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The Torah's Weekly Portions
Numbers / Bamidbar - Shlach 101
Posted June, 2000
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Parashat Shlach L'chah can be found in Bamidbar (Numbers) beginning at Perek Yud-Gimel (Chapter 13) through Perek Tet-Zayin (Chapter 16). At this point, it seems appropriate to explain the reason behind saying tet-zayin (9+7) rather than the letters that would be 10+6. Out of respect, we do not use the letters that form the Name of God in other forms. Ten is yud, six is vav - and together they form a part of that Name. The same is true with 15.

This past week I received an email asking why I focus to such a great extent on Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch. To answer this, I need to explain something about Rav Hirsch and something about myself. Rav Hirsch epitomizes, in my opinion, what it means to be a Jew. When he went to Frankfurt, Germany to assume the post of rabbi there, it is said that one could count the number of observant families on one hand. By showing people, who had previously decided that an observant life was not for them, the best in Judaism both through education and, most important, through example, Rav Hirsch helped many people find their way back to a religious life and, in the process, established a community that was extensive and flourishing right up until the time of the Shoah. This is what I happen to believe is most important to Judaism - showing a healthy and good living example to others. Although many may not see it this way, my path of Orthodox Judaism was a luxury. I came into it with few preconceived notions, with a sense that religious Jews are noble people who truly live the Torah. Although there are exceptions, I believe that many do try to live this and show an example that helps others to see the best face of Judaism and what God intended for us. With that, I'll step back down from the soapbox and cover the Parashah for this week.

Shlach Lechah is most noted as the chapter that discusses the spies selected, one from each of the 12 Tribes, to go take a look at the Land. Even today, in Hebrew, that is what Israel is called - HaAretz, the Land. To keep the story short, ten of the spies came back and reported that the land was filled with giants who would crush the Hebrews. With that, of course, the people once again decided to criticize Moshe and recommend a return to Mitzrayim (Egypt). This was the episode that broke God's back, so to speak. At the point where the people were prepared to stone Moshe and Aharon, it says the following:

14:10. But the entire assembly said to pelt them with stones -- and the glory of Hashem appeared in the Tent of Meeting to all the Children of Israel:


Notice that its says "the glory of Hashem appeared in the Tent of Meeting to all the Children of Israel:" Personally, I would not call this a good sign - in fact, it reminds me of those times when, as a child, I could hear one of my parents thundering down the hall to have a little chat. As the Parashah goes onto explain, God suggests that things might be better if he got rid of the Hebrews altogether and starts over with Moshe and Aharon. As we have seen throughout this relationship between Hashem and Moshe, Moshe once again negotiates for their lives. The end result is that God spares the lives of the people but determines that this particular generation shall not enter the Aretz. Rather, they shall wander for forty years until they have died out. There were, of course, two exceptions - Calev ben Yefuneh of the Tribe of Yehudah (Judah) and Yehoshuah (Joshua) ben Nun of the Tribe of Ephraim. This is the same Joshua, by the way, that would eventually lead the people into the Aretz. These two men brought back favorable reports concerning the Land and pointed out that Hashem had worked previous miracles and would help the people conquer the Land. This particular Land, as I have shown in other Parashot, is not just land. It has some kind of character, some power, of its own that throughout time has asserted itself and continues to do so even today. It demands respect and the keeping of the Laws of God - without that, it spits people out. Literally. I think that by looking at history, we can assume that one of the primary Laws is Ahavat Yisrael, literally a love for all other Jews. Personally, since that is pretty tough, respectful tolerance is probably more than adequate. During the times when the respect has been demonstrated, haAretz flourished. At those times when it was absent or worse, Klal Yisrael has been taken into captivity or expelled in other ways - the Land spit them out.

There are some very interesting commentaries around some versus which I'll include for those who wish to look these up. In the section where the spies are listed, here is the listing for Yehoshua:

13:8. For the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea son of Nun:

In the area where Calev and Yehoshuah are taking the positive position, it says:

13:30. Calev silenced the people toward Moses and said, "We shall surely ascend and conquer it, for we can surely do it!"

