We all know that the saddest day of the Jewish calendar is Tish’a B’Av, but how many of us know how it all started? It all started in this week’s parashah. Chazal have a tradition that the Sin of the Spies took place on the ninth of Av, and on that night HaShem told the Children of Israel, “You wept in vain; I will establish for you weeping for all generations” (Ta’anit 29a).


by Rabbi Moshe D. Lichtman. More of Rabbi Lichtman’s writings can be found at his website:

We all know that the saddest day of the Jewish calendar is Tish’a B’Av, but how many of us know how it all started? And even if we know the historical facts, how many of us have truly internalized the lessons? It all started in this week’s parashah. Chazal have a tradition that the Sin of the Spies took place on the ninth of
Av, and on that night HaShem told the Children of Israel, “You wept in vain; I will establish
for you weeping for all generations” (Ta’anit 29a). The Mishnah (Ta’anit 4:6) lists five tragic
events that occurred on Tish’a B’Av, including the destruction of both Temples. The first
tragedy was the episode of the Spies, making it the source of all of our troubles throughout
history. Therefore, it behooves us to understand this sin, so that we can rectify it and bring
about the ultimate redemption, which will transform Tish’a B’Av into a joyous holiday. An
entire volume can be written on the exact identification of the Sin of the Spies and its
underlying causes. On a simple level, though, the people of Israel committed two sins:
slandering Eretz Yisrael (לשון הרע) and despising the Land (מיאוס הארץ). Concerning the first
it says, – They brought an evil report about the Land that they spied out (13:32); and the
people accepted the spies’ lashon ha’ra, as it says immediately afterwards, – The people wept that night, and [they] complained against Moshe and Aharon… (14:1-2). The sin of despising
the Land is also identified clearly: – And your children, of whom you said they will become a
prey, I will bring them [in], and they will know the Land that you despised (14:31). The
psalmist sums it all up: – They despised the desirable Land, they did not believe His word.
They murmured in their tents, they did not listen to the voice of the Lord (Tehillim 106:24-
25). Let us concentrate on the sin of lashon ha’ra. At the very beginning of the parashah,
Rashi comments: “Why was the episode of the spies placed immediately after the episode of
Miriam? It is because she was punished on account of the slander she spoke against her
brother, and these wicked men saw [what happened to her] yet did not learn a lesson.” An
obvious distinction can be made, however. Miriam spoke against a human being, with
feelings and emotions; while the spies spoke against an inanimate object made of earth and
stones. Why, then, were they expected to learn a lesson? Many years ago, I saw two
answers to this question, both of which are very applicable today. The book “Love Thy
Neighbor” quotes R. Yisrael Ordman as saying that the spies were expected to learn from
Miriam that one should always see the good in everything, not the bad. Even if Moshe had a
fault, there was no reason to dwell upon it. The spies, as well, should not have emphasized
the negatives of Eretz Yisrael, but the positives. Unfortunately, this is a lesson that we have
yet to internalize, to this very day. People often come back from trips to Israel, or a year of
study here, and talk about the “hardships” they encountered. They complain about the
weather, food, manners, level of religiosity etc., while overlooking all the good – the
technological advances, proliferation of Torah study, beautiful homes and communities etc.
People also accept the loshon ha’ra they hear about the Land, which is also sinful. Thousands
of Jews have canceled their trips to Israel this summer (2001) because of what they hear on
the news. I am not denying that some places may be slightly dangerous, but who says you
have to go to those places? Most areas are completely safe. Besides which, davka now is the
time to come and show support for your brethren living in Zion. Rav J. B. Soloveitchik zt”l
gives a more profound answer to our question (it is found in “Reflections of the Rav”). What,
in essence, was Miriam’s mistake? Why did she speak against her brother? She failed to
recognize Moshe Rabbeinu’s segulah quality, his absolute uniqueness as a prophet. She knew
that he was greater than all other prophets, but she failed to comprehend that he was on a
different plane, in a category of his own. He was the only prophet to reach such closeness to
HaShem. All of this is evident from HaShem’s reaction to Miriam’s slander: – My servant
Moshe is not so; he is trusted in My entire house. I speak to him mouth to mouth, in a [clear]
vision and not in riddles; he beholds the image of the Lord… (12:7-8). Similarly, the spies
failed to recognize Eretz Yisrael’s singularity (segulah), the fact that it is completely different
from all other lands – A Land that the Lord your God seeks out; the eyes of the Lord your
God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year (Devarim
11:12). Moshe Rabbeinu told the spies to scout the Land and seek out its segulah properties,
with an awareness of the great era that was about to unfold: A segulah prophet was leading a
segulah people into a segulah land. All they could see was the mundane – the giants, the
funeral processions, the unusual fruits. This is why they failed so miserably. We, too, must
view Eretz Yisrael and current events in a different light. We must recognize the uniqueness
