Weekly Reading Insights


Overview of the Weekly Reading: Shlach
To be read on the Shabbat of 21Sivan, 5762 (June 1)

Torah: Numbers 13:1-15:41
Haftorah: Joshua 2:1-24 (sending of the spies to Jericho)
Pirkei Avot: Chapter Three, (Chapter Two outside of Israel)

Stats: Shlach contains 2 positive mitzvot and 1 prohibitive mitzvot. Among the Weekly Readings,
ranks 21 out of 54 in number of verses, 27 in number of words, and 27 in number of letters

Shlach begins by relating how Moshe sent the 12 spies to survey the Promised Land. Ten of the spies returned with an evil, discouraging report, which influenced negatively a majority of the people. Because of the Jews' apparent disbelief in G-d's ability to conquer the Land, all the men between the ages of 20 and 60 were decreed to perish in the desert during the next 38 years. Despite the decree, a group of Jews defiantly attempted to enter the Holy Land but were soundly defeated by Amalekites and Canaanites. Next described are the details of meal and dough offerings, and communal and individual sin offerings for committing idolatry inadvertently. Next is the story of a man caught violating the Shabbat and the account of his death sentence. Last is the mitzva to separate challa from dough, to wear fringes (tzitzis) with a special strand of blue on four cornered garments, and not to be drawn after our heart and eyes.


"That you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of G-d." (15:39)

Why do we need a large tallit to pray if we can remember the commandments by looking at the tzitzit, the fringes which are already attached to our tallit katan, the four-cornered undergarment worn under the clothes? A tallit totally envelopes the individual and symbolizes that which cannot be understood or encompassed by the human mind. It reminds us that the 613 mitzvot of the Torah stem from a source far greater than mere human understanding.

(Likutei Sichot)


"A land which eats its inhabitants." (13:32)

The land of Israel does indeed consume those who merely "inhabit" it (from the word meaning "to sit" or "settle"). A Jew must never relax and sit complacently when it comes to spiritual matters, but must always strive to better himself and ascend the ladder of holiness.

(Rabbi Yitzchak of Vorka)



Selected with permission from the five-volume English edition of Ohr HaChaim: the Torah Commentary of Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar, as translated and annotated by Eliyahu Munk.
The holy Rabbi Chayim ben Moses Attar was born in Sale, Western Morocco, on the Atlantic in 1696. His immortal commentary on the Five Books Of Moses, Or Hachayim, was printed in Venice in 1741, while the author was on his way to the Holy Land. He acquired a reputation as a miracle worker, hence his title "the holy," although some apply this title only to his Torah commentary.

"….for they are our bread." [14:9]

The reason Joshua and Caleb compared the Canaanites to bread is explained by the kabbalists. The latter have researched the kind of foods animals exist on and have tried to gain an insight into the significance of the respective animal' food supply.
After all, had He but wanted to, G-d could have created the animals in such a way that they did not have to depend on food at all.
We know that there are species that feed merely on air, which serves such creatures as food. Seeing this is possible, why did G-d not make the Israelites independent of food and all that its preparation entails so that they could devote their entire lives to Torah study and the performance of the commandments? Not only that, but had we been created as independent of a food supply, we would not have been exposed to many of the potential pitfalls different kinds of food represent for us.
I would have answered that if we had not been created in such a way that we are dependent of food for our existence, we would not have been able to fulfill all the commandments in the Torah that deal with certain foods. Our dependence on certain foods enables us to perform the various commandments in the Torah that are related to food.
The Kabbalists (Shaar Hagilgulin chapter 4 by Rabbi Yitzchak Luria) did not answer our question in this vein. They have added an additional dimension that makes us perceive the lives of all creatures as more meaningful. All living creatures are perceived as achieving a higher level of sanctity by means of the food they consume.
They very act of consuming the food helps the inherent level of sanctity they poses to become more manifest through being crystallized.
This concept applies even to the "unclean" animals. None of the wicked people, not even Satan himself, is totally devoid of a certain degree of sanctity. In fact, the only reason a wicked person or Samael can continue to exist is this element of sanctity that he contains. The moment this element of sanctity is lost, the entire creature is lost, disintegrates.
Keeping these concepts in mind, Joshua and Caleb considered the Canaanites as food for the Jewish people seeing that they had already lost whatever spark of sanctity they used to possess. They elaborated in this theme when they said that the Canaanites' shadow had departed from them, i.e. the spark of sanctity, which alone had kept them alive thus far, was already in the process of leaving them.
The fact that "G-d-d is with us," makes us like the magnet which draws unto it these sparks of sanctity which were still within the bodies of the Canaanites. As a result, there was absolutely no reason to fear these people.

