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Parashat Shlach Lecha
by Adrian Kelaty, Dvar Yerushalayim Student
Gur Aryeh



Why does the story of the Meraglim (spies) follow immediately after the section about Miriam?

We are told that the women of that generation were righteous. However, when Miriam spoke against Moses, she gathered support from some of the women. Then the spies rose against Moses, too, and we are told that all of this occured as a result of Miriam's lashon hara.

We see that the names of the spies ("every man a leader among them") were different to the leaders who, some three months earlier, bought offerings for the dedication of the altar. Could it be that they had all died in such a short time? The answer is that each tribe appointed a sub-leader whom they felt would be more suitable to spy out the Land. Thus the tribe of Levi did not send a spy, as they were not to receive a portion in the Land.

Moshe Rabbenu changed one of the spies' names from Hoshea to Yehoshua (Joshua). We are told that the yud was taken from Sarai who became Sarah. Why was the yud merited to Hoshea? It was Sarah's desire that Isaac inherit the Land of Israel in its entirety. Joshua was entrusted to fulfill this desire, so he had a just claim to have the extra letter added to his name.

A few pesukim further, we see Israel not just descibed as "the Land", but "the Land of Canaan". Also, the phrase "latur" (to explore) is used. That is because Moshe Rabbenu was telling the spies to explore the Land on a spiritual level, as only if the Canaanites had degenerated enough would the Jews be allowed to enter the Land. When Moses said "Are there trees in it?" he meant "Is there a man morally fit enough to defend them through his merit?"

He told the spies to "climb the mountain", referring to conquering the Yetser Hara (evil inclination). He wanted them to fulfill the mitzvot even while on the road. He continued by telling them to "ascend...in the south", i.e. Hebron, which at that time was inhabited by giants. His idea was for the spies to initially see the parts of Israel that would be more difficult to conquer. Then the spies would see the parts of Israel inhabited by ordinary people, and would come back with a positive report, as the most recent memories would be most vivid. However, the spies did the opposite; they went straight to the northern border and saw Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai, the giants. Thus their report was slanderous.

Why was Moshe Rabbenu so keen to have the fruit of the land? He wanted to show the people the quality of the fruit, but also he wanted to take trumot u'maaserot (tithing).

We see an incongruity in the pasuk: "They ascended in the south, and he arrived in Hebron". Why in the singular? The Midrash tells us that the spies knew about the giants who lived there, and only one man volunteered for the job - Caleb ben Yefuneh. He wanted to visit Machpelah (the Cave of the Patriarchs) and pray to be saved from the conspiracy of the spies, on behalf of the Jewish People. But why didn't Joshua go with him?

(1) Moshe had given him a bracha, and he didn't want to go against his teacher by implying that it wouldn't have been accepted.

(2) He wanted to stay with the spies to keep an eye on what they were up to.

What was the spies' first sin? They returned to Moshe and Aaron and said: "We arrived at the Land to which you sent us" - implying no personal identification or attachment to the Land that had been the deepest aspiration since the days of the Patriarchs. Further to this, they claimed that the Land "also flowed with milk and honey" - they were comparing Israel, unfavourably, with Egypt.

We see that Caleb answered the people, saying "We shall surely ascend and conquer it!" Once again, where was Joshua?

It was only Caleb who saw the giants, and he interpreted it positively, saying that it showed the goodness of the Land. Therefore when the spies said that they had seen the giants, they were lying, and it was only correct for Caleb to object on his own. We subsequently learn in the Book of Joshua that it was Caleb himself who eventually destroyed the giants of Hebron.

However, the spies continued by saying that it is "a Land that devours its inhabitants". Chazal tell us that wherever the spies went, Hashem caused one of the Canaanite leaders to die (one of which was Job), so that the inhabitants would constantly be attending funerals and thus not harm the spies. Therefore, the spies should have said "a Land that devours its leaders". They felt that if they said this, it would not sufficiently frighten the people, so they changed it to "inhabitants". Perhaps, as leaders themselves, they felt for their own lives, and they slandered the Land so that they could return to Egypt and become "leaders" there.

The spies then started to use their influence on an emotional level. Each spy cried woefully in his house until all of his household was crying, and eventually the entire people were wailing and weeping about the 'impending disaster'.

We see further that Moshe Rabbenu prayed to Hashem and He forgave the people, saying that "My servant Caleb" will possess the Land. Again we see Joshua is not mentioned. This is a special merit for Caleb, who acted with "zerizut" (immediacy) while Joshua had paused and remained silent. Thus we see the importance of grabbing a mitzva as soon as it presents itself.

Hashem then decreed that as a result of the spies slandering, 15,000 Jews will die every year for forty years, corresponding to the forty days that the spies were in Canaan. However, Hashem killed the spies immediately - and they were still slandering the Land with their last breath.

The Bnei Yisrael were now commanded to give offerings to Hashem. Part of their sacrifice was "yayin nesech" (wine libation). This was an atonement for the large cluster of grapes which the spies bought back as part of their slandering.

The next three pesukim deal with gerim (converts) who wish to make fire offerings. Why are we not simply told this information in one pasuk? Hashem is telling us that there are three types of converts: the righteous convert (such as Abraham), the conditional convert (such as Hamor ben Shechem, who converted to marry Dina) and the resident convert (who doesn't accept the Torah but agrees not to worship idols). Hashem is telling us that all of them deserve to bring these offerings.

Why is the mitzva of challah next to the mitzva of idolatry? This comes to teach us that whoever performs the mitzva of challah is considered as if he anulled idolatry. He demonstrates that Hashem is the source of all "mazon" (sustenance), as opposed to the priests of On, who claimed that giving sacrifices to their idols will provide one with plentiful bread.

Who was the man found collecting wood on Shabbat? It was Zelophehad, and his intent was for the sake of Heaven. Since Hashem had told the Bnei Yisrael that due to the sin of the spies they would not enter Israel, they foolishly beleived that they did not have to keep the Torah. Zelophehad committed this sin on purpose, so that his execution would serve as a lesson to the Jews that the mitzvot were still in force. His death left a deep impression on the entire assembly.

However, we are told that his action was incorrect. The Jews had free choice to keep the Mizvot or not, and didn't need to see someone die for violation of the Shabbat. Chazal tell us that if Zelophehad were to have sought advice for his 'martyrdom' he would surely have been advised against it.

The people started to complain to Moshe Rabbenu: "You told us Hashem is 'Compassionate and Gracious'. If so, why can't He forgive us for the sin of the spies?" Moshe answered that Hashem is Compassionate with those who sin unintentionally or in private - but not those who sin brazenly and in public.

Our sedra finishes with the third paragraph of the Shema, "Do not explore after your heart and after your eyes". Why does the Torah mention the heart first? Surely we must 'see' first and 'sin' afterwards? We are told that at first sight, the sin will present itself but will not fill our consciousness. It is only after our heart desires that we decide upon a course of action, and we fully focus on the sin with our 'eyes'.



"Insights into the Torah" - Rav Zalman Soratzkin
"The Midrash Says" - Rav Moshe Weissman
"The Call of the Torah" - Rav Elie Munk
"Love your neighbour" - Rav Zelig Pliskin
"Encyclopedia of Biblical Personalities" - Yishai Charidah