of the Land and realize that we are living through very special times. Even when things go
wrong and cannot be ignored, we must keep in mind that Eretz Yisrael is one of the three gifts
that God gave us through suffering (Berachot 5a). We must avoid getting bogged down with
the mundane, as the spies did. We must look beyond the surface and be thankful that we live
in a generation that is privileged to see so many of the prophecies of redemption unfold
before its very eyes. We are a segulah nation returning to its segulah land after two thousand
years of exile. How can we simply ignore this fact and continue to dwell on foreign soil, just
because it is easier to live there? DESPISING THE LAND In the previous article, we
discussed one aspect of the Sin of the Spies – slandering Eretz Yisrael. Now we will
concentrate on another aspect, despising the Land (מיאוס הארץ). Unfortunately, this sin has
plagued us throughout our long and turbulent history, and it continues to plague us to this
very day, as the author of Akeidat Yitzchak writes:

Despising the Land is the issue that has risen up in every generation to destroy us. Because of
it, we were exiled from our Land, driven far from our soil, and have been a disgrace to our
neighbors… There is absolutely no way to return to our perfected state except by
returning to it [the Land]. Thus, it behooves us to understand this sin, so that we can
rectify it and expedite the final redemption. R. Ya’akov Fiber points out in his classic
work, Ayelet HaShachar (pp. 182-186), that we, the Jewish people, have been exiled
from our Land three times; and we have repeated the tragic mistake of despising Eretz
Yisrael every time. Two hundred and twenty years before the Egyptian exile even
began, HaShem told Avraham Avinu exactly how long it would last (400 years). And at
the time of the Exodus, He told the Jews explicitly where they were headed: – I will
bring you to the Land about which I lifted My hand to give it to Avraham, Yitzchak,
and Ya’akov (Shemot 6:8). Nonetheless, when the time came to actually fulfill these
promises, ten of the generation’s greatest tzaddikim (just consider the fact that
Yehoshua and Calev accompanied them) dissuaded the nation from entering the
Desirable Land, causing unspeakable pain and suffering for over three thousand years.
The duration of the Babylonian exile was also predetermined (70 years). Nonetheless,
when HaShem summoned His nation back home, via Cyrus King of Persia, the vast
majority of Jews once again demonstrated their disdain for the Land and lack of faith in
HaShem, choosing relative comfort in exile over closeness to God in Eretz Yisrael. They
even ignored the calls of Ezra the Scribe (who would have received the Torah had
Moshe Rabbeinu not preceded him [Sanhedrin 21b]). What was the result of this failure
to enter the Land? The eventual destruction of the Second Temple, as the Talmud
(Yoma 9b) states: Reish Lakish was swimming in the Jordan River. Rabba bar Bar-
Chanah came along and gave him his hand [to help him out of the river]. [Reish Lakish]
said, “By God, I hate you! [Rashi: I hate all residents of Babylonia, who did not ascend
(to Eretz Yisrael) at the time of Ezra, thus preventing the Shechinah from returning and
resting upon the Second Temple.] As it is written, – If she be a wall, we will build upon
her a battlement of silver; and if she be a door, we will enclose her with a cedar board
(Shir HaShirim 8:9): Had you made yourselves like a wall and ascended all together at
the time of Ezra, you would have been compared to silver, which does not decay. Now
that you went up like doors, you were compared to cedar wood, which decays [Rashi: A
gate that has two doors is opened one door at a time; similarly, you ascended by halves
(i.e., insufficiently)]. And here we are nearing the end of the third and final exile, and
we are repeating the same mistake once again. It all started in the mid-1700s, when the
Vilna Gaon began encouraging his students to resettle the Land in preparation for the
final redemption. One of his disciples, R. Hillel of Shklov, writes in a book called Kol
HaTor (chap. 5): Many people are committing the grievous sin of despising the
Desirable Land. Also, many Torah-Jews do not realize that they are caught up in the
Sin of the Spies… They cover up their false opinions by saying that there is no mitzvah
to settle the Land today… These “spies” think that they are greater than the Tana’im
and Amora’im who determined that “Yishuv Eretz Yisrael is equal to all the mitzvot of
the Torah.” [They also think that they are greater than] the Ramban… the Shelah
HaKadosh… And who amongst all the later authorities is greater than our master the
Gra, who urged his students to go up to Eretz Yisrael… to bring the end of the exile
closer through Yishuv Eretz Yisrael? Almost everyday he told us with great emotion
that through Zion and Jerusalem there shall be a remnant… and that every
remembrance from heaven requires a remembrance and awakening from below…
Many of our brethren from Russia were preparing enthusiastically to go to Eretz
Yisrael to fulfill the command of our master the Gra, but they were cooled down by a
number of Torah-Jews. And what about today? One could claim that Diaspora Jews
cherish their ancestral Homeland very dearly. After all, they support the State of Israel
and its inhabitants both morally and monetarily: they come on solidarity missions,
attend rallies, lobby their congressmen to pass pro-Israel laws, buy Israeli products, etc.
