Torah Weekly

For the week ending 25 June 2005 / 18 Sivan 5765

Parshat Shlach

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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At the insistence of Bnei Yisrael, and with G-d's permission, Moshe sends 12 scouts, one from each tribe, to investigate Canaan. Anticipating trouble, Moshe changes Hoshea's name to Yehoshua, expressing a prayer that G-d not let him fail in his mission. They return 40 days later, carrying unusually large fruit. When 10 of the 12 state that the people in Canaan are as formidable as the fruit, the men are discouraged. Calev and Yehoshua, the only two scouts still in favor of the invasion, try to bolster the people's spirit. The nation, however, decides that the Land is not worth the potentially fatal risks, and instead demands a return to Egypt. Moshe's fervent prayers save the nation from Heavenly annihilation. However, G-d declares that they must remain in the desert for 40 years until the men who wept at the scouts' false report pass away. A remorseful group rashly begins an invasion of the Land based on G-d's original command. Moshe warns them not to proceed, but they ignore this and are massacred by the Amalekites and Canaanites. G-d instructs Moshe concerning the offerings to be made when Bnei Yisrael will finally enter the Land. The people are commanded to remove challa, a gift for the kohanim, from their dough. The laws for an offering after an inadvertent sin, for an individual or a group, are explained. However, should someone blaspheme against G-d and be unrepentant, he will be cut off spiritually from his people. One man is found gathering wood on public property in violation of the laws of Shabbat and he is executed. The laws of tzitzit are taught. We recite the section about the tzitzit twice a day to remind ourselves of the Exodus.


The Biggest Bribe In The World

"These are their names" (13:4)

Look at the order in which the Torah lists the spies in this weeks parsha. Calev is listed fourth and Yehoshua is listed fifth. The Ramban says that the Torah lists the spies according to their greatness. In other words, it cannot be that what saved Calev and Yehoshua from the mistake of the other spies was their greatness, for at least two of the spies were greater people than them, and they still failed. What was it then that allowed Yehoshua and Calev to avoid the disastrous pitfall of the sin of the spies?

Calev was married to Miriam, and one of the best protections that a man can have is a righteous wife. Yehoshua had the advantage that Moshe prayed for him to be spared from the spies conspiracy. Moshe changed Yehoshuas name from Hoshea by adding a yud at the beginning of his name. This made the first two letters spell one of G-ds names. It also changed the meaning of his name to "G-d will save." However, maybe Yehoshua and Calev had more than just these advantages going for them.

One of lifes amazing facts is that that two people can hold diametrically opposed opinions and yet cite the identical fact as proof to their opposing opinions. How is it that we can look at the world so totally differently from one another? How was it that Yehoshua and Calev saw a Land that was "very, very good" (14:7) whereas the other spies saw a "Land that devours its inhabitants"? Surely both cannot be true.

The Rambam says that the first mitzvah is to know and believe that there is a G-d. How is it possible to command belief? To whom is this mitzvah addressed? If someone already believes, then he doesn't need a commandment, and if someone doesnt believe, all the commanding in the world isnt going to make him believe. Another thing. Judaism expects every 13-year-old boy and 12-year-old girl to believe in G-d. How is itthat, at their tender ages and with their limited intellects, they are expected to accomplish something that even Aristotle, one of the all-time brightest people who ever lived, wasnt able to attain? The Rambam says that Aristotle was on such a high intellectual level that he was just one step below being a prophet. And yet, Aristotle, for all his brilliance, was not able to arrive at a belief in G-d. So how can we expect the comparatively feeble mind of a teenager to achieve belief in G-d?

The answer is that belief in G-d isnt something that requires tremendous intellect. There once was an atheist who challenged Rabbi Akiva: "Who created the world?" "G-d," replied Rabbi Akiva. "Prove it!" said the atheist. "Who wove your cloak?" asked Rabbi Akiva. Replied the other, "The weaver." "Prove it!" said Rabbi Akiva. Just as the cloak testifies to the existence of the weaver, so too the world testifies to the existence of G-d.

So if belief in G-d is something so obvious, what stops so many people from believing?


The Torah tells us "a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise". Even the wisest person loses his objectivity when faced with a bribe. Obviously the degree of bias will vary depending on the intellect of the person and the attractiveness of the bribe. However, even the smallest bribe has some kind of influence on even the greatest intellect. Whats the biggest bribe in the world? The biggest bribe in the world is to do what I want to do when I want to do it without the slightest feeling of guilt. Judaism says that your life isnt your own. You were born against your will and youll die against your will. Our lives are not our own. Ah, but if I dont believe in G-d then my life is mine! I can do exactly what I want! (Provided of course that I dont get caught.) And I dont have to worry about some "Celestial Big Brother in the Sky" watching every move I make and every step I take.

Atheism isnt logical. Its psychological.

If there were a mitzvah in Judaism that you had to travel around the world eating at the best treif restaurants in the world, a lot more people would be observant.

The spies knew that they would very possibly lose their positions as leaders when the Jewish People entered the Eretz Yisrael. It was this unconscious bias that caused them to speak unfavorably about the Land. Rather than say what they saw in the Land, their eyes saw the subconscious prior agenda that they had already dictated for themselves. Their eyes saw the agenda of their mouths, for a bribe blinds the eyes of even the wisest and the greatest.

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