Torah Weekly - Parshat Shlach

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Parshat Shlach

For the week ending 26 Sivan5761 / June 15 & 16, 2001

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    At the insistence of Bnei Yisrael, and with Hashem's permission, Moshe sends 12 scouts, one from each tribe, to investigate Canaan. Anticipating trouble, Moshe changes Hoshea's name to Yehoshua, expressing a prayer that Hashem not let him fail in his mission. They return 40 days later, carrying unusually large fruit. When 10 of the 12 state that the people in Canaan are as formidable as the fruit, the men are discouraged. Calev and Yehoshua, the only two scouts still in favor of the invasion, try to bolster the people's spirit. The nation, however, decides that the Land is not worth the potentially fatal risks, and instead demands a return to Egypt. Moshe's fervent prayers save the nation from Heavenly annihilation; however, Hashem declares that they must remain in the desert for 40 years until the men who wept at the scouts' false report pass away. A remorseful group rashly begin an invasion of the Land based on Hashem's original command. Moshe warns them not to proceed, but they ignore this and are massacred by the Amalekites and Canaanites. Hashem instructs Moshe concerning the offerings to be made when Bnei Yisrael will finally enter the Land. The people are commanded to remove challah, a gift for the kohanim, from their dough. The laws for an offering after an inadvertent sin, for an individual or a group, are explained. However, should someone blaspheme against Hashem and be unrepentant, he will be cut off spiritually from his people. One man is found gathering wood on public property in violation of the laws of Shabbat and he is executed. The laws of tzitzit are taught. We recite the section about the tzitzit twice a day to remind ourselves of the Exodus.





    "We arrived at the land to which you sent us, and indeed it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. But - the people that dwell in the land are powerful, the cities are very greatly fortified, and we also saw there the offspring of the giant." (13:27)

    Truth is the first casualty of any war.

    With the tragic deaths of twenty Israeli teenagers and the serious wounding of scores more has the cynical manipulation of the head of the Palestinian Authority been unmasked.

    But world opinion is as fickle as an English summer. Let us not forget that a short time ago the Los Angeles Times printed a cartoon portraying a couple of religious Jews bowing before the Wailing Wall; the rearranged stones of the wall spelled "HATE." The caption read: "Worshipping Their God..."

    And around that time, papers worldwide topped their front pages with a large AP photo of an Israeli soldier wielding a club over a bleeding man. According to the caption, the bleeding man was a "Palestinian," but in fact it was Tuvia Grossman, an American Jew, who was on his way to the Western Wall when Arabs pulled him from the back of a taxi, stoned him and beat him. An Israeli soldier was intervening to protect him when his photo was taken.

    The destruction of one of Judaism's holy sites, Joseph's Tomb, was barely reported. Would Israel have been treated the same if it destroyed the mosque of Al Aksa? Other barely reported stories: Arafat's threat to declare war on Israel in a Saudi interview; the PA offering $2,000 to families whose children become martyrs.

    Huge blasts, miraculously killing no one, are termed "non-fatal bombs" - as if no harm was intended. The Arabs who plant these "non-fatal bombs" are "freedom fighters" and "guerrillas," never "terrorists."

    Arabs butcher two boys hiking in a cave near Tekoa and smear their blood on the wall. (One, Kobi, was the son of a colleague and friend here at Yeshivat Ohr Somayach. I can't express what it was like to go and try and do the mitzvah of nichum aveilim, comforting the bereaved.)

    Yet, the world compares this deliberate torture and slaying of innocent boys on a hike to the killing of Arab youth placed directly in the line of fire by their parents and teachers.

    Do Arabs fear meeting Jews in a cave? Do PA "policeman" fear taking a wrong turn into an Israeli town and being lynched? Does a Palestinian mother fear that her infant's head will come into the cross-hairs of an Israeli sniper?

    No; the Israelis are fighting for their right to exist while the Arabs martyr their children as fodder for world propaganda.

    Propaganda is no new invention. Propaganda goes back a long way. Right back to this week's Torah reading: "We arrived at the Land to which you sent us, and indeed it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. But - the people that dwell in the Land are powerful, the cities are very greatly fortified, and we also saw there the offspring of the giant."

    "But" is a little word with a big meaning. The key word which revealed the spies' lack of faith was "but." With that little word, they turned their factual report into propaganda. Of course, it was their duty to report to Moshe that the people were powerful and that the towns were fortified. But.... By the introduction of this superfluous qualifier, the spies gave their true colors away. They betrayed that they believed that however rich and blessed the Land might be, it was unassailable. The message was: Ordinary beings are no match for giants. Truth is the first casualty of any war.

    Sources: Ramban; Steven Rosenberg - editor of The Jewish Advocate



    Haftara: Joshua 2:1 - 2:24



    In this haftara, Joshua's two spies explore the city of Jericho in preparation for the first conquest of the Promised Land. Our Sages teach that these two spies were Calev and Pinchas, two very righteous people, for Joshua wanted to avoid an outcome similar to that of the 12 spies sent by Moses, recorded in Parshat Shelach. The spies enter Jericho as earthenware dealers and seek lodging at the inn of Rachav. When they are detected by the authorities, their hostess proves a great ally by hiding them. She tells them that the psychological war has already been won, as the inhabitants are petrified of the Israelites, having heard about the miracles G-d did for them. She sends them off safely and they in turn promise to save her and her family.


    The verse tells us that the spies entered Jericho "in secrecy." The term used for secrecy is "cheresh," reminiscent of the word "cheres" - "earthenware" - hinting that they were disguised as traveling earthenware merchants. Why specifically this disguise?

    The Chidushei HaRim explains that Joshua chose clay vessels as the ware for their disguise to remind them not to stumble as had the previous spies. An earthenware vessel, unlike other vessels, does not contract spiritual defilement unless its interior comes in contact with the spiritually defiled. This is because - unlike metal or wood - the clay from which it is formed has no intrinsic worth; its sole significance is its form as a vessel. Spiritual impurity passes only when it contacts the important aspect of an entity; so, regarding clay vessels, unless it touches the interior, the usefulness part of the vessel, the impurity will not pass on. Joshua wished the spies to understand that a person is like an earthenware vessel: His significance lies in his duty, he has no self importance. This thought would prevent them from diverting from their assignment.

    Written and Compiled by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
    General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
    Production Design: Michael Treblow

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