I don’t mean to belittle these very important measures in any way, but the problem is
that these Jews still prefer foreign lands to their only true Homeland. Intentional or not,

this demonstrates a certain degree of disdain for Eretz Yisrael, for if they truly loved
and appreciated the Land, they would settle for nothing less than actually living there.
In the words of R. Ya’akov Emden (in his introduction to the Siddur): Do not intend to
settle down in Chutz LaAretz, God forbid… That was our ancestors’ sin, despising the
Desirable Land, which caused us eternal weeping. And this [sin] has stood against us
throughout our bitter exile. Not just one [enemy] has risen up against us, but peace and
tranquility have eluded us in every generation. We have been persecuted; we have
toiled but found no rest; we have been forgotten like the dead, all because we have
completely forgotten about living in Eretz Yisrael. ADDITIONAL REFERENCES( The
Lord spoke to Moshe, saying, “Send forth men, for yourself, that they may search out
(ויתורו) the Land of Canaan, which I give to the Children of Israel; you shall send one
man each from his father’s tribe, every one a leader among them.” Moshe sent them
forth from the Wilderness of Paran, by the word of the Lord; they were all [important]
men; heads of the Children of Israel were they (13:1-3). According to R. Shmuel David
Lutzato, there is a difference between תר (a “tourist”) and מרגל (a spy). A person who
tours [a certain place] seeks out the good, [as it says, – The Ark of the Lord’s Covenant
traveled before them…] to search out (לתור) a resting place for them (10:33)… The
opposite is true of a spy; he looks for the bad, as [Yosef said to his brothers], – You are
spies (מרגלים); you have come to see the nakedness of the land (BeReishit 42:9)…
Similarly, – He slandered (וירגל) your servant to my lord the king (II Shmuel 19:28)…
They all mean a revealing of [someone or something’s] disgrace and evil. Now, Moshe
Rabbeinu did not send the twelve men… out of necessity, as is known. After all, God
said that it was a land flowing with milk and honey. In addition, what difference does it
make if the nation dwelling there is strong or weak, seeing that HaShem will fight on
[the Jews’] behalf? Rather, Moshe sent them to tour the Land, to see its goodness and
tell the people of its glory, in order to encourage them to follow HaShem. They,
however, acted corruptly, plotting an abominable scheme and overturning their
dispatcher’s intention. Therefore, we refer to them as spies, even though they are called
“tourists” (תרים) in the section that describes their mission. Indeed, the Book of
Devarim (1:24) states, – They reached the Valley of Eshkol and spied it out (וירגלו אתה),
for that is what actually happened. They acted like spies, not like “tourists,” even
though they were sent to tour, not to spy. (HaKetav VeHaKabbalah) * That they may
search out the land of canaan: We find three expressions [regarding the spies]: ויתורו,
ויחפרו, וירגלו. The Jews said, – Let us send men before us, that they may spy out (ויחפרו)
the Land for us (Devarim 1:22); The Holy One Blessed be He said, – That they may
search out (ויתורו) the Land of Canaan (BeMidbar 13:1); and regarding the spies it says,
– They spied it out (וירגלו) (Devarim 1:24). This is so because there were three opinions
regarding this suggestion. God said ויתורו, which also connotes advantage (יתרון), for He
wanted to show them the advantages of Eretz Yisrael over all other lands, as it says, – [I
will go down to save it from the hand of Egypt] and bring it up from that land to a good
and spacious Land (Shemot 3:8). “Good” here refers to spiritual goodness – the fact
that the very air [of Eretz Yisrael] makes one wise – for this helps a person attain the
true good; for without it [wisdom], man has no advantage over [anything else] under the
sun. The advantages of this Land are all-encompassing. The Jewish people, however,
had a different motive [lit., spirit]. They always searched for a pretext to return to
Egypt. Therefore, they said, ויחפרו, which can also mean disgrace (חרפה). They wanted
to see the Land’s “nakedness,” so that they could have a reason to complain and say, Let
us appoint a leader and return to Egypt. Even so, they did not want [their
representatives] to give a false report, but the spies acted corruptly and did a greater
abomination than they were asked to do. They uttered lies, like all slanderers do,
exaggerating everything and telling more than they actually saw. Therefore, it says,
They spied it out (וירגלו), for the word רגל means רכיל (slandering), as Rashi writes on the
verse – Do not go around as a talebearer (VaYikra 19:16). It is also possible to explain
[our query as follows]. God said ויתורו because this Land is truly the “head” (ראש) of all
the lands, possessing many good qualities and far surpassing all other lands.

Accordingly, the Yalkut [Shimoni] on this parashah applies the verse, – The highest
part (ראש) of the dust of the world (Mishley 8:26), to Eretz Yisrael. The Spies, however,
did the opposite, saying that it is lower than all other lands, – A land that consumes its
inhabitants (13:32). They lowered it from the level of a head to one of a foot (רגל).
