These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: CD #949 – The Shul’s Talis: Bracha or No Bracha. Good Shabbos!
Which Heart Is Speaking?
Parshas Shlach contains one of the most famous incidents in the Torah, an incident that has repercussions until this very day. The parsha begins with: “Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, ‘Send forth for yourself men, and let them spy out the Land of Canaan (v’yasuru es Eretz Canaan)…'” [Bamidbar 13:1-2]. The parsha ends with the commandment to wear fringes (tzitzit) in which the Torah says “…and you shall not spy after your hearts (v’lo sasuru acharei levavchem) and after your eyes after which you stray.” [Bamidbar 15:39].
The irony of using the same word based on the root “tur” at the beginning and the end of the Sedra is not lost on Rashi. In fact, the word “tur” (as in v’yasuru es Eretz Canaan; va’yashuv m’tur ha’Aretz; and v’lo sasuru achrei levavchm) is not a very common Biblical expression. Rashi [15:39] notes the repetitious use of the word in our parsha and comments, “The heart and the eyes are ‘spies’ for the body, procuring sins for it. The eyes see, the heart desires, and the body commits the sin.”
However there are certain difficulties in the pasuk “And you shall not ‘spy’ after your hearts and after your eyes.” The connection between the “spying” at the beginning of the parsha and the “spying” at the end of the parsha is more than mere semantics. Technically speaking, if we were to write this sentence in Modern Hebrew, we would not write v’lo sasuru acharei levavchem (plural); we would write v’lo sasuru acharei libchem (singular). We all know that we have two eyes. Therefore, it is proper to use the expression v’lo sasuru acharei eineichm (plural) regarding straying after our eyes. However, we only have one heart. Therefore, the more correct language should have been v’lo sasur acharei libchem – do not stray after your heart (singular). Why use plural when speaking of heart?
Furthermore, if as Rashi says, “the eyes see and the heart desires” then the sequence of the pasuk is also incorrect. The pasuk should read “Do not stray after your eyes and after your heart” rather than “Do not stray after you heart and after your eyes.” All these issues raise the question of what the Torah means.
The Shemen HaTov (from Rabbi Dov Weinberger) in part two of his Torah commentary suggests the following connection between the spies at the beginning of the parsha and the “spies” at the end of the parsha and also provides insight into what the expression “acharei levavchem” really means.
Chazal say that when the Torah says (in Krias Shma [Devorim 6:5]) “with all your heart” (b’chol l’vovcha) it is teaching that a person must serve the Almighty with both his good inclination and his evil inclination. It is true that anatomically we have only one heart, but Rabbinic teaching views this anatomical organ as being “two hearts” – our yetzer haTov and our yetzer haRah – the good in us and the evil in us, the part of us that wants to do good and the part of us that wants to do bad.
Normally, we know what is good and what is bad. However, many times the yetzer haRah can disguise himself and present himself in the guise of “I want to do a mitzvah, a good deed”. It is a person’s obligation to discern and to say that in spite of the fact that this looks like a mitzvah and may smell like a mitzvah in reality it is not a mitzvah. The classic example of that is the Spies. Chazal tell us that the 12 individuals sent on this Spy Mission were the elite of the Jewish people. Yet they stumbled into this terrible sin that caused Klal Yisrael to stay in the Midbar for another 40 years and, as we mentioned before, they literally triggered “mourning for all future generations” (bechiya l’doros).
How did this happen to such great people? The answer is that they thought they were doing a mitzvah by not going into Eretz Yisrael. How so? The Chiddushei HaRim (the Gerer Rebbe) explains that their desire to remain in the Wilderness is analogous to a “son-in-law who lives off the fat of his father in law” (in Yiddish — an eidem auf kest). In Europe, an eidem auf kest meant not that you would send your son-in-law a check every month so he could sit and learn in Kolel. Rather, your daughter got married and then the young couple came to live in your house. Those were the “good old days” before there was health insurance, before there was car insurance, and before “people needed their space”. After your daughter got married, you brought your son-in-law into your house and you promised him “You can live by me 3 years, 5 years, 10 years” – whatever the agreement was – and that is what happened. They moved in with the in-laws and they stayed there. If one got along with his in-laws, he stayed there and it was great. His food was taken care of, his rent was taken care of, and his utility bills were taken care of. What could be better? It was great!
