating from “stolen waters.”

However, the snake pushed her (literally and figuratively) to consider the additional “benefits” she could achieve if she went beyond that which was permitted to her and “eat” from that which was not. The snake, the yetzer hara, the voice of discontentment — whatever you want to call it — convinced Chava that without the “more,” she would be less, and, it is from within this mad pursuit of “more” that mankind usually stumbles and errs.

This is one of the reasons why Naso ended with the Inauguration-Offerings of the princes, which, in spite of the fact that they were carbon copies of each other, were presented by the Torah each time as if they were unique, brought for the first time. Was it merely a lack of spiritual creativity that made each tribe replicate the previous ones, or, a message about just the opposite?

Like the Shemonah Esrai, which we doven EACH DAY, at least THREE TIMES A DAY, we learn from the Prince’s repetition the idea of working WITHIN a misgeret to achieve spiritual, and ultimately, physical completion. By virtue of the fact that no two people are alike, and no two moments are the same, no two prayers can be, or should ever be, the same. And, over the course of a lifetime, one’s prayer should only improve at binding a person to G-d.

Change in life is essential, and it is the essence of growth. However, “change” can be achieved in one of two ways, and each can be valid depending upon the circumstances of the moment. One way is to change the world around us, while leaving our own lives intact and unchanged, for better or for worse. Or, the world can be left alone, while we make changes to ourselves from within, forever refining our character traits until we are able to make the best out of every spiritual situation the world throws our way. In general, that is the most honest and productive path to change and growth a person can travel.

Rejection of Eretz Yisroel by the spies represented a rejection of a Divinely-ordained misgeret, and the need to work within a specific framework in order to derive spiritual and physical satisfaction. For, such a lifestyle places great demands upon the individual to grow and change from within, especially in areas such a relinquishing self-reliance for reliance on G-d for things such as livelihood.

This was something, apparently, the men did not want to do, but something, on the other hand, the women were prepared to take on. As they say, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me”; the women’s rejection of the spies’ loshon hara and advice represented a tikun from the days of the snake and Chava. Theirs was a tikun that was embodied in the mitzvah of Challah, a symbol of the success achieved by the women in this week’s parshah, and, a stern warning to the men, and all the generations of the Jews to follow who would similarly reject the centrality of Eretz Yisroel in their pursuit of Torah and closeness to G-d.


Praise G-d, all nations; praise Him, all the peoples! For His kindness has overwhelmed us, and the truth of G-d is eternal, Halleluy-ah! (Tehillim 117:1-2)

Normally, I quote the first two verses of the psalm as an introduction to the rest of the tehillah yet to come. However, this time, this IS the rest of the tehillah yet to come, and the shortest chapter of all of Tanach (Torah, Prophets, and Writings) — two verses in total.

Had this been the last psalm King David ever wrote, we might be able to assume that he hadn’t had enough time to finish it. After all, he had been a very busy man, what with keeping the Philistines in check on one side, his personal enemies in check on the other side, and building the Jewish nation in the meantime. However, since it is not the last psalm, and that it ends with the word “Halleluy’ah,” compels us to assume otherwise: this is the whole tehillah!

The Radak explains this to symbolize the simplicity of the days of Moshiach, when G-d’s rulership will be 100% clear to all (those who survive Gog and Magog, that is), as will His awesome kindnesses bestowed upon all of mankind throughout history. Without a yetzer hara to reject G-d (Succah 52a), we will need fewer words to inspire us to serve Him with joy.

This is in keeping with the following Talmudic passage:

Rav Acha son of Chanina said: Had not Israel sinned, then only the five books of the Torah and the Book of Yehoshua would have been given to them, since it informs how the land was to be distributed among Israel Š (Nedarim 22b)

In other words, the more of Torah that we accept for face value, the less we have to be told what to do, and warned about doing the opposite. By complicating our spiritual lives, we make Torah more complex for ourselves. It’s one of those strange twists of life: the more one breaks away from what he perceives as the “burden” of Torah, the bigger a burden it becomes for him.

That is the nature of truth. Truth is G-d’s “seal,” and therefore, an absolute and inescapable reality. Someone who lies is forced to add falsehood to falsehood in order to sustain the initial lie. Truth is simplicity and simplicity is truth. Which is why, explains the Maharal, the World-to-Come was made from the Hebrew letter “yud,” which, unlike other letters of the Aleph-Bais, is simple and not composed of other letters.

This is why, you will find in life and over history, that true Truth-Seekers/Achievers, can be content with very little and revel in a simple life. They don’t feel the need to have to constantly expand their misgeret to include more “toys” and “devices” to make them happy; quite the contrary, such aspects of life become distracting and burdensome, at least spiritually.

For, a person has very little time and energy to use to relate to G-d, to improve his relationship with his Creator, and every physical device and desire, by definition, takes up time and energy. The more the physical world plays a role in a person’s life, the more this is true, and the more damaging it will be.

The spies rejected the PHYSICAL complexity of Eretz Yisroel, and, as a result, lost the SPIRITUAL simplicity of Eretz Yisroel. Eretz Yisroel is not like other lands, physically-speaking, then, and now. Physical success in this country relies heavily on one’s spiritual relationship with G-d, and that requires much work and internal change.

That can be very tiring, but, at the same time, spiritually exhilarating! For, it is the complexity of physical life at this stage of history that arouses us to reach out for G-d; it makes turning to G-d and relying upon Him more real and a much greater function of daily life. That is good. For a Jew, that is VERY good.

But, as Dovid HaMelech wrote and alluded to above, the time will come when both the spiritual AND physical life will become simple, in the days of Moshiach, when there will no longer be a yetzer hara to confront us and make us rationalize against that which we know to be true in our hearts.

However, THEN, we will receive NO reward for choosing that right path because, without a yetzer hara, we will do so naturally. It is NOW, before Moshiach comes and ushers in that near-perfect existence, that we earn reward for putting spiritual values above materialistic ones. It is now, through our free-will choices, that we earn merit in the ultimate Eretz Yisroel: the World-to-Come, for:

Three wonderful gifts were given by The Holy One, Blessed is He, to the Jewish people, and all of them were given through hardship. They are Torah, Eretz Yisroel, and, The World-to-Come. (Brochos 5a)

They are, at one time, different, yet, the same.

Have a great, introspective Shabbos,
Pinchas Winston