Thoughts on Parsha Shelach

It is erev Shabbos and I would like to give my interpretation of the parsha. Every week I prepare for Shabbos by studying Torah, listening to mp3 shuirs, and reading Torah wisdom websites. Learning Torah is good for the soul, it makes one strong, and strengthens his or her faith.

This weeks parsha is very interesting because it gives some insight into the problems the Jewish people face in our attempt to occupy the land which Hashem has so graciously given the Children of Israel. The crucial issue which is revealed is the fear which the people had, even though they had witnessed miracles and were sustained by manna from heaven.

Parsha Shelach is Numbers 13:1-15:41 and it starts with the words:

1. The Lord spoke to Moses saying, 2. “Send out for yourself men who will scout the Land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel. You shall send one man each for his father’s tribe; each one shall be a chieftain in their midst.” 3. So Moses sent them from the desert of Paran by the word of the Lord. All of them were men of distinction; they were the heads of the children of Israel.

Then the Torah lists the names of the families which were sent into the land to spy on it. Then it continues:

16. These are the names of the men Moses sent to scout the Land, and Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun, Joshua. 17. Moses sent them to scout the Land of Canaan, and he said to them, “Go up this way in the south and climb up the mountain. 18. You shall see what [kind of] land it is, and the people who inhabit it; are they strong or weak? Are there few or many? 19. And what of the land they inhabit? Is it good or bad? And what of the cities in which they reside are they in camps or in fortresses? 20. What is the soil like is it fat or lean? Are there any trees in it or not? You shall be courageous and take from the fruit of the land.” It was the season when the first grapes begin to ripen.

What many commentators, including RaMbAm, point out is that Hashem says “Send for YOURSELF men…”. Each person needs to feel for himself that the land is good, so you should see it and know. What is so sad is that these 12 spies viewed the land, and they knew it was a land flowing with Milk & Honey, as it is reported:

26. They went, and they came to Moses and Aaron and all the congregation of the children of Israel in the desert of Paran, to Kadesh. They brought them back a report, as well as to the entire congregation, and they showed them the fruit of the land. 27. They told him and said, “We came to the land to which you sent us, and it is flowing with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 28. However, the people who inhabit the land are mighty, and the cities are extremely huge and fortified, and there we saw even the offspring of the giant. 29. The Amalekites dwell in the south land, while the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the mountainous region. The Canaanites dwell on the coast and alongside the Jordan.” 30. Caleb silenced the people to [hear about] Moses, and he said, “We can surely go up and take possession of it, for we can indeed overcome it.” 31. But the men who went up with him said, “We are unable to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we. 32. They spread an [evil] report about the land which they had scouted, telling the children of Israel, “The land we passed through to explore is a land that consumes its inhabitants, and all the people we saw in it are men of stature. 33. There we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, descended from the giants. In our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes.

So the report was that the land was very bountiful and full of people of giant stature. The fear that they felt revealed the lack of faith in the promise which Hashem had made. Two of the twelve spies, including Joshua Ben Nun, did not give an evil report, they believed in Hashem and had faith that the land could be occupied. The evil report caused the Children of Israel to cry out in fear and anger, wondering why they were led into the desert to die. Of course this caused Moses and Hashem great sadness and pain. As it is written:

1. The entire community raised their voices and shouted, and the people wept on that night. 2. All the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the entire congregation said, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had died in this desert. 3. Why does the Lord bring us to this land to fall by the sword; our wives and children will be as spoils. Is it not better for us to return to Egypt?” 4. They said to each other, “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt!” 5. Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before the entire congregation of the children of Israel. 6. Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had scouted the land, tore their clothes. 7. They spoke to the entire congregation of the children of Israel, saying, “The land we passed through to scout is an exceedingly good land. 8. If the Lord desires us, He will bring us to this land and give it to us, a land flowing with milk and honey. 9. But you shall not rebel against the Lord, and you will not fear the people of that land for they are [as] our bread. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not be fear them.” 10. The entire congregation threatened to pelt them with stones, but the glory of the Lord appeared in the Tent of Meeting to all the children of Israel.

At this point Hashem is very unhappy with his people, to the point of threatening to destroy them and making Moshe himself into a great nation. The parsha continues:

11. The Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people provoke Me? How much longer will they not believe in Me after all the signs I have performed in their midst? 12. I will strike them with a plague and annihilate them; then I will make you into a nation, greater and stronger than they.” 13. Moses said to the Lord, “But the Egyptians will hear that You have brought this nation out from its midst with great power. 14. They will say about the inhabitants of this land, who have heard that You, O Lord, are in the midst of this people; that You, the Lord, appear to them eye to eye and that Your cloud rests over them. And You go before them with a pillar of cloud by day and with a pillar of cloud by night, 15. and if You kill this nation like one man, the nations who have heard of Your reputation will say as follows: 16. ‘Since the Lord lacked the ability to bring this nation to the Land which He swore to them, He slaughtered them in the desert.’ 17. Now, please, let the strength of the Lord be increased, as You spoke, saying. 18. ‘The Lord is slow to anger and abundantly kind, forgiving iniquity and transgression, Who cleanses [some] and does not cleanse [others], Who visits the iniquities of parents on children, even to the third and fourth generations.’ 19. Please forgive the iniquity of this nation in accordance with your abounding kindness, as You have borne this people from Egypt until now.”