Therefore it says, They spied it out (וירגלו). That is, they made it into something to be
trampled underfoot [and treated it] like a foot, which is the lowest point on the body. In
truth, though, it is the head of all other lands, which is why [the Torah] always uses an
expression of aliyah, ascent, when someone goes to Eretz Yisrael. (Kli Yakar)*
“Whenever it says ‘men’ (אנשים), it refers to righteous men” (BeMidbar Rabbah 16).
We must explain why the Torah mentions all of these compliments: they were righteous;
every one a leader among them; they were all [important] men, heads of the Children of
Israel; and the fact that Moshe chose them… and HaShem agreed… All of this
contains a lesson for the future, as it says regarding the Generation of the Wilderness:
– He established a testimony in Ya’akov… so that the final generation may know… and
tell their children… and not become like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious
generation, a generation that did not set its heart aright… (Tehillim 78:5-8). The Torah
emphasizes and specifies all of these virtues of the spies so that the final generation may
know that when remembrance and salvation visit Israel, we must not believe those who
oppose the redemption of the Land, even if they are presumed to be upright and
righteous, even if they are leaders of Israel, and even if the One Who Knows All Secrets
testifies that they are tzaddikim. Why? Because they will eventually discourage the
people of Israel from entering the Land. Therefore, do not place your trust in them, for
in the end, their disgrace will be exposed like that of the spies. (Gelilei Zahav, quoted in
Itturei Torah, vol. 5, p. 75) ( Chevron (Hebron) had been built seven years before Tzoan
of Egypt (13:22). Is it possible that Cham built Chevron for Canaan, his youngest son,
before he built Tzoan for Mitzrayim (Egypt), his eldest son? Rather, [the verse means]
that Chevron was built up with all manner of good, seven times more than Tzoan was.
This comes to tell you the praise of Eretz Yisrael. For there is no rockier place in Eretz
Yisrael than Chevron – this is why they designated it for burying the dead – and no
other land is as good as Egypt, as it says, – Like the garden of the Lord, like the land of
Egypt (BeReishit 13:10). Furthermore, Tzoan is the best location in Egypt, seeing that
the kings dwelled there, as it says, – For its officers were in Tzoan (Yeshayahu 30:4).
Nevertheless, Chevron was sever times better than it. (Rashi, based on Sotah 34b) (
They came to the Valley of Eshkol and cut down from there a vine with one cluster of
grapes, and they carried it on a pole with two, and [they also took] of the pomegranates
and of the figs (13:23). The Maharsha (Sotah 35a) points out a very interesting fact.
Although the Torah praises Eretz Yisrael for producing seven specific types of fruit (see
Devarim 8:8), the spies only brought back the non-essential ones: the three mentioned in
our verse and dates (as it says four verses later, – Indeed it flows with milk and honey
[i.e, date nectar]). They did not, however, bring back wheat, barley, or olive oil, which
are far more essential for human survival. By doing so, they tried to convince the
Children of Israel that Eretz Yisrael lacks the basic necessities of life. Rabbi Zev Leff
explains this as follows. The spies brought back the fruits that people usually eat for
dessert, not the ones used for the main part of the meal. In effect, they were saying,
“Eretz Yisrael is a nice place to visit – a beautiful vacation spot, where one can take
great pictures and have a nice time, a Disney Land of sorts – but it is not a practical,
viable place to live.” Our task is to rectify this sin and strive to bring our latent desire
for God’s Special Land to the fore and actually live here. (Heard in a public lecture.) (
They [the spies] told him [Moshe] and said, “We came to the Land to which you sent us,
and indeed it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. But (אפס) the nation that
dwells in the Land is fierce, the cities are fortified very greatly, and we saw there the
children of the Giant” (13:27-28). Since Moshe commanded them to see whether the
Land is fat or lean (v. 20), they responded that it is fat, and indeed it flows with milk and
honey. And in response to his question, Does it have trees or not? (ibid.), they said, This
is its fruit, because he had commanded them to show him [its fruit]. Behold, so far they

spoke the truth, answering [all the questions] they were commanded to answer. And
they were supposed to say that the nation that dwells there is fierce and the cities are
fortified, for they had to respond truthfully to their dispatcher, as he commanded them,
– Is it [the nation] strong or weak (v. 18), whether [it dwells] in unwalled cities or in
fortresses (v. 19). However, their wickedness was in the word אפס (lit., “zero”), which
implies something excluded and precluded from man, something that is utterly
impossible [to achieve]… They told him that the Land is fat, it flows with milk and
honey, and its fruit is good, but it is impossible to obtain [these things] because the
nation is fierce… (Ramban) ( Calev silenced the people toward Moshe and said, “Let us
ascend at once and conquer it, for we can surely do it” (13:30). They were afraid,
because they had heard Eldad and Medad prophesying, “Moshe will die and Yehoshua
will lead [the Jews] into Eretz Yisrael,” and they saw that Moshe did not protest nor
order them [to stop]. Therefore, [they thought]: to enter a fortified land and fight
against Amalek, whom they had already encountered, and against giants, without
Moshe – they would all fall by the sword! Therefore, Calev silenced the nation
concerning the fact that they attributed all the wonders to Moshe. On the contrary, [he
said], “His greatness depends on you!” After all, as long as God was angry with the
Jews, He did not speak intimately with Moshe [see Rashi, Devarim 2:17]. Therefore,
Calev said, Let us ascend at once – meaning, by ourselves, without Moshe, for HaShem
does not perform miracles on account of Moshe. Rather, the Jewish nation itself
deserves particular Divine providence. This explains [Calev’s confidence in saying], for
we can surely do it. This also explains [the first part of the verse]: “Calev silenced the
people” regarding the fact that they attributed everything “to Moshe.” Do not say such
things, and do not think that victory and miracles depend solely on Moshe. Not true!
