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Shelach 5773

By: Rav Avigdor Meyerowitz

The main topic of this week's Parsha is "Chet Hameraglim[1]", the sin of the spies that were sent by Moshe to spy- out Eretz Yisrael. Probably the most burning question regarding the Meraglim is how was it possible for men of their stature to make such a terrible mistake. Just to put things into perspective, in this Parsha there is also the incident of the "mekoshes eitzim", the man who collected wood on Shabbat and was subsequently killed by the Beth Din of Moshe. According to Tosfot[2] based on a Midrash, the Mekoshesh had very good intentions. Since, as a result of the Chet Hameraglim, it was decreed on Am Yisrael that they would not enter Eretz Yisrael, there was a concern that they would think that the mitzvoth no longer applied to them in the desert as they had been rejected by Hashem. In order to prove to them that they were still obligated in Mitzvoth, the mekoshesh was "moser nefesh", gave up his life to show them that they were still fully bound by all the mitzvoth. The mekoshesh himself is not mentioned by name in the Torah, even though he is identified by Rabbi Akiva[3] as Tzlofchad, yet despite his anonymity he was a man of great stature with pure intentions , albeit his terrible sin. The meraglim on the other hand, are all mentioned by name[4], and are described by the Torah as "All of them were men of distinction; they were the heads of the children of Israel" and as Rashi points out: "Whenever [the word] anashim [is used] in Scripture, it denotes importance." Even when Rabbi Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal, the author of the famous "Eim Habanim Semeichah", quoting the Zohar, accuses the Meraglim of wanting to retain their positions of leadership that they held in the desert, it was also out of concern that the new leaders in Eretz Yisrael would not be worthy and fitting to lead the nation. It therefore makes it extremely perplexing how these leaders of Am Yisrael could have made such a terrible mistake. Obviously this question has been discussed extensively by almost all the commentators and each one has explained and elucidated the various aspects of the whole issue. In this brief shiur I would like to dwell specifically on the explanation of the Meshech Chochma[5]. After the spies come back and relate their report to Moshe and the people, they express their opinion that the nation will not succeed in conquering the land due to the strength of its inhabitants: "They told him and said, We came to the land to which you sent us, and it is flowing with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who inhabit the land are mighty, and the cities are extremely huge and fortified, and there we saw even the offspring of the giant. On hearing these words, Calev intervenes: "Calev silenced the people to Moses, and he said, We can surely go up and take possession of it, for we can indeed overcome it. The spies however continue: "We are unable to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we."[6] The Meshech Chochmah explains the phrase " Calev silenced the people to Moses" as follows: The behavior of the Meraglim should be understood in light of the fact that the whole episode occurred after the choosing of the Seventy Elders in Parshat Beha'alotcha and the prophecy of Eldad and Medad. When Yehoshua hears Eldad and Medad prophesying he responds "Moshe my master, imprison them" and Rashi explains: "Imprison them, for they were prophesying that Moses would die and Joshua would take them into the Land of Israel." This prophecy became known to many and certainly to the heads of the people. Therefore the spies knew that Moshe would not lead them into Eretz Yisrael and that was precisely what caused them to lose their faith in the ability of the Nation to conquer the land successfully. The spies, who were obviously well aware of the greatness of Moshe Rabbeinu, were convinced that it was impossible to succeed without the presence and help of Moshe Rabbeinu. They attributed all the miracles and wonders that had occurred to them during Yetziat Mitzrayim, Matan Torah and their sojournings in the desert to the greatness of Moshe, which to them was irreplaceable. To this Yehoshua responds "Calev silenced the people to Moses", meaning that Calev silenced the people regarding what they were saying regarding Moshe. Calev, in his response, reiterates the word "we", "We can surely go up and take possession of it, for we can indeed overcome it," [7] meaning that it is not dependent on Moshe rather on us. Moreover, the Meshech Chochma explains that the flow of greatness and influence between the leader and the nation is not from the leader to the nation but rather the opposite, from the nation to the leader. In the words of the Meshech Chochma: "On the contrary, the greatness of Moshe is dependent on you (Am Yisrael), as we see that all the time they were in the desert after this sin, the word of Hashem did not come to Moshe, and therefore he (Calev) said : We, by ourselves without Moshe, can surely go up and take possession of it, because Moshe is not the cause that brings the miracles on us, rather it is the Nation itself that is worthy of the Divine providence, and therefore "we can indeed overcome it".