Torah Weekly

For the week ending 9 June 2007 / 23 Sivan 5767

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 Forty-Day Trippers

“Moshe sent them forth…at G-d’s command; they were all distinguished men; heads of the Children of Israel…” (13:3)

There are two ways you can go through life. As a tourist or as an inspector.

A tourist goes looking to be impressed. An inspector goes looking for trouble.

As a child, few things were more impressive than the prospect of a day-trip to the seaside. Off we would go from Fenchurch Street Station in a bright red carriage. Even the wheels of the train seemed to echo our excitement, “Going to the sea… to the sea …to the sea …the sea …the sea…” they chattered away incessantly.

And at the end of an endless day we would return, red as lobsters, clutching our treasures: sea shells that spoke of ancient mariners, starfishes that would languish in some saucer over the sink until they would putrefy, and, of course, the mandatory stick of rock proudly proclaiming its heritage “Southend” imprinted into its very heart.

There’s a lot to be said for being a tourist. It’s certainly better than being an inspector.

An entire generation of the Jewish People perished as the result of the incident of the spies.

Ostensibly, however, it’s difficult to reconcile the punishment with the crime. True, the Jewish People showed a lack of trust in G-d’s ability to bring them safely into the Land, but that was only after the spies caused panic amongst the people with their negative report.

Moreover, before the spies set out, the Torah emphasizes that they were all great people, righteous to a man.

Why, then, were the people punished en masse, and what corrupted these great men?

In principle, G-d was not opposed to the spies entering the Land, as we see from the subsequent foray of Yehoshua and Calev. However, the trip of the spies to Eretz Yisrael was supposed to be no more than an excursion, sufficient to breathe the holy air of the Land, absorb its sanctity, and return refreshed and invigorated. At the beginning of their journey the spies were untainted; they were embarked on an appropriate enterprise sanctioned by G-d.

It was the people who wanted the Land checked out, not the scouts. They were not content that these spies be mere day-trippers returning with a few souvenirs and glowing memories.

They wanted an inspection.

They wanted chapter and verse, an in-depth survey: Is the Land fertile or barren? Is it possible to make a living? Are the locals going to be difficult to deal with?

These are things that G-d decides, not man.

The demands of the nation set up the spies to stumble and fall. Thus when G-d’s anger flared, it encompassed the entire people and they found themselves on the longest day-trip in history — forty years, each year corresponding to the forty-day trip of the spies.

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