Parashas Shelach – I Spy...
This week we have Parashas Shelach which contains the famous incident of the spies who were the first people to cross into Israel and bring back a report on the land following our exodus from Egypt. Last week we saw the nation indulge in the three sins of speedily fleeing from mount Sinai, complaining about having to venture into the wilderness and the dissatisfaction with the manna... in this week's sedra we see that things got even worst with the incident of the meraglim/spies which culminated with the decree from Hashem that the nation will wander the desert for forty years whilst the sinful generation perished and only then would we be able to enter Eretz Yisrael. The chapter of the spies follows on immediately after the incident of Miriam being struck with tzaraas for her criticism of Moshe [12:10] , and from the incident with the wicked spies we see that the nation had not learned the gravity of malicious gossip whether it be about each other or the slandering of the Land which Hashem had promised us. The whole incident arouses a vast number of questions which I could literally fill several Dvar Torah's answering but as this is unrealistic I will just deal with some of the more interesting ones.
In the first possuk of Parashas Shelach we learn that... “Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying, “send forth men, if you please, and let them spy out the Land...” [13:1]. Automatically from this possuk we see that this is not a normal command as it contains the strange language of 'if you please' which implies Moshe had a choice in the matter. What we learn from Parashas Devarim, which is later on in the Torah, is that there is more to this possuk than would first meet the eye. Rashi and the other mefarshim explain that it was the people that first approached Moshe, requesting that he dispatch spies to scout the land which they would soon enter, this possuk is therefore merely Hashem's response to Moshe consulting Him on the matter. It is brought down in Midrashim the interesting and convincing arguments which Bnai Yisrael used in order to justify the request of such an expedition which included;
to advise the nation which route would be easiest to take and where to attack first
the scouting out of the Canaanite hiding places which they would surely use to conceal treasures they also claimed that halachically they were obligated due to the fact that they are supposed to destroy idolatrous images from non-Jews which are actively worshipped, but not idols that are not used. The spying mission would therefore ascertain which idols the Canaanites worshipped so that they could be destroyed
in order to determine the native language which would be paramount to further spying during the war to uncover strategies
The real reasons why the nation did not want to enter however were because they were not convinced the land was special enough to warrant fighting a major war over. Although Hashem had assured them that the land was good, no one from their generation had ever seen the land and therefore they wanted confirmation by eye-witness report that the Promised Land was in fact very good. There was also a very apparent fear amongst them as Bnai Yisrael was comprised of only a handful of unskilled fighters which compared very unfavourably to the numerous and well-trained armies of the seven nations who inhabited the land. They questioned how they could face such a fearful enemy on unknown territory absent of any information on numbers, the strength of their army and the other details relevant to combat. Although these points seem quite reasonable, Hashem condemned their lack of emunah/faith in his word and this request for spies to go to the land was the start of a very ugly episode for the Jewish people.
The spies were selected “every one a leader among them” [13:2] as Hashem wanted all the tribes to be equally represented and therefore all have a share in the blame in the event of failure. All the spies were therefore distinguished people and this was paramount so that they would be able to resist, like Yehoshua and Calev did, any inclination to misinterpret the information they gathered during their mission. Rashi also notes that the description of the spies as “אנשים/anashim” [13:3] insinuates that all of them were still distinguished men when they begun their mission. Besides all this we see that Moshe sensed a problem from the outset and basically predicted the disaster which was about to occur. The Torah states that on completion of the selection of the spies... “Moshe called Hoshea son of Nun, 'Yehoshua'” [13:16]; by adding the letter 'י ' to his name 'הושע/Hoshea' to create the new name 'יהושע/Yehoshua', which means 'G-d save' or 'G-d will save', Moshe was effectively praying for Yehoshua and according to Rashi was implying through this new name the bracha that... 'may G-d save you from the conspiracy of the spies'.