Only, Let us ascend at once! (Meshech Chochmah by R. Meir Simcha of Dvinsk) ( They
brought forth an evil report on the Land that they had spied out… (13:32). The spies’
intention was evil: to cause the Jews to tarry in the desert. They began by making
things up in order to delay the Jews [in the desert], but when their first “invention” did
not suffice, they slandered [the Land] outright. Their motive was [as follows]. They
understood why the original princes – Nachshon and his colleagues – were not sent [to
spy out the Land]: because their eminence was being saved for Eretz Yisrael. And
undoubtedly, that is what would have happened, had [HaShem] not decreed to wipe out
[that entire generation]. The spies thought that as long as Israel remained in Chutz
LaAretz, they would retain their positions of authority, for once they rose to power they
would not be deposed. Perhaps this is the meaning of Chazal’s statement “At that time,
they were fitting” (see Rashi on v. 3). That is, they were worthy to be leaders in Chutz
LaAretz. After writing this, I found the same idea in the Zohar… (Sh’nei Luchot
HaBrit [the Shelah HaKadosh], Torah SheBichtav, Parashat Shelach) ( Yehoshua son of
Nun and Calev son of Yefuneh… spoke to the entire congregation of the Children of
Israel, saying, “The Land that we passed through to spy it out – the Land is very, very
good. If the Lord desires us, He will bring us to this Land and give it to us, a Land that
flows with milk and honey. Only, do not rebel against the Lord, and do not fear the
people of the Land, for they are [like] our bread… the Lord is with us; do not fear them
(14:6-9). A land that flows with milk and honey: It itself [is bountiful], even without
farmers tilling the soil, like in the forests, as it says, – All [the people of] the land came
into the forest, and there was honey all over the field (I Shmuel 14:25). This would not
be possible if the Land or its air had any blemish. (Sforno) ( And now, may the strength
of my Lord grow… Please forgive the iniquity of this nation (14:17-19). See Parashat Ki
Tisa, “The Merit of the Patriarchs.” ( But My servant Calev, because he had a different
spirit with him and he followed Me fully, I shall bring him to the Land to which he
came, and his descendants shall possess it (14:24). I saw a beautiful idea in the holy work
Tzror HaMor, by the grandfather of the Beit Yosef’s wife, our master, R. Avraham
Seba, who was among those expelled from Spain. He writes that the sanctity of Eretz
Yisrael is second only to that of the Holy One Blessed be He Himself. That is, first
comes God and then, immediately after Him, comes Eretz Yisrael. This is why the verse

says that Calev son of Yefuneh followed the Lord fully [by defending the Holy Land].
That is to say, he literally followed the Lord, because Eretz Yisrael comes after HaShem.
(Eim HaBanim Semeichah, p. 299) ( But Yehoshua son of Nun and Calev son of Yefuneh
lived from the men who went to spy out the Land (14:38). See Parashat Terumah:
“Guard Your Share.” ( The people mourned greatly. They woke up early in the
morning and went up to the top of the mountain, saying, “We are ready, and we shall go
up to the place of which the Lord has spoken, for we have sinned.” Moshe said, “Why
do you transgress the word of the Lord? It will not succeed. Do not ascend, for the
Lord is not in your midst…” But they impetuously ascended to the mountaintop…
(14:39-45). The Torah did not record the episode of the Ma’apilim (the impetuous ones)
in Parashat Shelach for naught. At this point, they believed Moshe’s words, so why did
they refuse to listen to him when he said, Do not ascend…? [The answer is]: they
thought that this is included in Chazal’s statement “Do whatever the master of the house
tells you to do, except ‘leave’ ” (Pesachim 86b)… Therefore, they ascended impetuously
against HaShem’s will, as our Sages say, “Chutzpah is a king without a crown”
(Sanhedrin 105a)… The explanation [is based on] the well-known [Kabbalistic concept]
that “Kingship” is Knesset Yisrael (The Assembly of Israel) and “Crown” is HaShem’s
will. Thus, [this statement] means that [Chutzpah represents] self-appointed
governance, without the desire of the One Who desires, [and it refers to a time when]
Knesset Yisrael comes near on their own accord. But the Ma’apilim failed, because they
used [this trait] before its time, as Chazal say, “During the era of ‘the footsteps of
Mashiach’ chutzpah will increase” (Sotah 49b). For that is the proper time for it…
Therefore, Moshe said to them, It will not succeed. [He was saying], “Seemingly, this is
a [legitimate] idea, but it will not work.” [The Torah] deliberately used the word It
(והיא), which Chazal always interpret [in an exclusionary sense]: “It, but not another.”
