Torah Weekly - Parshat Sh'lach

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Parshat Sh'lach

Outside Israel for the week ending June 24, 2000 / 21 Sivan 5760
In Israel for the week ending June 17, 2000 / 14 Sivan 5760

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  • My Own Space, Man!
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  • Earthenware
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    At the insistence of Bnei Yisrael, and with Hashem'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 Hashem 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, Hashem 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 Hashem's original command. Moshe warns them not to proceed, but they ignore this and are massacred by the Amalekites and Canaanites. Hashem instructs Moshe concerning the offerings to be made when Bnei Yisrael will finally enter the Land. The people are commanded to remove challah, 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 Hashem 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 is executed. The laws of tzitzit are taught. We recite the section about the tzitzit twice a day to remind ourselves of the Exodus.




    "Send forth people, if you please..." (13:2)

    If I were to ask you to conjure up in your mind's eye a picture of the archetypal untrustworthy salesman, you'd probably imagine a greasy-looking character with enough oil on his hair to fry chips. He'd be wearing a Prince-of-Wales check suit loud enough to be heard from the middle of next week. His mouth would be dripping with superlatives. And what would he be selling? Probably a used car. My apologies to the legions of upright used-car salesmen in the world, but gentlemen, your trade has a bad rap.

    "No, no, sir, that brown color is not rust. It's the original paintwork. It's called French Ochre. No, no, the tires aren't bald! These are special treadless treads. They cost a fortune new´┐ŻNo sir, 100,000 miles on a jobby like this is practically brand new! They go on forever!"

    Nothing goes on forever. We're in this world for a very short time, and while we're here we have to make some pretty important decisions -- and I don't mean where to spend this year's summer vacation. If we're Jewish, we're going to have to decide if our Jewishness will define our lives and our relationship with G-d, or will it be just another cultural affinity on par with belonging to the Seattle Large Format Camera Club.

    One of the clarion calls of my partly misspent youth was that everyone wanted "their own space (man)."

    It may come as something of a surprise to the "Love" generation (and its current spiritual heirs) that, on an ultimate level, G-d created the world for us to have our own space.

    In this week's Torah portion it seems that G-d lets the Jewish People make a terrible blunder. He tells them "Send forth people, if you please, and let them spy out the Land of Canaan." The journey of the spies led to the biggest debacle in Jewish History when Israel spurned the Land of Israel and were punished so severely that we feel the repercussions of that blunder to this day.

    In fact, G-d never told Israel to send spies. The opening of this week's Torah portion is a response to the request of the Jewish People to Moshe at the beginning of the Book of Devarim (1:22). There it clearly shows that the Jewish People instigated the idea. They clamored around Moshe in confusion and concern. He told them that the Land was a good land, an excellent Land. The Jewish People then treated Moshe like the first used-car salesman in history. Not content with his word, they demanded to send spies to verify his claims. And G-d acquiesced. He didn't command them to send spies. But He acquiesced. Why? Because G-d wants to give us the space to succeed.

    But being able to succeed also means that we must have the possibility to fail.

    That's what having "our own space" really means.

    Rashi, Ramchal


    Joshua 2:1 - 2:24


    In this haftara, Joshua's two spies explore Jericho preparing for the first conquest of the Promised Land. Our Sages teach that these two were Calev and Pinchas, two very righteous people, for Joshua wanted to avoid an outcome similar to that of the 12 spies sent by Moses. The spies enter Jericho as earthenware dealers and seek lodging at Rachav's inn. When they are detected by the authorities, their hostess proves a great ally by hiding them. She tells them that the psychological war has already been won, as the inhabitants are petrified of the Israelites, having heard about the miracles G-d did for them. She sends them off safely and they promise to save her and her family.


    The verse tells us that the spies entered Jericho "in secrecy." The term used for secrecy is "cheresh," reminiscent of the word "cheres" -- "earthenware" -- hinting that they were disguised as traveling earthenware merchants. Why specifically this disguise?

    The Chidushei HaRim explains that Joshua chose clay vessels as the ware for their disguise to remind them not to stumble as had the previous spies. Earthenware, unlike other vessels, does not contract spiritual defilement unless its interior comes in contact with the spiritually defiled. This is because -- unlike metal or wood -- the clay from which it is formed has no intrinsic worth; its sole significance is its form as a vessel. Spiritual impurity passes only when it contacts the important aspect of an entity; so, regarding clay vessels, unless it touches the interior, the useful part of the vessel, the impurity will not pass on. Joshua wished the spies to understand that a man is like an earthenware vessel: His significance lies in his duty, he has no self importance. This thought would prevent them from diverting from their assignment.

    Love of the Land
    Selections from classical Torah sources
    which express the special relationship between
    the People of Israel and Eretz Yisrael


    The name conjures up the image of Jerusalem's massive and colorful outdoor food market, but it is actually the name of one of the city's oldest Jewish neighborhoods, dating back to 1888. Only a couple of blocks from the modern downtown area of King George, Jaffa and Ben Yehuda, this neighborhood is also home to the famous Yeshiva Eitz Chaim and the Zoharei Chama compound of synagogues where non-stop prayer services are available throughout almost the entire day for market stallkeepers, shoppers, and travelers.

    Love of the Land Archives

    Written and Compiled by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
    General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
    Production Design: Michael Treblow

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