The Chiddushei HaRim writes that many times it was difficult for the father-in-law to break the ties and tell his children “Fine. The 5 years are up. It is time for you to go out now and earn a living on your own, so that you can perpetuate the routine with the next generation.” This, the Chiddushei HaRim says was the situation with the Jewish people in the Wilderness. They were eidem auf kest – everything was taken care of. Their clothes were taken care of [Devorim 8:4]; their “utilities” were taken care of [the Well and the Clouds of Glory]; it was like the Garden of Eden in this world – everything was taken care of.
So what did they do all day? If you do not need to worry about making a living and you do not need to drive carpool then what do you do all day? The answer is they sat, they learned, and they devoted their lives entirely to spirituality. When it came time to go into Eretz Yisrael, it was like “Fellows, recess is over!” No more mann from Heaven and water from the Well. They would need to plow and sow. They would need to worry about the crops and worry about the weather. They would need to make a living; they would need to work by the sweat of their brows. The Spies – feeling that they were acting on their ‘Yetzer HaTov’ – tried to sabotage the Divine Plan: “Who needs Eretz Yisrael? Let’s stay in the Wilderness where we can continue to grow spiritually!”
This thought process warped their view of Eretz Yisrael. They came back with a very negative report – that it was a land that consumed its inhabitants [Bamidbar 13:32]. Who did that? It was their evil inclinations disguised as the argument “we want to live a life of spirituality; not one of materialism”. This is a classic example of the wolf in sheep’s clothing – the Yetzer HaRah is dressed up like the Yetzer Tov. That is how these great people made this mistake.
This is what the Torah means when it says “And you shall not stray after your hearts“. One must always be careful to discern which heart is speaking to him. We have two hearts. Sometimes it is very difficult to discern whether we are hearing the Yetzer HaTov or the Yetzer HaRah. Therefore Lo Sasuru acharei levavchem comes first, because you first need to determine which heart is speaking – the “good heart” or the “bad heart”. This is one of the greatest challenges of life.
We see from the Spies that this is one challenge that sometimes even great people fail to overcome — the challenge of trying to raise oneself above his own biases, his hidden agenda, and his personal advantage (negius) in choosing between various options. When the Torah says, “Bribes will blind the eyes of the wise” [Devorim 16:19] it does not only refer to monetary bribes. It could be something in our souls, something sub-conscious, that is bribing us. We all have “agendas”. One of the hardest challenges in making proper decisions in life is discerning which of our two hearts is talking to us. There are things which appear like a mitzvah, walk like a mitzvah, and talk like a mitzvah, but they are not mitzvos. In the end, they are aveiros.
May we all merit the wisdom and the fortitude of avoiding the trap of “straying after our hearts and after our eyes”.
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Sh’lach is provided below:
- 016 Mixed Seating at Weddings
- 061 The Minyan: Who Counts?
- 105 Tallis: Does it Cover Only Married Men?
- 150 Tzitzis: Must They Be Worn?
- 197 Carrying Medicine on Shabbos
- 243 The Concept of Prison in Jewish Law
- 287 Women and Tzitzis
- 333 Techeiles Today
- 377 Tzitzis: Must They Be Seen?
- 421 The Issur of Histaklus
- 465 Donning a Tallis for The Amud
- 509 Ain Ma’averin Al Hamitzvos
- 553 Women and Tzitzis Revisited
- 597 Davening at the Graves of Tzadikim
- 641 K’rias Shema and K’eil Melech Ne’eman
- 685 Art Museums
- 729 Making Tzitzis
- 773 Kavanah When Wearing Tzitzis
- 817 Davening for a Rasha to Change – Does It Work?
- 861 Do We Knead Challah in America?
- 905 The Tallis Over Your Head
- 949 The Shul’s Tallis−Bracha or No Bracha?
- 992 Your Talis Katan: Is it Big Enough?
- 1036 Our Tallis – Should It Be Beautiful? Is It Really Chayav in Tzitzis?
- 1080 Doing An Aveira for the Best Reasons?
- 1123 Taking Off Your Tallis – Must You Make A New Bracha?
- 1165 Tallis Falling off During Davening / Cleaning Glasses With Your Tallis?
- 1208 Going to Daven at a Cemetery – Not As Simple As You Think.
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