Dvar Torah Parshat Shelach 5776 2016

When Hashem tells Moshe to send the men into Israel to tour the land, Hashem says he should send: אִישׁ אֶחָד אִישׁ אֶחָד לְמַטֵּה אֲבֹתָיו תִּשְׁלָחוּ כֹּל נָשִׂיא בָהֶם, “one man each from his father’s tribe shall you send, everyone a leader among them.” Num. 13,2. The Torah uses the word נָשִׂיא for “leader”.
A Rabbi once pointed out an interesting fact. The word נָשִׂיא contains the Hebrew letters: Nun, Shin, Yud, and Aleph. Using some of the letters from this word you can form the word אין, which means “there is not”. You can also select other letters from this word and form the word “יש”, which means “there is”.

Some leaders “have it” and some leaders “do not have it”. That is, some leaders who think they have it and are capable may not have it, and some who do not think they have it may, indeed, really have it.

It is up to the people who choose the leaders to know who is suited for the job and who is not. The results can be drastic if the wrong people are given power.

An Upside Down World – Short Vort on Parshat Shelach 5775 2015 –

When Moshe sent the spies to the Promised Land he gave them instructions as to what they should look for. One of the things he said was for them to see what kind of people dwell in the land: וְאֶת הָעָם הַיֹּשֵׁב עָלֶיהָ הֶחָזָק הוּא הֲרָפֶה, “…and the people that dwells in it, is it strong or weak…”. (Num. 13,18)

Rashi explains that he gave them signs. If they dwell in open cities, they are strong since they evidently rely on their own strength. If they live in fortified cities they are weak.

Obviously this is not always true. Not always what we see is what the case really is. The Talmud tells a very interesting story. Rabbi Yosef became sick and fell into a trance. When he recovered his father asked him what he saw. He answered, עולם הפוך ראיתי, “I saw a topsy-turvy world. The upper class was beneath and the lower class was on top.” His father then answered him that you saw the real world. (Pes. 50a)

Most people evaluate the success of others by how rich they become or how powerful or how influential. That is not a true Jewish concept. Jewish values are measured according to the saying in “the Ethics of Our Fathers”. Who is strong? הכובש את יצרו, “he who subdues his inclinations”. Who is rich? השמח בחלקו, “he who is happy with his lot”. Who is honored? המכבד את הבריות, “he who honors others”. (Avot 4,1)

Dvar Torah Parshat Shelach 5774 2014

During their travel through the Wilderness the Bnei Israel committed two major transgressions. The first was the creation of a golden calf which was a form of idolatry. The second was the report brought back by the spies that Moshe had sent into the Promised Land. Their report created chaos among the people who broke down crying and complaining to Moshe for having taken them out of Egypt to die in the Wilderness.
Which of these transgressions would we think is more serious?

When we look at the punishment decreed for these offenses we see a very strange fact. One would think that idolatry is the more grave wrongdoing. Yet, as punishment for this act Hashem sent a plague among the people and it was soon over.

The punishment for the acts of the spies was a much more severe one. First the spies were killed immediately. For the reaction of the people it was decreed that they would not enter the Promised Land but only their children will. Also they would wander in the Wilderness for forty years.
We can deduce from this fact that an act, as severe as it is, is over and done with. The word of the mouth can have a devastating effect for years to come. It is more dangerous than action.

Dvar Torah Parshat Shelach 5773 2013

We are told: וְכִי תִשְׁגּוּ וְלֹא תַעֲשׂוּ אֵת כָּל הַמִּצְוֹת הָאֵלֶּה, “And when you err and not observe all these commandments…”. (Num. 15,22) The Torah prescribes a specific sacrifice that had to be brought for atonement. Chazal realized that the intention could not be referring to one who transgressed all the commandments. Hence they explain that it refers to one who transgressed a specific law that in effect denies the entire Torah, which means idolatry.