This implies that [chutzpah] will succeed at some other time, i.e. in our time, which is
[the era of] the footsteps of Mashiach. (Tzidkat HaTzaddik, by R. Tzadok HaKohen of
Lublin, sec. 46) ( The Lord spoke to Moshe, saying, “Speak to the Children of Israel and
say to them: When you shall come to the Land of your habitations, which I give to
you…” (15:1-2). When you shall come: He [God] informed them that they would
[eventually] enter the Land. (Rashi) To the land of your habitations: He no longer
called it “the Land of Canaan,” in order to promise them that they would inherit it and
dwell therein. (Oznayim LaTorah) See also Parashat VaYeitzei, “Additional
References” 28:18. ( The Lord spoke to Moshe, saying, “Speak to the Children of Israel
and say to them: When you come to the Land into which I bring you, it shall be that
when you eat of the bread of the Land, you shall offer up a gift to the Lord. The first of
your kneading troughs, you shall offer up a loaf (challah) as a gift…” (15:17-20). When
you come to the land… Perhaps [this means] when two or three spies enter the Land?
[Therefore], the Torah says, When you come (בבאכם, as opposed to the usual כי תבאו –
Rashi) – I [God] said [that you must fulfill this mitzvah] when you all come [into the
Land], not when a minority of you come. And when Ezra went up [to the Land], not
everyone went up [with him] (“Most of them remained in Babylonia” – Rashi). (Ketuvot
25a) This teaches that challah is [only] rabbinically ordained nowadays. That is, in
Eretz Yisrael; for in Chutz LaAretz there is no obligation to separate challah at all. The
only reason [we do it there] is to ensure that the concept of challah not be forgotten, as
the Talmud explains in Bechorot 27b. (Torah Temimah) ( Parashat Shelach ends with
three seemingly unconnected sections: 1) the sin offering brought by one who commits
idolatry unintentionally, 2) the story of the mekosheish (the stick gatherer) who violated
the Sabbath in the desert, and 3) the mitzvah of tzitzit (fringes). Rashi (15:41) quotes R.
Moshe HaDarshan’s explanation as to why theses three sections are adjoined: Why is
the story of the mekosheish juxtaposed to the section dealing with idolatry? It is to
teach that one who violates the Sabbath is like one who worships foreign gods, for it, too,
is equal to all the mitzvot [of the Torah]. Accordingly, it says in the Book of Ezra, –
You descended upon Mount Sinai… and gave [Your nation]… Torah… and mitzvot…
and You made known to them Your holy Sabbath (Nechemyah 9:13-14). The section

dealing with tzitzit is also juxtaposed to these [two], because it, too, is equal to all the
mitzvot, as it says, [So that you shall remember] and perform all My commandments
(15:40). Allow me to take this one step further. In my humble opinion, the entire
parashah (not just the last three sections) is interlinked by this idea. What did the first
half of the parashah discuss? The Sin of the Spies, the libations, and challah. Now, just
as idolatry, the Sabbath, and tzitzit are equal to all the mitzvot of the Torah, so is
dwelling in the Land of Israel, the mitzvah that the spies convinced the Jews to reject!
We already demonstrated above that the section discussing the libations is placed
immediately after the Sin of the Spies because it starts with the words When you shall
come to the Land of your habitations (15:2). HaShem wanted to reassure us that despite
our sins, we would eventually enter the Promised Land. Similarly, I believe that this
also explains why the mitzvah of challah is located where it is, for it, too, begins with the
words When you come to the Land into which I bring you. Thus, one could say that
Parashat Shelach is one of the most important parshiot in the Torah. After all, which
other parashah revolves around so many mitzvot that are equal to all the rest?
KORACHEYES ONLY FOR YOUThey [Datan and Aviram] said, “We shall not go up!
Is it a small thing that you have brought us up from a land flowing with milk and honey
to kill us in the desert, that you make yourself a prince over us? Furthermore, you did
not bring us to a land flowing with milk and honey nor give us an inheritance of fields
and vineyards. Will you gouge out the eyes of these men? We shall not go up!” Moshe
became very distressed/angry… (16:12-15) To a certain degree, Datan and Aviram’s
brazen words were a continuation, and possibly a result, of the grievances of the spies.
