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Parashat Shelach

Dedicated in Honor of My Wife Jacqueline Antebi by Her Husband Mark

Parashat Shelach

Hashem Always Pays Back

Our Rabbis teach us that there is a very distinct connection between last week’s Parashat Beha’aloteha and this week’s Parashat Shelach. In Beha’aloteha, Miriam was punished for speaking lashon harah about her brother Moshe to her other brother Aharon, even though the midrash explains that her intentions and motivations were completely innocent.

B’nei Yisrael waited for Miriam while she remained outside the camp for seven days until she healed from her leprosy. This was Miriam’s reward for making sure that Moshe was safe when he was set out as a baby on the Nile River. According to midrash, she waited for seven days.

But why did Hashem wait eighty years to reward her for the compassion she showed her brother? The Torah is teaching us that even when a person sins and is being punished, Hashem doesn’t forget the good deeds they did.

Lashon Harah

Lashon harah is a terrible sin that has many negative ramifications, but if we can control ourselves, we will be rewarded by our fellow man, and more importantly, by Hashem!

Rabbi Lugassi told the story of a man whose boss once asked him to provide some information about his coworker. The man refused, noting that it was forbidden for him to speak lashon harah about other people. The boss was enraged and made threats against the man. Still, the man did not budge.

Over the next two months, the boss made this man’s life in the office intolerable. He was considering quitting his job, until one day the boss came into the office with a big smile, came over to the man, and put his arm around him.

“From now on,” the boss said, “We are friends. I am depending on you and I am going to raise your status here in the company.”

The man asked the boss why he’d suddenly changed his attitude towards him.

“I will need to travel a lot for the company,” the boss said, “And I need somebody here who I can trust. I will need to call often to check in on things here in the office, and I’m worried about trusting people with important information. You, however, are trustworthy. You know how to keep your mouth shut, no matter what people do to you. You’re the perfect man for the job.”

The Spies

In this week’s parasha, Shelach, we learn about one of the most important episodes in our history, which still affects us to this very day: The spies spoke lashon harah about the Land of Israel. As Rashi points out, they did not learn their lesson, even after witnessing what happened to Miriam. The fundamental mistake that Miriam made is that she viewed Moshe like any other prophet. Different from other prophets, Moshe had to be available to speak to Hashem at any time of the day or night. Aharon and Miriam, who were also prophets, communicated with Hashem through dreams and visions and at limited times.

In the same way, the Land of Israel is different from any other land. Israel is a land that has beracha from Hashem and is therefore above nature. It lay fallow for 2,000 years, until 1948 when the liberated State of Israel made it flourish again. Miriam and the spies made the same mistake: Miriam assumed that Moshe was a prophet like all others, and the spies assumed that the Land of Israel was a land like all others.

Stop Complaining

Hashem said to Moshe: “Shelach lecha anashim veyatru et eretz kenaan asher ani noten le’b’nei Yisrael. — Send out for yourself (lecha) men who will scout the Land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Children of Israel.”

Rashi, following Midrash Tanchuma, comments on the word “lecha — for yourself,” explaining that, “Hashem said to Moshe, I am not commanding you, but if you wish, you may send spies, according to your understanding.”

The Israelites had asked Moshe to send men ahead of them (Devarim 1:22) and the Rabbis explain that his consent was one of the reasons that Moshe was not allowed to enter the Land of Israel.

In what way was Moshe at fault for letting the twelve spies, who were leaders of their tribes, scout out Canaan?

The fact that the people wanted to send spies to check out the land was totally disrespectful to Hashem, who had just saved them from the hands of Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Hashem split the sea for them, defended them when Amalek attacked them from behind at Refidim, led them to Har Sinai, and gave them the Torah. He then protected them through all the years of their wanderings in the desert, sending them the maan for food and the Clouds of Glory to shield them. So how could B’nei Yisrael ask Moshe to check out the land? How could they harbor suspicions that the land could be bad or dangerous in any way?

The Zohar explains further that the spies were biased and did not give an accurate report, because they were worried that they would lose their positions once the people entered Canaan. This is why they felt compelled to find fault with the land and speak lashon harah about it.

Hashem performed a miracle while the spies were in the Land of Israel: He made many of the local people die, so that the people of Canaan would be busy with many funerals. The spies looked at it as a negative that the land was swallowing up their inhabitants, but on the contrary, Hashem did that to distract the people from noticing the spies as they were checking out the land.

Tisha B’Av

The spies managed to convince the entire nation, even the members of the Sanhedrin, that any attempt to conquer the Land of Israel was doomed, and that Moshe and Aharon had misled them by taking them out of Egypt.

Even when Hashem performed open miracles for B’nei Yisrael, and even when it was so obvious that Hashem was with them, they continued to complain and express a lack of trust. The pesukim that begin Perek 14 are astonishing:

“The entire assembly raised up and issued its voice: The people wept that night. All of B’nei Yisrael spoke against Moshe and Aharon, and the entire assembly said to them: ‘If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had died in the wilderness! Why is Hashem bringing us to this land to die by the sword? Our wives and young children will be taken captive! Is it not better for us to return to Egypt?’”

This tragedy of their delusional fears had far-reaching consequences. Hashem decided: “They indulged in crying without a cause, so now I will establish this night for them as a time of crying throughout the generations.” That night was, as the Rabbis teach us, Tisha B’Av.

