Rashi quotes a Gemara (Sotah 35a) that the Spies—as punishment for their negative report about Eretz Yisrael—died in a plague: Rav Shimon ben Lakish states they died an unusual death (misah m’shuneh). Rav Chanina bar Papa elaborated, based on an exposition by Rav Sheila, that when they died their tongues became elongated and stretched to their navels, and worms started crawling back and forth between their tongues and their navels.
Rashi says they suffered a “midah k’neged midah” (“measure for measure”) punishment. The simple reading of Rashi is that they sinned with their tongues (through speech), and therefore their punishment involved this grotesque distortion of their tongues. We might wonder, however, why would it not have been sufficient to punish them midah k’neged midah by having their tongues fall out or somehow become paralyzed so that they could not speak anymore? What is this business of having their tongues become elongated and stretched all the way down to their belly buttons? Why is that too part of the midah k’neged midah?
This is a question asked by the Tolner Rebbe, who provides a lengthy and beautiful exposition to answer this question. I will only be sharing brief parts of his much longer Dvar Torah. In order to answer this question, he calls to our attention—as is his holy style—three very interesting stylistic inferences (diyukim) that appear in the pesukim of our parsha.
Diyuk #1: Upon return of the Spies from their mission, the pasuk says, “They went and came to Moshe and to Aharon and to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel, to the Wilderness of Paran at Kadesh, and brought back the report to them (va’yasheevu osam davar – literally ‘they returned their answer’) …” (Bamidbar 13:26). However, the next pasuk says: “They reported to him and they said (va’yesapru lo va’yomru lo), ‘We arrived at the Land to which you sent us, and indeed it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.'” (Bamidbar 13:27). The Tolner Rebbe asks—and this is really the question of the Ohr HaChaim haKadosh—why the change in expression from va’yasheevu osam davar to va’yesapru lo va’yomru?
Diyuk #2: When pasuk 26 originally says they came back with their report, it says they reported to “them”. Who is “them”? Moshe, Aharon, and Klal Yisrael. But in pasuk 27, it suddenly says they told “him”. Who is “him”? Moshe Rabbeinu. Why did they switch? What are they telling Moshe Rabbeinu that they are not sharing with Aharon and the rest of Klal Yisrael?
Diyuk #3: Sefer Devorim is known as Mishna Torah. The first several parshiyos of Sefer Devorim are really just a synopsis of what happened to Klal Yisrael in the Midbar Listen to how the pesukim there describe the incident of the Spies (Devorim 1:22 – 25): “All of you approached me and said, ‘Let us send men ahead of us, and let them spy out the Land for us and bring word back to us—the road on which we should ascend and the cities to which we should come.'”; “They took in their hands from the fruit of the Land and brought it down to us; they brought back word to us and said, ‘Good is the Land that Hashem, our G-d gives us!'” Up until that point, Moshe Rabbeinu does not say anything bad about them! That is not the story of the Meraglim! Eventually, Moshe tells the rest of the story, that the people were too frightened to go into the Land. But that is not the real story. The real story was that the Spies themselves had scared the people with their slanderous report of Eretz Yisrael.
In order to answer the three questions raised by these “diyukim,” the Tolner Rebbe explains that the answer lies in the first diyuk – the connotation of the difference between “va’yasheevu osam davar” and the word “va’yesapru“.
“Va’yasheevu osam davar” means I send you on a mission, I ask you to get the facts, you ascertain the facts, and you report the facts as they are—without editorial comment—just the cold hard facts; no assessment, no elaboration, just the things as they are.
Va’yesaper implies Sipur—the telling of a whole elaborate story. We are familiar with the mitzvah of Sipur Yetzias Mitzrayim. The mitzvah of telling the story of the Exodus is not to sit down at the Seder and say to your children: “We were slaves, the Ribono shel Olam took us out of Egypt, let’s eat.” Sipur implies questions and answers, beginning with “Gnus” and ending with “Shvach“—telling over the whole story. There is a difference between a report which is just the facts and a story which embellishes the dry facts.
The Ramban writes that the aveyra of the Meraglim was precisely the fact that they went beyond merely reporting facts. They did not stop at the “Va’yasheevu osam davar” but rather they went into their own editorial comment called “Va’Yesapru lo“. The Ramban gives an example: Moshe Rabbeinu asked them to report back about the land—whether it was fertile (shmeinah) or infertile (razah), whether it had trees or not. They answered affirmatively to each of those questions. The land was fertile, it had trees, and they brought back fruit to demonstrate this. There was nothing wrong, likewise, in reporting that the inhabitants lived in fortified cities. All this was true and is accurately described in Sefer Devorim, as explained in diyuk #3. However, their aveyra was in the word “Efes…” (But all that is worthless) “…for the nation there is strong.” That is editorial comment. It is Sipur. Nobody asked them for that. That was not their mission.
Now, says the Tolner Rebbe, we understand the change in language. First the Torah says that they gave their report – va’yasheevu osam davar. Perfect. No aveyra there. They gave this report to everyone. But then… va’yesapru lo. The Tolner Rebbe quotes the sefer Arvei Nachal, who ties in the second diyuk. He says that they went over to “him”—specifically to Moshe—and whispered something into his ears. When the nation sees the Spies whispering something into Moshe’s ears, what does that encourage? “What’s the rest of the story?”
The Arvei Nachal says that this was part of the plot. The Spies told Moshe alone, in order to pique the curiosity of the rest of the people: “Hey, what are they whispering to him? Is there something that he knows that we don’t know?” The people then pressed the Spies for this “privileged information” and they let word of their editorial comments get out among the people.
Now we understand, says the Tolner Rebbe, the midah k’neged midah of the punishment mentioned in the Gemara in Sotah. Their tongues became elongated—indicating their sin was that they spoke too much! They spoke too much, so they wound up with too much tongue!
The Gemara in Eruchin 15b contains a lengthy passage detailing the evils of Lashon HaRah. The verb used in describing someone who speaks Lashon HaRah is invariably not haMedaber Lashon HaRah, as we might expect, but rather haMesaper Lashon HaRah. Engaging in slander always involves ‘story telling’. When someone tells the ‘cold facts’ (e.g., this fellow went bankrupt), he is engaging in dibur (speech). But when he starts elaborating and building it up into story content (e.g., you will never guess what I know about this fellow…, do you want the scoop why he went bankrupt?), that is being MeSaper Lashon HaRah. It is the process of adding the salt and pepper to the dry facts, revealing the “secret” behind the facts. That is the real aveyra of Lashon HaRah. We are not saying that someone who is Medaber Lashon HaRah (sticking to the basic uncomplimentary facts) is a Tzadik. But someone who elaborates and makes it into a juicy story, he is the real MeSaper Lashon HaRah that the Talmud is discussing.
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.
- 1253 – Carrying Nitroglycerin on Shabbos for Heart Patient / Candy for Diabetic? Mutar or Asur
- 1297 – Oh Oh Some-one Took My Tallis by Accident and Left His; Can I Use His Tallis
- 1341 – A Beautiful Talis: Is That Called Hidur Mitzvah and Other Talis Issues
- 1385 – Techeiles Today-Why Not?
- 1429 – Must You Wear Tzitzis When Exercising or Playing Sports?
- 1473 – Must You Check the Tzitzis of Your Talis Every Morning?
A complete catalogue can be ordered from the Yad Yechiel Institute, PO Box 511, Owings Mills MD 21117-0511. Call (410) 358-0416 or e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.yadyechiel.org/ for further information.