[8] This understanding of the relationship between Moshe, on the one hand, and the nation, represented by the spies, on the other hand, is a recurring theme in the Meshech Chochma's commentary on Chumash. It lies at the root of the cause of Chet Ha'egel[9] and ultimately was the underlying cause of Hashem decreeing on Moshe not to go into Eretz Yisrael out of fear that Moshe himself would turn into an object of worship for Bnei Yisrael.[10] This fear and dependence is what caused the Spies to genuinely believe that the Nation was not able to succeed in the mission of entering and conquering the Land without Moshe Rabbeinu leading them. One of the popular questions asked at the Seder table on Pesach is: Why is Moshe Rabbeinu not mentioned in the Hagada? Once again, many commentators have dealt with this question in various ways, though in light of the above comments of the Meshech Chochma it seems that the author of the Hagada was making an effort to avoid the mistake of the Meraglim. Highlighting the role and centrality of Moshe in the Geula might cause one to lose belief in oneself and one's present generations ability to cause and put in motion our own Geulah. And so once again we have yet another "excuse" and explanation for what was the biggest and most cataclysmic[11] sin of Am Yisrael in the desert that marked, unfortunately, the first of many Tisha Be'avs that followed afterwards. As with all Torah learning, especially Chet Hameraglim, it is incumbent on us to remember the words of the Ramban: "Torah should always be learned diligently, so you will be able to fulfill its commands. When you arise from your learning reflect carefully on what you have studied, in order to see what is in it that you can put into practice."[12] Shabbat Shalom Rav Avigdor In addition I would like to share with you a question that has been bothering me this last week. I'm not sure whether it is a "valid" question, and I'm sure many of you will find it slightly odd, but hear me out and let me know what you think! In our Gemara shiur in the Midrasha this year we learned Masechet Makot. The second chapter deals with the laws of the Cities of Refuge (arei miklat), which is where an accidental murderer would live in order to be safe from the "blood avenger" (go'el hadam). On daf 10a the Gemara states the following law: "A student (talmid) that goes into galut (ie: to a city of refuge for killing accidentally), his Rabbi must go into galut with him." The reason for this halacha stems from the verse: "As when a man goes with his fellow into the forest to chop wood, and his hand swings the ax to cut down the tree, and the iron flies off the handle, and it reaches his fellow, and he dies he shall flee to one of these cities, and live." The Gemara learns from those words, "and live" that we have to provide a "real life" for the person who has to be in the City of Refuge, and therefore the Rabbi has to accompany his student there. In the words of the Rambam: "When a Torah scholar is exiled to a city of refuge, his teacher is exiled together with him. This is derived from Devarim 19:5, which states: He shall flee to one of these cities, and he shall live. Implied, is that everything necessary for his life must be provided for him. Therefore, a scholar must be provided with his teacher, for the life of one who possesses knowledge without Torah study is considered to be death."[13] The Gemara then takes this law to its next stage and says that, similarly, if a Rabbi kills accidentally and goes into galut, his whole yeshiva must accompany him to the city of refuge for the same reason. Once again, Rambam: "Similarly, if a teacher is exiled, his academy is exiled with him."[14] In light of the above it occurred to me that it would seem that the spies had no choice but to do what they could to ensure that Bnei Yisrael would not enter Eretz Yisrael. Since it was decreed on Moshe to remain in Galut (!)[15];[16] they were fulfilling the abovementioned halacha of "Harav she'gala, maglin yeshivato imo" - Moshe Rabbeinu, being the Rabbi, and Bnei Yisrael being his yeshiva. In fact it seems even peculiar that Yehoshua, who was Moshe Rabbeinu's closest student, didn't comply with the spies as well! Looking forward to your insights.


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