Tisha B’Av is the date on which tragedy after tragedy was to occur throughout Jewish history. On this date both Temples were destroyed, the Spanish Inquisition of 1492 began, World War I broke out, the Nazis rose to power which led to the horrors of the Holocaust.

We must learn from these lessons of history to be careful about crying for no reason. We must appreciate that Hashem is the source of all our berachot, and if we decide to cry without a reason, then has veshalom He may give us a reason to cry, as He did on Tisha B’Av. This comes to teach us to stop complaining and count our blessings each and every day!

Because B’nei Yisrael complained about the land, Hashem made them wander in the desert for forty years, to correspond to the forty days that they spied on the land.


Another powerful lesson we learn from this episode is found in the spies’ report: “venehey be’enenu ka’hagavim vehen hayinu be’enehem — We were like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and so we were in their eyes.”

Rabbi Twersky writes that this statement is the basis of all his teachings about self-esteem. Lack of self-esteem can lead a person to addictions such as drugs, alcohol, or gambling, which unfortunately are all too common. All these addictions are an effort to escape a sense of unworthiness and insecurity. Here the Torah teaches us that the way you feel about yourself is the way you think others perceive you!

Notice how far low self-esteem can go to be able to create a negative perception 40 years later. In this week’s Haftorah it discusses the episode when Yehoshua sent Caleb and Pinhas to spy on the land right before they were about to enter Israel.

The Haftorah tells a story when Caleb and Pinhas came upon Rachav, an innkeeper, who told them, “I know that Hashem has given you the land, and that your terror has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the Land have melted because of you. For we have heard how Hashem dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two Amorite Kings across the Jordan – to Sihon and to Og – whom you utterly destroyed. When we heard this our hearts melted – no spirit is left in man because of you – for Hashem your G-d, He is G-d in the heavens above and on the earth below.” It’s amazing how 40 years later the people that inhabited the land of Israel were still shaking from fear of what Hashem did to the mighty Pharaoh and the Egyptians on behalf of B’nei Yisrael. But because of the spies’ own low self-esteem, they perceived the situation so differently, and they became scared of the inhabitants – which was the total opposite of the truth. Fear and insecurity are powerful forces, and they can influence a person’s perception of a situation for many years. However, despite these detours in time, Hashem always creates the best possible outcome. B’nei Yisrael were meant to enter Israel at the very time they did. If only their bitachon was as strong as their low self-esteem, they would have understood that Hashem plans everything out for the best, down to the most minute detail.

There is a story from Rabbi David Ashear’s “Daily Emunah 2” about something that happened among a group of friends that kept one of them worrying about something he had done when he was much younger. A rabbi who lives in Eretz Yisrael now told about an event that happened eight years earlier when he still lived in Brooklyn. The story goes that he went out one night with his friends, right before he became religious. He noticed at the end of the night that his watch was missing. His friends all denied knowing what happened to it. He eventually moved to Eretz Yisrael to study and became a rabbi in a yeshivah there. One month, the yeshivah was a few weeks late with his salary. It was on a Thursday afternoon that he realized he had no money left in the house, his bank account was empty, and he had no way to buy food for Shabbat. Besides his young family, he was having six boys from the yeshivah eat over for the Friday night seudah and needed to purchase a lot of food for them. He called his brother in New York and asked him to please wire money. His brother also hadn’t been paid in a while, but he said he’d send as much as he could. The next day, he checked his account and the money wasn’t there. It was the middle of the night in New York, and he could no longer call his brother to find out what happened. Now he was really stuck: guests were coming and he had no way to buy food. As he headed to the grocery store, he asked Hashem, “Please help me. Somehow, give me a way to pay for my groceries today.” While shopping, he noticed a familiar face across the store. It was Danny, one of his former friends from New York, who was visiting Israel with his wife. Danny approached the rabbi, greeted him, and then said, “I have a confession to make. I never told you, but I was the one who stole your watch that night eight years ago. Since then, I became religious, and I have been praying to Hashem to find you, so that I could pay you back and do teshuvah. I’m so happy to see you! I know it was a very expensive watch. Please tell me how much it cost, and I’m ready to pay.” Danny went to the bank, made a withdrawal, and paid the rabbi on the spot. At the exact moment he needed money, Hashem gave it to him be’ito – at the right time. The events were timed perfectly. Hashem brought Danny all the way from New York to help the Rabbi, while at the same time giving him the opportunity to do complete teshuvah, thereby answering the prayers of both men simultaneously. The hashgacha peratit in this story is incredible and is just another example of how Hashem is orchestrating our lives every day!

May we learn to appreciate all that Hashem gives us, and know that whatever He gives us, whether we perceive it as good or bad, is always good. Also, we must make it our business to never complain about our situation, because it can always be worse. We need to remember that even considering the decadence that surrounds us in this galut, with the freedom to practice our Judaism, we are living in much better times in this country than what our ancestors experienced in the dark periods of our history. May we also build up our children, so they have healthy self-esteem and can ultimately be valuable contributors to society and Am Yisrael! Amen!

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Amram Sananes as Written by Jack Rahmey

Discussion Points:

· Think of the many berachot we have in our own lives.

· What is the one thing that we accomplished this week?

Leiluiy Nishmat....

Eliyahu Ben Rachel Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher

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