by Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher, Dean of Students, Diaspora Yeshiva
Parshat Shelach begins with the Sin of the Spies and ends with the Mitzvah of Tzitzit (the wearing of the fringes on the Tallis, the prayer shawl). Is there a link between the two? To answer this question we must ask another.
What was the sin of the Spies? It cannot be that the sin was the very fact that they were sent. On the contrary, we ﬁnd the use of spies against the enemy camp in many places. For example, it says, "Moshe sent out men to spy on Ya'azer" (Bamidbar 21:32). Likewise, Yehoshua sent out two spies to see the Land and Jericho. Regarding Gideon we ﬁnd that Hashem sent him to spy on the Midianite camp to hear what the Midianites were saying so as to be in a stronger position to attack them (Shoftim 7:1 1).
Therefore, Ramban (Bamidbar 13:2) does not view the actual sending of the spies as the sin. On the contrary, he writes; "This is reasonable counsel for all occupying forces. The Torah does not advise relying on miracles in all that one does. Rather, it commands that soldiers, once dispatched, cautiously lay in ambush for the right moment to attack."
If the sin was not in the spies being sent, then what was it? Ramban further reﬁnes the question. Seemingly the spies spoke the truth and the report they issued was appropriate to what they had been commanded to ﬁnd out. They had been asked to see if the soil was rich or weak (Bamidbar 13:20) and they answered that it was rich, and that it was a land ﬂowing with milk and honey. To the question of whether the Land had trees or not, they responded by displaying its fruit, as Moshe had commanded that they do. What then was the sin of the Spies?
Ramban answers that the Spies had been commanded to provide information about the Land, and their sin was that they added their own opinion that the Conquest of the Land would be absolutely impossible to carry out. The Spies conducted themselves like some of our media personalities whose job it is to provide the public with facts and information, and who instead take advantage of the tool in their hands to weave in their own commentary, assessments and opinions. This was the sin of the Spies.
Chatam Sofer in Torat Moshe likewise holds that sending out the spies was appropriate in accordance with wartime practices, because we mustn't rely on miracles, but should conduct ourselves according to the laws of nature. He adds that the spies did not provide false information. Rather, the information they provided should have been given exclusively to Moshe, who had sent them (Bamidbar 13:3). It was for Moshe alone to decide how to use their information. Yet they did not do this. Rather, immediately on the Spies return, "…they brought their report to Moshe, Aharon and the entire Israelite community" (Bamidbar 13:26). They did this with the intention of demoralizing and weakening the Jewish People, like some of the "Spies" of today (Peace Now and J Street).
The Book of Psalms long ago revealed to us that lack of faith and an absence of love of the Land of Israel are the root cause of the sin of the Spies; "They despised the precious land, they did not believe His word" (Psalm 106:24). Therefore, the answer to the confusion and doubt amongst our generation regarding Eretz Yisroel is increased education towards love of the Land, People and Torah of Israel.
That education is to be found at the end of the Parshah of the Spies, which deals with the Mitzvah of Tzitzit. Rav Soloveitchik explains that the blue thread of Tzitzit is a symbol to view world events more deeply than the deep blue sky. The Talmud in Menachot states that the blue thread of Tzitzit reminds us to look up at the blue heavens and to admire the incredible, vast expanse of endless space leading to its source, the Ein Sof - Hashem. As Psalms 19:2 states, "The Heavens tell the glory of G-d."
Also, the Parshah of Tzitzit states, "Do not follow your own ‘spies’ of your hearts and your eyes" - to be misled into sin (Bamidbar 15:39). The Torah concludes the Parshah of the Spies with, "and you shall see Him" meaning to see Hashem in everything in nature (Bamidbar 15:40). Thus the GEMATRIA (numerical value) of the word nature in Hebrew HATEVA equals EL O HIM (G-d). We must teach ourselves to view world events as they really are, as the Torah views them, and not to be deceived by superﬁcial appearances.
This idea applies especially to the Land of Israel. Eretz Yisroel is a land overﬂowing with beauty and sanctity. Some of its beautiful qualities are revealed, and others are hidden beneath the surface. In a similar sense, the righteous one among the Spies, Kalev ben Yefuneh, saw only the good in Eretz Yisroel, unlike his colleagues, who were deceived by the superﬁcial problems they saw here. Thus, he was called KALEV, the same root as the word KELEV (dog), because a dog is always digging beneath the surface to ﬁnd the buried treasure.
So too, a Jew in the Land of Israel has to plumb the depths to discover the hidden treasure, beauty and sanctity, concealed in Eretz Yisroel.
I would like to add a note about the righteous women in the desert. The women did not believe the report of the 10 spies, but were much more realistic about the good report of Kalev and Joshua. The men were punished with the reminder of having to wear Tzitzit, but were also told that when they pray they will have to be in a quorum of as least ten men. These punishments did not apply to women (both then and now), since women are at a higher spiritual level and didn’t see the negative but the positive of the report of the spies.
I remember about 25 years ago a Jewish woman who worked in our office. She was a member of a Conservative Synagogue and came to me one day with an announcement. She said: you probably don’t agree with this, but I just purchased my woman’s Tallis. I told her that it wasn’t me that she should worry about, but instead what Hashem had to say about her wearing a Tallis. I told her the story of the Spies and how men were punished because of their poor judgment and lack of trust in Hashem. I mentioned that Jewish women are on a higher spiritual level, and that if she wanted to lower herself to the level of a man that was her decision. I told her how hard I work to try to approach the higher level of a woman and how ironic it is that uneducated women think that Tallis and Tefillin is a privilege for men instead of a crutch to bring the man closer to the level that a woman has naturally. She was totally silent, but it didn’t make any difference. I am sure it gave her something to think about.
I had this same discussion with the leader of the Women of the Wall, who think that they are being discriminated against by not being able to wear Tallis and Tefillin. I got even less of a response from them since they are being paid by a Jew-hating organization to go to the wall and fight Hashem. It is so difficult to tell these women that the little pay that they are receiving now will be infinitely offset by the punishment later.
Hashem’s plan is perfect. People’s flawed opinion is dangerous. As I have said “Ignorance is not bliss, ignorance is very dangerous.” Whatever Hashem tells us to do, man or woman, it is for our benefit, for our growth and for our well-being. Those who think they know better than Hashem will find out the hard way exactly what they threw away.