Torah Weekly

For the week ending 21 June 2008 / 18 Sivan 5768

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 Eye Of The Beholder

“The Land of Israel is very good.” (14:7)

“I don’t know how you live in this country... You’re living in the Third World. It’s dirty and dangerous. It’s beyond my comprehension why someone with a decent standard of living would uproot himself and live in a Levantine slum.”

Why is it that to some people the Land of Israel seems so beautiful while others struggle to see its beauty and leave disappointed?

Once there was a beautiful princess who had many suitors for her hand in marriage. Obviously she could only marry one of them and so she devised a plan to select the more promising candidates. When a young man would come to woo her, her servants would usher him into an ante-chamber. On the table in front of him were some fruit and some books of Torah scholarship. The servants told him that the princess would be with him shortly. They bade him make himself comfortable and to help himself to some fruit. What the suitor did not know was that there was a spy-hole in the wall of the room. Through this, the princess would observe the aspiring groom.

If he took a piece of fruit and made a beracha with apparent concentration, or if he took up a book and began to learn intently, then she would emerge in her finest apparel and appeared as a rare beauty.

If, however, the suitor took some fruit and failed to make a beracha or idled his time away and didn’t use the opportunity to learn Torah, then she would put on torn rags, blacken her face and teeth and emerge looking like a hag.

Eretz Yisrael is that princess.

If a person comes to the Land looking for spirituality even the physical beauty of Eretz Yisrael will enchant him. On the other hand, if a person is not worthy, everything will seem dirty and dingy.

However, Eretz Yisrael will never embarrass a person. Rather than suffering the embarrassment of being rejected by the Land, Eretz Yisrael allows the person to think that he has rejected her.

  • Sources: The Ramban writing to his talmidim from Eretz Yisrael; heard from Rabbi Nota Schiller in the name of Rabbi Yosef Tzeinwort


“Send forth men, if you please...” (13:2)

One of the less felicitous expressions to enter the English language in the last thirty or so years is the verb ‘to badmouth’, to speak badly of someone. Consciously or not, however, the pedigree of such an idea goes back a couple of thousand years.

In this week’s parsha the Torah describes the mission of the spies to scout out the Land of Israel. We learn that the spies erred terribly by speaking slander about the Land.

Rashi asks why the parsha of the spies follows that of Miriam being punished with tzara’at for speaking lashon hara (lit. evil tongue) about her brother Moshe. He answers that the spies saw what happened to Miriam and they should have taken heed and not spoken evil about the Land of Israel.

Ostensibly, this is not an accurate comparison. Miriam spoke badly about her brother, about a person. How does that lesson transfer automatically to a country — to trees and stones? Maybe the Torah prohibition is limited to denigrating a human being because we can damage a person with slander and gossip. But a land? Is a land sensitive to slurs?

And yet the implication is clear that the spies should have learned from what happened to Miriam and should have applied that lesson to their report on the Land of Israel.

The Torah prohibits us from doing evil not just for the effect that it creates on others, but because of the effect is has on ourselves. It’s true that words cannot harm sticks and stones. It’s ourselves that we damage when we speak slander.

The physical always mirrors the spiritual. The Torah calls the sin of slander lashon hara — ‘evil tongue’.Meaning that the tongue itself has been made evil. It’s not just that evil has been created in the world. Not just that we have let loose a poison arrow that can never be retrieved. Our very body has been corrupted. We have made our tongue evil; our mouth bad.

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