Here we see the mercy and kindness which Hashem wants to bestow on his nation. Moshe was wise to appeal to his sense of glory and his sense of mercy, as it is written “Hashem is slow to anger and abundantly kind, forgives iniquity and transgression, who cleanses some and does not cleanse others…”. Moshes prayers are heard by Hashem, and his wishes granted. But the L-rd tells Moshe that those who stood at Sinai and perceived the miracles will die during the 40 year sojourn in the desert.

20. And the Lord said, “I have forgiven them in accordance with your word. 21. However, as surely as I live, and as the glory of the Lord fills the earth… 22. that all the people who perceived My glory, and the signs that I performed in Egypt and in the desert, yet they have tested me these ten times and not listened to My voice, 23. if they will see the Land that I swore to their fathers, and all who provoked Me will not see it. 24. But as for My servant Caleb, since he was possessed by another spirit, and he followed Me, I will bring him to the land to which he came, and his descendants will drive it[s inhabitants] out. 25. The Amalekites and the Canaanites dwell in the valley. Tomorrow, turn back and journey into the desert toward the Red Sea.”

Hashem was very upset with the complaints and the lack of faith, even in light of the miracles which they saw with their eyes and heard with their ears. Hashem promises to Moshe and Aaron that all those older than 20 years old will never enter the land. Torah continues:

26. The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 27. “How much longer will this evil congregation who are causing to complain against Me [exist]? The complaints of the children of Israel which they caused them to complain against Me, I have heard. 28. Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says the Lord, ‘if not as you have spoken in My ears, so will I do to you. 29. In this desert, your corpses shall fall; your entire number, all those from the age of twenty and up, who were counted, because you complained against Me. 30. You shall [not] come into the Land concerning which I raised My hand that you would settle in it, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. 31. As for your infants, of whom you said that they will be as spoils, I will bring them [there], and they will come to know the Land which You despised. 32. But as for you, your corpses shall fall in this desert. 33. Your children shall wander in the desert for forty years and bear your defection until the last of your corpses has fallen in the desert. 34. According to the number of days which you toured the Land forty days, a day for each year, you will [thus] bear your iniquities for forty years; thus you will come to know My alienation. 35. I, the Lord, have spoken if I will not do this to the entire evil congregation who have assembled against me; in this desert they will end, and there they will die. 36. As for the men whom Moses had sent to scout the Land, who returned and caused the entire congregation to complain against him by spreading [a slanderous] report about the Land” 37. the men who spread an evil report about the Land died in the plague, before the Lord. 38. But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh remained alive of the men who went to tour the Land.

It is obvious Hashem wanted to give us the land. He promised it to us and there was a time the entire congregation had absolute faith in Hashem and his servant Moshe. Remember, in the Song at the Sea, the ENTIRE people sang and said “THIS is my L-rd and I will build him a sanctuary”. But the people were only human. Those who lost their faith would have no portion of the promised land.

The parsha goes on to list the types and times for the offerings to Hashem, and the mitzvah of separating of the Challah. This is how it is written:

20. The first portion of your dough, you shall separate a loaf for a gift; as in the case of the gift of the threshing floor, so shall you separate it. 21. From the first portion of your dough you shall give a gift to the Lord in [all] your generations.

Now the parsha goes on to explain the mitzvah of Tzit-Tzits or fringes {which I wear every day}. The tzittzits are to remind us of the commandments. It is written:

37. The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 38. Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them that they shall make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations, and they shall affix a thread of sky blue [wool] on the fringe of each corner. 39. This shall be fringes for you, and when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the Lord to perform them, and you shall not wander after your hearts and after your eyes after which you are going astray. 40. So that you shall remember and perform all My commandments and you shall be holy to your God. 41. I am the Lord, your God, Who took you out of the land of Egypt to be your God; I am the Lord, your God.

What I learn from this is that even when confronted by what seems to be impossible odds a person who has faith in Hashem will look beyond the physical world. Great strength alone doesnt make a winner. As King David says in Psalms:

Tehillim- Chapter 33
16. The king is not saved with a vast army; a mighty man will not be rescued with great strength.
17. A horse is a false hope for victory, and with his power, he will not escape.
18. Behold the eye of the Lord is to those who fear Him, to those who hope for His kindness,

The failure of the generation of the desert, the souls who witnessed divine revelation, they were unable to break free of the remnants of Slave mentality. They were destined to die in the desert because they couldn’t remove the shackles which kept them in fear. I meditate on this concept every day and try to see Hashems presence in every aspect of life. Even so I am corrupted by the environment and the society in which I live. I cannot say with absolute certainty I would not have been one of those who perished in the desert.

I have found several good commentaries on the parsha. Here are some links:

Shabbat Shalom!!

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One Response to Thoughts on Parsha Shelach

  1. avideditor says:

    this is cool. I hope you keep this up. This is one of my favorite parshas it reminds me to look at the gifts Hashem gives us.

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