Notice that Yehoshuah is not mentioned. When first God remarks that there are exceptions, it says this:

14:24. But My servant Calev, because a different spirit was with him and he followed Me wholeheartedly, I shall bring him to the Land to which he came, and his offspring shall possess it:

Again, Yehoshuah isn't mentioned. Then, later both names are mentioned again at:

14:30. if you shall come to the Land about which I have raised My hand in an oath to settle you there, except for Calev son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun:

It is these kinds of things that make the Torah so much fun to study. Here are the obvious questions. Why the change in name from Hoshea to Yehoshuah? Why is Yehoshuah not mentioned in two key points when it is obvious from the outcome that he was involved? And then, why the name change at verse 30? The meforshim (commentators) cover these things in great detail. It was just these kinds of things that originally got me interested in studying Chumash in and eventually writing this weekly commentary.

So what could possibly be more interesting than this little riddle? It is found at the very end of the Parashah in Perek Tet-Zayin (Chapter 16).

38. "Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them that they shall make themselves tzitzit (fringes) on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations. And they shall place upon the tzitzit of each corner a thread of turquoise wool:

39. It shall constitute tzitzit for you, that you may see it and remember all the commandments of Hashem and perform them; and not explore after your heart and after your eyes after which you stray:

40. So that you may remember and perform all My commandments and be holy to your God:

41. I am Hashem, your God, Who has removed you from the land of Egypt to be a God unto you; I am Hashem your God."

We say these words twice daily when we recite the Sh'ma Yisrael (Hear Oh Israel). Specifically, I want to focus on the last two psukim (verses). For those who might not understand what tzitzit is, this is an undergarment that observant men wear that has four distinct corners. On each of those corners are these fringes or tzitziyot (plural for tzitzit) created from four individual threads and tied in such a manner as to create eight threads extending from the knots.

Although Rav Hirsch's comments on these two sentences covers seven pages in the Hirsch Chumash, I'll only talk about a couple of the salient points.

Rav Hirsch begins by pointing out that verse 39 focuses on seeing the tzitzit and remembering God's commandments and staying attentive. As to verse 40, he says,

But v. 40 declares the goal to be that it is not the symbol that we are to have in mind, but God Himself in His special relation to us and let that so constantly and completely fill our minds that we go through life always conscious of our duty, so that we do truly belong to our God with the whole of our existence, which is what is meant by being "holy" unto Him. Verse 39 [speaks of] the stage to be reached as human beings, v. 40 raises us to the calling of Jews.

In the commentaries to verse 41, Rav Hirsch begins by focusing on the words "I am Hashem your God" meaning that God is the source of our being, the Director and Manager of our fate, and Ordainer of our actions, and of our calling as Man and Jew and our Liberator, Saviour, and Lawgiver. In relation to being freed from Mitzrayim, he says:

That experience forms the basis for all time of this consciousness of ours, and gives us, for all eternity the guiding principle for all our thoughts and all our desires, the all-embracing Word of God.

There follows a great deal of discussion on the fact that the tzitzit on the clothing is intended to sanctify what we wear. After all, clothing was not initially required at the expulsion from Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden). It was clothing that was one of the significant differences after Adam and Chava ate of the Tree of Knowledge. To quote:

But, according to its historical origin (refer to Bereshit (Genesis) 3:7 and 3:21) the relation of clothing to our moral human calling is such an intimate one, and the going astray which preceded it, and against which it is designed to protect, is not only related and similar to that which is mentioned in our v.39 here, but is so identically similar to it, that it seems to us that the association of ideas could hardly be more striking.

Rav Hirsch continues with a great deal of explanation concerning the parallel between clothing following expulsion from Gan Eden and the tzitzit, and how this all ties into this week's Parashah and the story of the spies and the bad report concerning the Aretz. In conclusion, he says the following:

By [the sin with the Tree of Knowledge], Man lost Paradise, as a warning against future similar errors and as an educational means of reminder of consciousness of duty in the future he was given clothes. By [the negative report of ten of the spies], Israel in the wilderness lost the regaining of Paradise which was meant to begin with [entering the Land flowing with milk and honey]. As warning against future similar errors and as an educational means of reminder of consciousness of duty in the future they were given: tzitzit on their garments. The former was a denial of God as being the Guide to our actions, the latter denial of His being the Decider of our fate. [The mitzvah of tzitzit] takes them both together, and, [by returning to being taken out of Mitzrayim] declares the fact that guarantees us both and proclaims "I am Hashem, your God, Who has removed you from the land of Egypt to be a God unto you; I am Hashem your God."

________

Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash and from Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash

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