An essay from Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter

Our portion begins with the words, "Shlach lecha"- 'send for yourself'-spies. Rashi explains that the sending was predicated 'on your (Moshe's) own initiative'. Even though G-d made it clear that sending the spies was Moshe's decision, nevertheless, when the mission ended disastrously, Moshe was not faulted. This is because each Jew is given a mission to conquer his portion of the world and transform it into "the Holy Land", a place where Divinity is revealed. Any trials and tribulation we may experience are not in order to make us crazy, but are meant as opportunities to help us fulfill our mission. And as Rashi explains, this mission requires our initiative. Initiative here means our own special qualities invested in positive actions to seek and find the most appropriate ways to fulfill our purpose-whether broadly, in our business lives, or on an individual basis communicating with family, friends and acquaintances.

Sometimes we are blind to our own abilities. The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, wrote about an experience with a Chasid to whom he had delegated a certain important task. The Chasid asked question after question: how he should act; how should he deal with different details, etc. When the private audience was over and the Chasid was on his way, the Rebbe commented that he had acted like a spoiled child, implying that the Rebbe was "lifting him and throwing him into the sea!" Because each difficulty in our lives is really an opportunity to fulfill our goal, we are given the special qualities needed to fulfill the task. Just sometime we have to dig to discover the required talents.

In 1955, the Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote a letter discussing this idea from a different perspective. Each of us asks G-d to help us with our problems. We do this with out taking into account whether or not we deserve such assistance.
G-d, in His goodness, comes through for us time after time. And yet when G-d sends us on a mission, usually to help another Jew physically or spiritually, we can't seem to do this little thing that G-d wants without complaining or exaggerating His expectations. "Just DO IT!", the Rebbe says, "and see that the Almighty will provide you with all of your necessities."

The Kotzker Rebbe asks, "What was the sin of the spies"? There is no question that they were telling the truth. They saw powerful giants and numerous burials. Yet, how was it conceivable that those leaders, who had seen so many miracles, could doubt G-d's ability to conquer the land? The answer is that the spies, except Joshua and Kalev, were not anshei emes-'men of truth'. A person who admits to the truth is a 'non-liar' but not necessarily a man of truth. A man of truth is one who confronts a situation which appears to be the antithesis of G-d's promised word, and yet he will strive to prove to himself that the situation does indeed comply with G-d's word. This was the spies sin. They did not attempt to verify G-d's word as true in a seemingly opposing reality. Thus, Rashi (13/32) writes that while the spies interpreted the burials to signify that Israel "consumes its inhabitants", G-d actually caused the burials in order to avert the inhabitants' attention from the spies.
Mr. Yehuda Avner, former Israel ambassador to Australia and an unofficial liaison between the Lubavitcher Rebbe and the Israeli government, related a poignant story. Once, he asked the Rebbe what the purpose of a Rebbe is. The Rebbe answered with an analogy of opening a cupboard and seeing an unlit candle. Essentially, a candle is a stick of wax with a string, but until it is lit, these elements serve no purpose. The candle represents a Jew's body, and the stick, a Jew's soul. The flame is the fire of Torah. Only when the candle is lit does it serve its purpose. Similarly, only when a Jew is shining the way for others is he fulfilling his or her purpose. The Rebbe is the one who helps light the candle. Upon concluding the meeting, Mr. Avner asked if the Rebbe had kindled his (Mr. Avner's) wick. The Rebbe answered 'No, but I have given you the match.'

Shabbat Shalom!

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