Torah Weekly

For the week ending 17 June 2017 / 23 Sivan 5777

Parshat Shlach

by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
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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 againstG-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.


Torah from the (NON) Righteous?

We often find that the Torah’s description of even simple actions of our great Forefathers impart to us a treasure trove of hanhaga, hashkafa, and even halacha. Sometimes, though, it is the exact opposite — a halacha is gleaned from the acts of those far from being paragons of virtue. In our Torah portion for this week we learn fascinating halachic insights from people whom we would not consider role models by any stretch of the imagination.

Double Agents

Parshat Shlach details at length the grave sin of the meraglim, the spies, whose evil report about Eretz Yisrael still echoes, with repercussions continuing to be felt until today. Of the twelve spies sent, only two remained loyal to G-d: Yehoshua bin Nun and Calev ben Yefuneh. The other ten chose to slander Eretz Yisrael instead, and consequently suffered immediate and terrible deaths. Due to their vile report, the Jewish People was forced to remain in the desert an additional forty years, and eventually die out, before the children ultimately were allowed to enter Eretz Yisrael.

G-d called this rogues’ gallery of spies an ‘eidah’, literally a congregation. The Gemara famously derives from this incident that the minimum requirement for a minyan is a quorum of ten men, since there were ten turncoat ‘double-agents’ who were contemptuously called a congregation. If ten men can get together to conspire and hatch malevolent schemes, then ten men can assemble to form a congregation for ‘devarim shebekedusha’ (matters of holiness). This exegesis is duly codified in halacha, and all because of the dastardly deeds of ten misguided men.

Covetous Carnivores

Another prime example of halacha being set by the actions of those less than virtuous is the tragic chapter of the “rabble rousers” who lusted after meat, and disparaged G-d’s gift of the Heavenly bread called manna (munn), chronicled at the end of Parshat Beha’alotcha. The verse states that “the meat was still between their teeth” when these sinners met their untimely and dreadful demise. The Gemara extrapolates that since the Torah stressed that point it means to show us that meat between the teeth is still considered tangible meat, and that one must wait before having a dairy meal afterwards.

There are actually several different ways to understand the Gemara’s intent, chief among them Rashi’s and the Rambam’s opinions. The Rambam writes that meat tends to get stuck between the teeth and is still considered meat for quite some time afterward. Rashi, however, doesn’t seem to be perturbed about actual meat residue stuck in the teeth, but simply explains that since meat is fatty by nature its taste lingers for a long time after eating.

Yet, the Gemara does not inform us what the mandated waiting period is. Rather, it gives us several guideposts that the Rishonim use to set the halacha. The Gemara informs us that Mar Ukva’s father would not eat dairy items on the same day that he had partaken of meat, but Mar Ukva himself (calling himself ‘vinegar the son of wine’) would only wait ‘from one meal until a different meal’. The various customs that Klal Yisrael keep related to waiting after eating meat before eating dairy (including the most common minhag of waiting six hours) are actually based on how the Rishonim understood this cryptic comment.

To sum it up, although we know “minhag avoteinu Torah hi” — the custom of our ancestors is Torah — it is nevertheless interesting to note that the core requirement of waiting is based on the actions of those with less than perfect intentions. As it is stated in Pirkei Avot (4:1): “Who is wise? One who learns from everyone.”

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