Talmud Tips

For the week ending 29 June 2019 / 26 Sivan 5779

Erchin 9-15

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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When Less Is More

“The king commanded to widen the opening source of the spring’s water so that it would be a positive sign that his kingdom em>would be successful and long-lived.”

In a beraita on our daf Rabban Gamliel teaches an important recipe for a leader to be successful over a long period of time. He tells the following story:

The Shiloach Spring flowed from an opening that was only the size of a coin. A king commanded that the opening be made larger to increase the flow of the water. However, after it was made larger even less water flowed. The surprised king therefore commanded to return the opening to its original size. As a result, the water flowed abundantly. Rabban Gamliel concludes that this story illustrates what the verse states, “G-d said: Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom, nor the strong man boast of his strength, nor the rich man boast of his riches. Rather, the praiseworthy person is to be praised for this: that he understands and knows Me, for I am G-d Who practices kindness, justice and righteousness in the world. Because in these things I delight, says G-d.” (Yirmiyahu 9:22-23)

From here we learn how a leader will achieve a life of great accomplishment and longevity. Not through false pride, self-aggrandizement and vanity, and a sense that he can be successful through his own efforts and wisdom. Only by being humble and recognizing that true success comes only with assistance from Above, will a leader find true success. (Maharsha)

  • Erchin 10b

When S’more Is Less

Rabbi Elazar ben Parta said, “Come and see the great (destructive) power of slander. The Spies slandered only trees and stones (and caused horrific consequences.) — Therefore, one who slanders another person, how much more so is his punishment!”

Initially, the gemara questions their slander of the Land as the cause for the ensuing punishment, suggesting that the Spies spoke words of heresy that brought on the tragedy. In conclusion, however, Rabba says in the name of Reish Lakish that we learn from a verse that the cause was indeed slander, as Rabbi Elazar ben Parta taught in the beraita.

What was their slander of the Land? An obvious answer is based on their words that “It is a Land that consumes its inhabitants.” (Bamidbar 13:32) Rashi in Chumash explains that wherever the Spies went they saw the inhabitants of the Land burying the dead. Referring to this sight, the Spies reported that it was a “killer Land.” (However, Rashi in Chumash explains that the constant stream of burials they witnessed was a result of a Divine decree to preoccupy the locals so that the Spies would go unnoticed.)

The Maharsha, however, offers a more subtle insight into the Spies’ slander. When they returned, they carried back only certain fruits of the Land but not all. The Land of Israel is praised for seven special types of fruit: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. The returning Spies stated, “And this is its fruit” (Bamidbar 13:27) — yet they showed only grapes, a fig and a pomegranate. In the same verse they also made mention of date-honey and milk when they called Israel a “Land flowing with milk and honey.” But they made a serious, intentional omission in what they brought back to show the nation. No wheat, barley or olives for oil. Although all seven fruits are certainly important, wheat, barley and oil are essential for making bread and other food products necessary to sustain life. The Spies brought back the “luxury fruits” for show-and-tell, but in an act of subtle slander they omitted the “meat and potatoes” of the Land, despite knowing that the people would want and need to be aware of their existence in the Land.

  • Erchin 15a

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