Why was this parsha placed next to the parsha about Miriam being afflicted with Tzaraas?
Let’s mention a few ideas to take to and from this week’s parsha.
First some questions to open things up…
Who initiated the request to send spies?
What role did Hashem play?
What was the purpose of the venture?
How long was the trip?
What day did they return?
What did they report?
What repercussions came from this dark episode?
Did any spies dissent? Who?
What did they bring back from Israel?
How many spies were sent? Did anybody else go?
How come when Yehoshua was leading them in again, 40 years later, he sent spies?
Rashi asks: why was this parsha placed next to the parsha about Miriam being afflicted with Tzaraas. He brings the medrash that explains that the spies should have taken a lesson, that just as Miriam was stricken for speaking loshon hara by degrading Moshe, so too they must be careful not to speak unfavourably about the Promised Land.
Many of the commentators on Rashi are bothered by what was bothering Rashi that he felt the need to make this comment. Rashi, as everybody knows, and he himself notes in many places, is only concerned with clarifying the simple understanding of the text, and not to say sermons, or philosophy or the like. So what was bothering Rashi here that he felt the need to explain.
If the juxtaposition of the parshas needs explanation, then surely this instance is no more obtuse than many of the other sequences in the Torah, of which Rashi comments on almost none. One opinion notes, that the episode in next week’s parsha, Korach happened in the same place as that of Miriam, Chatzeros. This implies that the two were chronologically adjacent, and our parsha really happened later on, closer to Israel. This being the case, it is very obvious what is bothering Rashi: this parsha is recorded anachronistically – and he goes on to explain why.
The other major view shows that Rashi himself in other places assumes that the chronology of these parshas is preserved. (As for the fact that the parshas surrounding it both happened in the same place, he explins, that is because they doubled back after the calamity with the spies.) So then – what is bothering Rashi to make his comment? The answer given is that there are other medrashim and verses in Torah telling us that the request of the nation to send spies occurred well before this parsha. According to this, Rashi is coming to explain: why did Hashem and Moshe wait to resond to the request until now. In other words – not – why did the Torah juxtapose them, but – why were they caused to happen together. (To which Rashi explains, that this was the perfect opportunity to give then their marching orders, for the gravity of negative speech was fresh in their minds. It is interesting to note that according to most understandings of our parsha, the spies were suspected from the outset of loshon hara.)
Who are the two spies who do not stumble?
A: Yehoshua, representing the tribe of Ephraim, and Calev from Yehuda.
Did the make any special protective measures?
A: Yehoshua was given a bracha by his rebbe, Moshe. The Blessing consisted in adding a letter yud (some say that was taken from Sarai when she became Sarah), to his name (going from Hoshea to Yehoshua). Rashi explains one facet of the significance of this, that the name Yehoshua is a compound of “Hashem shall save”, (I have to admit I am quite partial to the name).
Calev was not given a bracha, perhaps (especially according to the view that this parsha did not immediately follow that of Miriam,) because as Miraim’s husband, he was much closer to the lesson which needed to be learnt. Rashi brings a medrash stating that Calev actually did do something: he went up to Chevron and prostrated himself by the tombs of the patriarchs and matriarchs buried there. (Rashi brings strong evidence to substantiate this, e.g. when the Chumash refers to the spies’ journey, by Chevron the verb switches from plural to singular, also in Deuteronomy it states that Calev is being granted the place he trod on, and in the book of Judges, it says the Chevron was given over to Calev.)
Why did Yehoshua and Calev take different measures? The Or HaChaim explains this distinction as a function of their roles in the story. Yehoshua went with straightness and purity, and thus was in physical danger from the spies who plotted otherwise. Calev however masked his intentions, and mixed in with the rest. Thus the verse says that ‘a different spirit was in him’ – And since his inside did not match his outside, his danger was spiritual, from being contaminated by his ways and assimilated by his environment, and therefore he went to the Forefathers, who succeeded in standing against the world in their quest for the true way.
The parsha ends with tsitsis – can you find any parallels from it to the beginning of the parsha? Speaking of logical juxtapositions, what is the connection between tsitis and the event of the person stoned for profaning Shabbos by carrying? (I assume if Rashi didn’t say anything, then he expects we can figure it out.)
The is a tradition from the Yeshiva of Eliahu (Elijah the prophet), that some claimed that during the rest of the week, we have tfillin to remind us of all the mitzvos (our people used to wear tefillin most of the day, not just for davening), but on Shabbos when we don’t wear tfillin, we are apt to forget, asn perhaps we will stumble just as he did. Therefore Hashem gave them tzitzis, about which it states ‘and you shall see them, and you shall remember all of Hashem’s mitzvos, and you shall do them”.
It is worth noting, that, despite our hearing of the ten times they tested Hashem in their fourty years in the desert, this was the lone transgression of the Sabbath the entire time. Either hurray for tsitsis, or we see the honest impact of raw corporal punishment.
One last idea to note; the spies are instructed to seek out a number of things on their way, one is if there is a tree there. We would expect the verse to state trees in the plural, for who much cares for a single tree. Secondly, he already asked them to see if the land is fruitful, so they will know if it is fit for planting trees. Thus Rashi comments – Moshe is not referring to a Spruce, but rather to a tzaddik, and goes on to bring verses from scripture where we see that the righteous are allegorized as trees.
Why? What is the parable and why is it relevant to the mission of the spies?
Just as a tree provides shade and shelter, so too a tzaddik protects his generation.
We see how Moshe succeeded in gaining atonement for the nation after each of their sins.
A bountiful tree makes a place more valuable and cared for. We see this when Hashem and Avraham are bargaining as to how many righteous would be needed to redeem Sodom and Gomorrah. (Had there been a minyan of tzaddikim in the days of Noach, they could have sustained the world – alas they were one short.) When Yakov left Beer Sheva, it says that when he left, so did all the glory and splendor. The Talmud refers to a tzaddik named Reb Chanina –who sustained himself from week to week on a handful of carobs, yet was so beloved by Hashem that he was worthy to sustain the whole world.
Just as a tree is strong and can take the strength of the sun and the harshness of the winter, and invests roots and layer for the long run, as opposed to grasses, shrubs, plants, etc, so too a tzaddik embodies these same virtues. During all these trying times in the desert, it is the firm faithfulness and merciful forebearance of the leaders which keep the nation from collapsing and moving forward.
Just as a tree leads the way, and can serve as a lesson, so too a tzaddik benefits others by being a role model for a more ideal person/Jew/father/wife/teacher/businessperson/etc.
The Ramchal, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, writes in Mesillas Yesharim (Path of the Just), that two of the conditions of being a chassid (one who goes beyond the letter of the law out of his love for his Father in Heaven), relate to one’s intentions in their service in this world. The first is to intend that all of your deeds should be for the glory of Heaven, and make Hashem’s Name great in this world. The second is that one should intend for all his deeds to be a merit for his generation. In other words, it may not be sufficient to be a tzaddik in action alone, but one must also intend to bestow benefit and merit on others.
May we all merit to be in the congregation of the truly righteous, and to approach their ways in our own lives. Good Shabbos,