The Abarbanel (quoted in Hagut BeParshiyot HaTorah) explains their argument as
follows: “We will not, under any circumstances, go up to Eretz Yisrael as you [Moshe]
desire. You have not yet kept your promise [to bring us into a good land], nor have you
given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. Therefore, we do not believe you…”
The Sforno offers a novel explanation of these verses: Not only did you do us a
disservice by bringing us from a “land flowing with milk and honey” to the desert, but
you also mock us. For you have not brought us to the Land of which you spoke, at all.
You speak [to us] as if you [already] gave us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. You
command us about the land-related mitzvot… as if [the Land] was already ours and we
had fields and vineyards in it. Will you gouge out the eyes of these men? – Do you think
you can poke out our eyes in a way that we will not recognize your tricks? Midrash
Shochar Tov (also quoted in Hagut) asserts that they were complaining about the land-
related mitzvot in general. They did not want a land that had so many obligations
attached to it. According to the Midrash, they went so far as to compare themselves to a
poor widow who can hardly support herself and is suddenly told that she has to work
harder to support the well-to-do priests. But the most insolent part of their statement is
undoubtedly the words You have brought us up from a land flowing with milk and
honey. They had the audacity to call Egypt “a land flowing with milk and honey” when
HaShem used that description specifically for the Holy Land. This, according to the
Gra, explains why Moshe got so angry. Rashi interprets the phrase ויחר למשה מאד to
mean that Moshe became very distressed. Apparently, he did not want to explain it in
its usual sense – “he became very angry” – because it is difficult to say that Moshe
Rabbeinu, the most humble person in the world, got angry, even at such wicked people
as Datan and Aviram. The Vilna Gaon, however, understands the phrase in its usual
sense. Moshe was not angered by the affront to his own honor, but by the affront to
God and His Chosen Land. He could not tolerate the fact that these two resha’im
referred to the land of their exile as a land flowing with milk and honey, a description
designated for Eretz Yisrael. Neither could he tolerate the fact that they doubted God’s
promise to eventually bring the Jews into the Land. Nowadays, no one would have the
gall to refer to America, England, Australia, etc. as “a land flowing with milk and
honey” or “the Chosen Land.” Nevertheless, many of us inadvertently say things that
border on the sin of Datan and Aviram. How many times have we heard people
lavishing praise on the lands of exile, as if those places were God’s gift to the Jewish

people? How many times have we heard Jews saying things like “America the
beautiful,” “Monsey Ir HaKodesh,” “What a gorgeous view,” etc.? You might ask, what
is wrong with that? Isn’t the entire world God’s handiwork? The answer is, yes; of
course, God created it all, but He intended for His special nation to dwell in His special
Land. The fact that we are presently scattered about the four corners of the earth is a
punishment! If we would only improve our ways and long to return to our only true
Homeland, HaShem would reveal to us Eretz Yisrael’s true and incomparable beauty, in
both a spiritual and physical sense. After the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, the
prophet said that Eretz Yisrael became like a widow (Eichah 1:1). The Talmud derives
from this that she is not an actual widow, “rather, like a woman whose husband went
oversees and intends to return to her” (Sanhedrin 104a). Now, would it be right for a
man who plans on returning to his wife to praise the beauty of or derive pleasure from
other women? Someone who truly loves and longs for his long-lost wife would not be
attracted to other women, even if he recognizes that they, too, are beautiful. Similarly, a
Jew who truly understands that Eretz Yisrael is our only “wife” should not be attracted
to the beauty of other lands. Instead, he should adopt Rav Kook’s attitude, as the
following incidents demonstrate: During WWI, when the Rav was stuck in Europe, he
once visited a colleague’s apartment in Berlin. Hoping to please the Rav in some way,
the colleague brought him over to a window that had a breathtaking view of the city.
Rav Kook, however, was unimpressed by the view. Instead, he burst into tears and
whispered, – By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and also wept, as we remembered
Zion (Tehillim 137:1). On another occasion, upon returning from a trip to America, he
commented: “In America, as well, I saw tall mountains – the handiwork of HaShem,
Master of the Universe. But those mountains were silent; they did not speak to us.
These mountains, however – the holy mountains of Eretz Yisrael – speak to us. They
speak clearly, and their lucid voices enter our ears effortlessly, penetrating to the depths
of our hearts” (An Angel Among Men, pp. 250, 260). May we soon be zocheh to fully
benefit from Eretz Yisrael’s spiritual and physical beauty. PRIESTLY GIFTS After
describing the events of Korach’s rebellion, the Torah reinforces Aharon’s priesthood
and the unique status of the entire Tribe of Levi by awarding them special gifts. There
are twenty-four priestly gifts in total, all of which are at least alluded to in our parashah.
