top of page

Parashat Shelah

Leilui Nishmat Yaakov Yisrael Ben Chaviva by the Cohen Family

Parashat Shelah

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, but Moshe was different from other profits. Moshe’s difference was that he 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.

Giving Others the Benefit of the Doubt

There are many times Hashem puts us in a situation which are tests to see if we are able to give others the benefit of the doubt because we never really know whats behind the scenes of what we see in front of us in any situation. The following story exemplifies such a situation and how we should never prejudge others An elderly woman boarded a crowded bus in Israel. There weren’t any available seats, so she was forced to stand. Next to her, sat a young girl. The girl looked out the window pensively and ignored the woman beside her. The elderly woman expected the young girl to offer her seat, but the girl — though obviously aware of the situation — did not look up.

The elderly woman said, “She’s not even looking at me, it’s mindboggling. Today’s teens are so… I don’t know what’s up with them… but they’re certainly not thinking about me!”

The other standing passengers nodded their heads sympathetically.

“I’m so confused,” the older woman said, unable to understand why even after the rudeness was pointed out to her, the young girl still refused to get up and offer her seat.

Instead, the girl continued to stare out the window, acting totally oblivious to the conversation that was brewing around her.

A man standing next to the woman said, “Frankly, it’s scandalous.”

“It’s not even crossing her mind that maybe…” the critical woman continued.

A second man concurred. “There’s no respect.”

The woman said, “Maybe it’s a lack of manners. What a generation…” she sighed, expanding her criticism from the girl to all her imagined peers.

Just then a woman across the aisle wrapped up a call on her cell phone. “I have to go,” she said, shutting her phone and rising. She opened a folded wheelchair, and proceeded to help the young girl, who was evidently her daughter, into the wheelchair.

The passengers — who had been so free with their loud and vocal criticism — were silenced, and it was obvious from the look on their faces that they were deeply ashamed of themselves and regretted every word they’d uttered.

We learn from this story that we must be aware of our tendency to judge others, and of the consequences that this tendency has. First, we feel free to judge. That leads us to communicate our judgment to others. Once we have taken that road, it won’t be long before we are doing the same thing in public. It is then an easy next step to humiliating the object of criticism in public. The elderly woman did not hesitate to complain about the girl in front of everyone, on a crowded bus. She was so sure of her own judgment, so sure that she was right. Because of her, the others joined in on the negative judgment.

We are not omniscient — only G-d is. We are never in possession of all the facts, and we have to be humble and acknowledge that. As the Talmud says, “One who shames another in public, causing the blood to drain from his face, is comparable to a murderer(Baba Metzia 58b).”

Not only did the people on the bus gang up against an innocent girl who was unable to give up her seat, no matter how much she wished to do so, they also embarrassed her in front of everyone.

Always consider what you are saying and think before you speak. As Rav Dov Ber of Mezeritch said, “Eagerness is a precious thing for all of man’s body parts, except for the mouth and the tongue.”

One of the Baal Shem Tov’s most famous teachings is that, “Your fellow man is your mirror.” He explains that when a person is pure, they will see purity in others. If they see a blemish on others, they are encountering their own imperfection. “Whoever judges his fellow, whether for the good or the bad, simultaneously reveals his own verdict.”

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! May we also be careful not to prejudge any situation we find ourselves in like the one in the story with the people on the bus and the young girl who couldn’t give her seat to the elderly lady due to her disability. 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?

· Can you remember a time when you were in a situation where you were tempted to speak Lashon Harah but at the end you were able to hold back?

Le’ilui Nishmat...

Eliyahu Ben Rachel

Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher

Avraham Ben Garaz

Sarah Bat Chanah

Esther Bat Sarah

Avraham Ben Mazal

Shulamit Bat Helaina

Rabbi Meyer Ben Chana

Rahamim Ben Mazal

Batsheva Bat Sarah Esther

Rafael Ben Miriam

Ovadia Ben Esther

Rav Haim Ben Rivka

Moshe Ben Mazal

Moshe Ben Yael

Yitzchak Ben Adele

Avraham Ben Mazal

Meir Ben Latifa

Chanah Bat Esther

Yaakov Ben Rachel

Malka Bat Garaz

Moshe Ben Garaz

Avraham Ben Kami

Yaakov Ben Leah

Mordechai Ben Rachel

Chacham Shaul Rachamim Ben Mazal

Natan Ben Rachel

Saadia Ben Miriam

Eliyah Ben Latifa Simhon

Margalit Bat Mazal

Ovadia Haim Ben Malaky

Rabbi Aharon Chaim Ben Ruchama

Anyone interested in Dedicating this Divre Torah L'ilui Nishmat or Refuah Shelemah or

In Honor of someone, can email me at

Checks can be made out to “Mikdash Melech” for $101 and mail to 1326 Ocean Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11230 (please put in the memo “Divre Torah Food for Shabbat”)

Anyone interested in past parshiot please go to the website

Single post: Blog_Single_Post_Widget
bottom of page