Torah Weekly

For the week ending 1 June 2013 / 22 Sivan 5773

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 reconnoiter 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.


Tourist Trap

“And they cut from there a vine with one cluster of grapes, and bore it on a double pole, and of the pomegranates and of the figs...” (13:23)

It always struck me as somewhat bizarre that the Israeli Ministry of Tourism should have chosen as its symbol the Spies carrying a massive cluster of grapes. True, it’s a powerful and recognizable symbol, but the spies’ entire agenda was to denigrate the landof Israel. One would think that a tourist board whose whole raison d'être is to market the land would find the image rather inappropriate.

Maybe the early Zionists saw the spies as forbears of their chalutzim, the early Zionist settlers. At any rate, they would have done well to have read the Torah a little bit more closely; something not particularly evident in most of their propaganda and activities.

Thank G-d we have more ways of repairing the damage of the spies’ evil words than mere marketing. The mitzvah of Bikkurim — the bringing of the first fruits up to Yerushalyim — was given to us as atonement for the spies. The spies showed revulsion for the land, and in the times of the HolyTemple, the mitzvah of the First Fruits gave us the opportunity to show our love of the land. It was for this reason that the mitzvah of the First Fruits was only applicable to the seven species for which the land is praised: wheat, barley, grapes, dates, figs, olives and pomegranates.

The Mishna explains the mitzvah of Bikkurim thus: “A person going down to his field and seeing the first fig or the first grapes or the first pomegranate ties a reed around the fruit and says ‘These are Bikkurim’.”

It’s interesting that out of the seven species for which the land is praised, only three are mentioned in the Mishna. It’s not by coincidence. For it was just those three species that the spies brought back with them from the land: grapes, pomegranates and figs.

Those very fruits that the spies used for their smear campaign against the land became the subject of a mitzvah whose whole purpose was to show the dearness of the land.

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