Parashat Shelach

Dedicated in Honor of My Wife Frieda and Our New Baby Boy by Sol Ayal


Parashat Shelach The Spies and Lashon Hara In this week’s parasha, we learn about one of the most important episodes in our history, which still affects us today. The spies spoke lashon hara about the Land of Israel. As Rashi points out, they did not learn their lesson, even after witnessing what happened to Miriam after she had spoken about Moshe. Miriam’s fundamental mistake was that she viewed Moshe like any other prophet, but Moshe was different. He had to be available to talk to Hashem face-to-face at any time of day or night. Aharon and Miriam, as prophets, also communicated with Hashem, but through dreams and visions at limited times. Miriam and the spies made the same mistake. The spies assumed that the Land of Israel was like all other regions. Stop Complaining Hashem said to Moshe, “Shelach lecha anashim veyatru et eretz Canaan asher ani noten leB’nei YisraelSend out for yourself men who will scout the Land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Children of Israel (13:2).” 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.” The Israelites had asked Moshe to send men ahead of them, and the rabbis explained 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 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, led them to Har Sinai, and gave them the Torah. He then protected them through all the years of wandering 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 harmful or dangerous? The Zohar explains further that the spies were biased and did not give an accurate report because they worried they would lose their leading positions once the people entered Canaan. Therefore, they felt compelled to find fault with the land. While scouting the land, many of the local people were dying. The spies looked at this negatively, as if the land was killing its inhabitants; however, Hashem distracted the Canaanites with funerals so they wouldn’t notice the Jewish spies. It’s All How You Look at It Hashem said, “You shall bear your punishment for forty years, corresponding to the number of days—forty days—that you scouted the land: a year for each day (14:34).” Hashem made B’nei Yisrael wander in the desert for forty years to correspond to the forty days the spies scouted. Rabbi Frand cites a question from Rav Asher Weiss on this issue. The actual sin of the spies occurred when they returned and delivered their negative report on that infamous eve of Tisha B’Av. The message was delivered in at most one day. For the previous 39 days, they did not report anything. They were merely gathering information. How then do we understand this correlation of 40 years for 40 days? Rav Weiss answers that the sin of lashon hara is not a sin only of the mouth. It is also a sin of the eyes —how one perceives things. Two people can see virtually the same thing and view it differently. The punishment was “a year for each day” because, for 40 days, the spies looked negatively at Eretz Yisrael. Everything they saw was perceived with a distorted view. It was 40 days of misperception, 40 days of cynicism, 40 days of being negative, and 40 days of lashon hara. The punishment for that was 40 years of wandering—a year for each day! Lashon hara is referred to by Chazal as ena bishaa bad eye. That is where it all starts. It all begins with perception. Self-Esteem Another powerful lesson we learn from this episode is found in the spies’ report, “venehei be’enenu ka’hagavim vehen hayinu be’enehemWe were like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and so we were in their eyes.” Rabbi Twerski ZT’L wrote 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 are all too familiar. These addictions are an effort to escape a sense of unworthiness and insecurity. In Parashat Shelach, the Torah teaches that low self-esteem is when someone twists others’ supposed perceptions about himself and makes them internal. This week’s Haftarah discusses the episode when Yehoshua sent Calev and Pinchas to spy on the land before they were about to enter Israel 40 years later. The Haftarah tells the story of when Calev and Pinchas 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 had melted because of you, for we had heard how Hashem dried up the water of the Red Sea before you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two Amorite kings across the Jordan – to Sichon 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 and on the earth below.” It’s amazing how 40 years later, the people that inhabited 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’ low self-esteem, they perceived the situation differently and became scared of the inhabitants – which was the opposite of the truth. Fear and insecurity are powerful forces that 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 were 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. Beyond Our Hearts and Eyes The parasha began with the sending out of the spies, using the word “veyaturu—send them to scout.” It ends with the mitzvah of tzitzit, using the same root with the terms, “velo taturu acharei levavchem veacharei enechem—and you shall not stray after your hearts and eyes.” The Torah seems to be hinting to us that the spies had abandoned the correct path by following their hearts and eyes. They paid attention only to what they felt and saw rather than remain steadfast in their faith and trust in the Almighty. By ending the parasha with similar wording, we learn that the purpose of the mitzvah of tzitzit is to inspire us to have bitachon and to put our trust in G-d. Bitachon is a fundamental concept in Judaism, and because the spies lacked it, we recite this paragraph every morning and evening in the Shema. In Living Emunah 4, Rabbi Ashear wrote a notable story about faith. One Friday, Shimon bought groceries for Shabbat at a store he didn’t usually frequent. While checking out at the register, he saw a talmid chacham whom he considered a hidden tzaddik. Knowing that this rabbi struggled financially, Shimon handed him his credit card and said, “Please, let me have the zechut of purchasing your Shabbat food this week. I will be waiting in my car to take you home when you're finished.” The man accepted and thanked Shimon for his kindness on the way home. “I must share with you the unbelievable Hashgacha that just occurred,” the rabbi said. “I did not have money to buy food for my family for Shabbat, and I didn’t know of any way to get it. I don’t enjoy asking people for handouts. “This morning, I took out the Gemara (Beitzah 16a) that says that it is Hashem Who pays for all our Shabbat expenses. When I built up my emunah to genuinely believe this, I decided to go to the grocery store without money or a credit card and to rely on Hashem to pay for the food. “My chavruta couldn’t believe I was about to go shopping without any means to pay for my purchases. I told him, ‘If we have emunah in what the Gemara says, we should go to the grocery and fill up our carts for Shabbat, as though someone handed us their credit card and said that it’s on him.’” The tzaddik concluded, “I came to the store, and there you were, handing me your credit card!” The Benefit of the Doubt When scouting Eretz Yisrael, the spies neglected a critical concept: giving the benefit of the doubt. They went in with preconceived notions about the land and cast judgments quickly. The following story exemplifies how we should never judge others. An older 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 aware of the situation — did not look up. The woman said, “She’s not even looking at me; it’s mindboggling. Today’s teens are so self-involved, so entitled!” The other standing passengers nodded their heads sympathetically. “I’m so confused,” the older woman said, unable to understand why the young girl still refused to get up and offer her seat even after the rudeness was pointed out to her. Instead, the girl stared out the window, totally oblivious to the conversation around her. A man standing next to the woman said, “Frankly, it’s scandalous.” “It’s not even crossing her mind that maybe I need the seat more than she does?” the critical woman continued. A second man concurred. “Zero respect.” The woman said, “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, apparently her daughter, out of her seat. The passengers — who had been so free with their loud and vocal criticism — were silenced, and it was evident from 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 the consequences of this tendency. First, we judge, and soon enough, we feel the need to relay it to others. It is then an easy next step to humiliating the object of criticism in public. The woman did not hesitate to complain about the girl in front of a crowded bus. She was so sure of her judgment, so confident that she was right. Because of her, the others joined in on the harsh criticism. One of the Baal Shem Tov’s most famous teachings is, “Your fellow man is your mirror.” He explained that people see purity in others when they are pure. On the other hand, if one sees a blemish on another, he is encountering his own imperfection. “Whoever judges his fellow, whether for the good or the bad, simultaneously reveals his own verdict.” Perhaps the woman saw selfishness because that is a quality of hers that she needed to work on. May we learn to appreciate all Hashem gives us and know that whether we perceive it as good or bad, it is always good. 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, like the spies, and understand that if we see someone with a fault, we should look inward. Discussion Point:

  • Did you ever have a preconceived notion about someone and not share it?

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