Parashat Shelah lekha
Shabbat Mevarekhim Hahodesh
June 11-17, 2017 • 23 Sivan 5777
Annual (Numbers 13:1-15:41): Etz Hayim p. 840-855; Hertz p. 623-634
Triennial (Numbers13:1-14:7): Etz Hayim p. 840-845; Hertz p. 623-626
Haftarah (Joshua 2:1-24): Etz Hayim p. 856-859; Hertz p. 635-637

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It Happened On the Night of Tisha B’Av – Some Literary Archeology
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, Bible Faculty, the Conservative Yeshiva

The Mishna (2nd century) in Ta’anit 4:6 tells that the sin of the spies took place on Tisha B’Av.  The Talmud (Ta’anit 29a) makes the calendrical connection, using verses.  The discussion ends as follows:

And it is written, “And the congregation raised its voice, and wept; and the people wept that night (Num. 14:1).” Rabbah said in the name of R. Joḥanan: That night was the night of the ninth of Av. The Holy One said to them: “You have wept without cause, therefore I will set [this day] aside for weeping throughout the generations to come.”

The ominous tone is expanded upon in the rabbinic Midrash Tanḥuma (5th century), which shows the identity of dates (9th Av) of the story of the spies and the destruction of a temple not to be built for several centuries.  The Midrash (Tanḥuma Parashat Shlaḥ, 12) begins the same as the Talmud statement quoted above, and goes on:

And at that moment it was decreed that the Temple will be destroyed and [the people of] Israel will be exiled to among the nations.  For so it says: “He raised His hand concerning them that He would fell them in the desert and fell their offspring among the nations and scatter them through the lands (Psalm 106:26-27).”  A “raising of the hand” for a “raising of the voice.”

Reading carefully, we realize that Midrash Tanḥuma developed ideas already embryonic in the Tanaḥ.  The poet in Psalms 106:24 summarizes the sins to be punished as quoted in verses 26-27 above: “They scorned the desired land/ they did not believe His word.”  Understanding that the sins were scorning the land and of lack of faith in the Lord was not new; that can be seen already in our parashah (14:3, 11). The idush (new insight) of the Psalmist comes in the ‘consequences’: the sin was so grave that it effected generations to come with a decree of a future exile from the land.

God’s oath to carry out the decree is indicated by a “raised hand,” much like the gesture commonly used today when an oath is taken.  The image first appears in Shmot 6 and is recalled in our story (Num 14:30), where God tells Moshe that He will save the Israelite people from Egypt and “bring you to the land which I raised My hand to give to Abraham, … and I shall give it to you… (Ex. 6:8).”  An examination of the instances of this oath imagery reveals that it is almost exclusively related to the Land of Israel.  In Ezekiel 20 it is used seven times.  It indicates God’s determination to bring the Jewish people into the land or to exile them from the land if they reject Him or His laws (cf. Ezek. 20:15,23).

The message of Midrash Tanḥuma is embedded in Biblical text a millennium before the rabbinic Midrash was recorded. By the [late?] biblical period (Ps 106 and Ez 20), possibly as a reaction to the destruction of Jerusalem, the notion of the sin of the spies as a watershed point in Jewish history had been established.  The rejection of the land and the Lord before entering the land became viewed, in retrospect, as creating a looming decree that we would be thrown out of the land that we had refused to enter. Not only would one generation fall in the desert, but future generations would exiled from the land, as marked by Tisha B’Av, and fall among the nations.

A Vort for Parashat Shelah lekha
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty

God instructs Moshe to “send a leader [nasi], just one [ish echad ish echad] from each ancestral tribe.”  The Degel Macheneh Ephriam (R’ Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sudilkov, grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, Poland, 1748-1800) said the word Nasi contains the letters of both yesh – he has, and ein – he doesn’t.  Leaders who claim they “have” usually don’t; and those who are modest usually do.  R’ Mordechai HaKohen (Al HaTorah, Israel early 20th C) says God stressed “just one” because when delegations are formed for trips abroad, there is no shortage of volunteers willing to go and “represent” us.

Table Talk
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty

Moshe sends a delegation (often referred to as ‘the spies’) to tour the land of Israel prior to entering it.  Their report causes a panic at the end of which the people get 40 years in the desert, and only the next generation will enter the land. In the second part there are several Mitzvot that might have some connection to what happened.

  1. The people that were sent as part of the delegation to tour the land of Israel are listed by name (13:1-16). What was their position among the people?  Why do you think that their names are given?
  2. What information does Moshe ask the ‘spies’ to find answers to (13:17-20)? Why would this information be important to the people?  Why do you think that he asks them to bring back fruit from the land?
  3. The people react by refusing to go the land, which is perceived as an act of lack of faith (14:2-4, 11-20). What arguments does Moshe use to try to dissuade God from killing the nation?  Pay attention to 14:17-18; where have you heard this before? (Check Shmot 34:6-7, and the siddur.) When God agrees to forgive, what is included in that forgiveness?
  4. Following the episode of the ‘spies’ the Torah gives instructions pertaining to the Mishkan/Temple sacrifices (15:1-16). This section has an interesting opening line which is not found in the instructions in Vayikra (v.2). What is different here?  Why do you think that Mitzvot with such an opening were given at this point?
  5. We close with the Mitzvah of Tzitzit. Seeing the fringes should help us remember and do the Mitzvot, rather than follow ‘our hearts [=mind] and our eyes’ (15:39).  We are aware of the influence of sight on our minds, but the Torah reverses the order (first the mind then the eyes). What do you think that the Torah is telling us?
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