So the Or HaChaim asks... why change his name? Why not just daven for Yehoshua if Moshe sensed this danger? Well one answer which Rashi touches on is that every time he would now use his name he would be praying for him and strengthening him. We saw this when Leah named her son Yehudah... it says in Gemara Brachas that every time she called to Yehudah she remembered to thank Hashem because the root of this name means 'thankfulness' and 'praise' according to the Sforno on this in Parashas Vayeitzei. A second answer is brought by Or HaChaim however who states that when it came to the spies, their names somehow alluded to their downfall. This doesn't mean that because of their name they were destined to fail as this would remove their free will but he explains that a name can lead to certain behaviours so the episode that played out was originally alluded to in their names... lets look inside their names to understand this a bit more... For the tribe of Reuven, the spy Shamua ben Zakur: He did not listen to Hashem's word (Shamua); and was therefore equivalent to someone who practices witchcraft (zakur)
For the tribe of Shimon, the spy Shafat ben Chori: He did not conquer (shafat) his evil inclination that urged him to slander the land, and therefore he did not enter it, (chori/chorin- became free from entering the land) For the tribe of Yissachar, the spy Yigal ben Yosaif: Because he spoke haughtily about Eretz Yisrael (Yigal/יגאל relates to the word Gaah/גאה, arrogantly) he suffered an untimely death (Yosaif relates to 'he was gathered in') For the tribe of Binyamin, the spy Palti ben Rafu: By sinning he lost all his previous good deeds (Palti implies ejection). His hands weakened (Rafu) when he died.
For the tribe of Zevulun, the spy Gadiel ben Sodi: He spoke harsh words against Hashem (כגדים/gadim, plural of gadiel- words tough like fibres) For the tribe of Menashe, the spy Gadi ben Sussi: He addressed accusing words to Heaven (Gadi related to ויגד/vayagid, he spoke), when he related, “it is a land that devours its inhabitants”, he called forth the heavenly anger (Sussi = anger) ...and this pattern of allusions in the names continues through to the other half of the spies but I think we get the general point. So by changing Yehoshua's name, Moshe was also trying to effectively change his fortune which he seemed to successfully do as his new name would imply Hashem saving him from the counsel of the spies.
There should be a burning question on this coming from you... Why didn't Moshe just change all their names or even pray for them? Why the apparent favouritism? Like most questions in Judaism, we have several answers which I suppose is better than other religions where they either don't have any or if you ask you get a 'holy war' declared against you. So the mefarshim speak of the special relationship which Moshe had with Yehoshua who was his talmid and was therefore closer to him than the other spies, he was therefore able to influence this positive change on him with the new name and pray for him. Targum Yonasan reads into the words... “when Moshe saw the humility of Yehoshua” and deciphers the fact that this implies that he felt the need to single out Yehoshua for special prayer because his humility could make him susceptible to the persuasion of his fellow spies. Another view is given over by the Chofetz Chaim who explains that Moshe knew that Yehoshua would not commit such a sin as to slander the land and would therefore need his blessings in order to protect him when he would speak up and oppose the other spies as they would surely harm him and try to silence him. My brownie point answer however comes from the Gur Aryeh who explains that the reason the blessing was needed for Yehoshua was because if he were to sin, it would be a reflection on Moshe as well, because people would say that he must have absorbed such a lack of faith from his teacher. This was not Moshe protecting his ego or image however as this was essential to his role as G-d's prophet, for if the people were to lose faith in him, this could lead them to question the Torah itself, which they had received through him! We also learn an important lesson from this drosha that our own actions are a reflection of our teachers; our rebbonim and of course our parents... we therefore need to strive to grow in Torah and mitzvahs not only for the sake of ourselves but also out of respect for those that teach us. This is a very important factor in honouring ones parents and should not be taken lightly; one who desecrates Shabbat publicly or lives a wild lifestyle is also desecrating his parents name and could lead people to think that he was brought up in a 'wild' way which is of course not always a correct reflection of the truth.
With that I bid you a very good Shabbat and chatzlacha rabba for the week ahead in all your endeavours.
Daniel Sandground, (student at Ohr Somayach Yeshiva, Jerusalem)

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