After the sacrifice will have been brought the Torah says: וְנִסְלַח לְכָל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְלַגֵּר הַגָּר בְּתוֹכָם, “And all the congregation of the Children of Israel shall be forgiven, and the stranger (Ger) that sojourns among them…”. (Num. 15,26) Rabbi Soloveitchik asks why the stranger is singled out. His answer is that when the Jews journeyed in the Wilderness the strangers that came along from Egypt were the ones who caused all the conflicts and disturbances. Hence we are told that after atonement they too would be forgiven.

He further points out that at Kol Nidre night we recite this very same verse. The reason is that at the beginning of the service a statement is made that we sanction prayer with the transgressors. The atonement effected by the very day of Yom Kippur is compromised if any members of the Jewish people are excluded. We thus quote a statement from the Torah that even the strangers or proselytes are forgiven.

Dvar Torah Parshat Shelach

There is an episode mentioned in this week’s Sidra which requires some ramification. We are told about an individual who desecrated the Shabbat and Moshe had to request divine guidance as to how to deal with this issue. We are told by the Sages that there is no chronological order in the Torah. They often explain the reason for passages that are placed in juxtaposition. Why was the incident of the sacrilegious defilement of Shabbat included in the Portion of Shelach?

The Shabbat to Jewish people is a reminder of YETZIAT MITZRAYIM. We say in the Friday night Kiddush: ZECHER LEYETZIAT MITZRAYIM. The Shabbat is in remembrance of the Exodus. When the spies who were sent to tour Israel returned with a negative report Hashem decreed that this entire generation will not enter into the Promised Land. They will wander in the desert and perish there.

Perhaps this individual desecrated the Shabbat out of protest. He did not want to keep the Shabbat which is a reminder of the Exodus. He protested against Moshe, as many did before him, for taking them out of Egypt. They had already been adjusted to the bondage imposed upon them there. Why did Moshe bring them to perish in the Wilderness? Hence he protested against keeping the Shabbat which serves as a reminder of the Exodus.

Dvar Torah Parshat Shelach 5770 2010

Moshe sent the spies to see the land. Whom did he pick to go? The Torah tells us: KULAM ANASHIM, RASHE BNEI ISRAEL HEMAH, “…they were all men, heads of the Children of Israel.” (Num. 13,3) Rashi explains that when the Torah uses the expression “men” it implies important individuals. If they were such wonderful people what made them go astray?

When these people entered Israel during their journey they began to realize that living in Israel will not be the same as living in the Wilderness. Throughout their travels, Hashem was with them and Moshe lead them with miraculous means. Whenever there was a problem it was solved with the help of the Almighty. They realized that once they entered Israel things would change. There they would get involved in world politics. There they would have to use their own judgment as to what action they should take. There they would need an army to battle constantly with the surrounding enemies. Life in Israel will not be as simple as it was in the Wilderness. Hence they decided to discourage the tribes.

The truth is that Israel today is experiencing the same dilemma. What sounded like an easy proposition to start the State of Israel is proving to be a very difficult task because of the surrounding enemies near and far. We must remember, however, that even in Israel Hashem is with us and we must not despair. Hashem does not abandon us even as he was with our forefathers when they entered Israel.

Dvar Torah Parshat Shelach 2009 5769

When Moshe sent the spies to visit Israel he sent twelve, one from each tribe. At the end of the forty years journey in the Wilderness, when Yehoshua sent spies for the same purpose, he sent only two. Why the difference?

It has been suggested that in the time of Moshe, in the beginning of the difficult journey, the tribes were not united. They were all vying for positions of recognition. There was competition between them. Hence Moshe would not be able to select two individuals who would be satisfactory to all the tribes.
Forty years later, after Moshe succeeded in unifying the people, and after a new generation grew up, it was natural for Yehoshua to be able to make his selection and no tribe would question his choice. The tribes respected each other and relied on one another.

When people are united it is much easier to accomplish one’s goal and the results are also better.