Only five of these gifts are applicable outside the Holy Land (see Rambam, Bikurim
1:3ff). In addition to the priestly gifts, the parashah discusses ma’aser rishon (the first
tithe), given to the Levi. Let us focus on terumah (the first gift given to a kohen from
fruits and grains) and ma’aser. The Rambam begins Hilchot Terumot with the
following statement: “Terumot and ma’asrot apply, biblically, only in Eretz Yisrael.”
Twenty-six halachot later (1:26), he adds: Terumah is not biblically mandated
nowadays, even in places that were occupied by those who returned from [the]
Babylonian [exile]. Nor was it so in the days of Ezra. Rather, it is rabbinically
mandated. For terumah is only biblically mandated in Eretz Yisrael, and [only] when
all of Israel [dwells] there, as it says, When you shall enter – [implying] when you all
enter. This occurred during the First Conquest and will occur again during the Third
Conquest. However, it did not happen during the Second Conquest, at the time of Ezra,
when only some [Jews] came [back to the Land]. Therefore, the Torah did not obligate
them [to set aside terumot]. In addition, it seems to me that the same applies to
ma’asrot. We are only obligated [to separate tithes] nowadays by rabbinic law, just like
terumah. When the Rambam says “all of Israel,” he means the majority, for Chazal
determine that “the majority is like the whole.” Thus, in order for terumot and
ma’asrot (as well as shemittah, yovel, challah and more) to return to their ideal states,
more Jews must come and live in God’s special Land. Actually, there is another way to
reach that milestone of a majority of Jews living in Eretz Yisrael. An article I recently
saw describing a demographic study initiated by the Jewish Agency states: “Sometime
after 2030, Israel will be home to the majority of world Jewry (37% of all Jews now live
in Israel) – not just because of immigration, but primarily because of the shrinking size
of Jewish communities in the Diaspora due to intermarriage and low birth rates.” Thus,

we can help restore many mitzvot to their elevated, biblical status in one of two ways:
Either we can actively participate in the return to Zion, or we can sit back and wait for
Diaspora Jewry to fade away. The major difference is that the first way will be much
quicker and less painful. Now, I realize that most people reading this book are not the
type of Jews who are likely to intermarry, nor are they the type who will suffice with 1.3
children and a dog. Most of you surely have many beautiful children and live full Torah
lives (or at least as full as they can be in galut) in beautiful Torah communities in the
Diaspora, with very little danger of assimilation. In my humble opinion, that is all the
more reason for you to come to Eretz Yisrael. Just imagine what an impact you can
make here: how much sanctity you can add to the Land, how much closer you can bring
us to the goal of restoring Torah’s glory to its original place, how many more mitzvot
you can fulfill here, etc. If thousands upon thousands of religious Jews would make
aliyah, all of Klal Yisrael would benefit greatly. One last point: The Talmud states in
many places (see Yevamot 86b, Ketuvot 26a, Sotah 47b) that although ma’aser rishon
rightfully belongs to the Levites, Ezra decreed that it be given to the Kohanim. Why?
Because he wanted to penalize the Levites for not returning to Zion at the beginning of
the Second Commonwealth, as it says, – I gathered them at the river that runs to
Ahava, and we encamped there for three days; and I inspected the people and the
Kohanim, but I found no Levites there (Ezra 8:15). I (who happen to be a Levite trying
to rectify this sin) believe that this Gemara contains a very important lesson. At the
beginning of the Second Commonwealth, things were difficult: the economy was
terrible, the Gentiles who lived in the Holy Land constantly harassed us, the Jews who
returned were not exactly paradigms of sanctity, etc. Nonetheless, Ezra succeeded in
rebuilding the Beit HaMikdash, subduing his enemies, establishing a thriving Jewish
community in the Land, and raising the spiritual level of the returnees, who eventually
became the expositors of the Oral Law. Those who refused to return, however, lost out.
The same is true today. Things here in the Holy Land have not always gone so
smoothly over the past fifty-four years. Eventually, though, we will defeat our enemies
(from within and without), return to God wholeheartedly, build the Third Temple, and
establish a “Priestly Kingdom” in the Land. Those who do not help us achieve these
goals during the rough times might be penalized and lose out when things get better.
Are you willing to take that chance? ADDITIONAL REFERENCES( On the next day,
Moshe entered the Tent of the Testimony and behold, the staff of Aharon of the house of
Levi had blossomed; it brought forth a flower, sprouted a bud, and bore ripe almonds
(17:23). Three clergymen on a visit to the Holy Land [prior to the Six-Day War] asked
the curator of Mount Zion: “Why do the Jews make Jerusalem the capital of the State
of Israel? Jerusalem, the cradle of religions and a Holy City belongs to the whole world.
It should be an international city. Why do Jews claim it?” “Let me explain,” said the
curator. “The Bible relates that when Moshe appointed Aharon as High Priest, the
people objected and murmured… Whereupon Moshe turned to God: “ ‘O God, it
was You who told me to appoint Aharon. I must now have a miracle to convince the
people.’ “God sent an earthquake, and Korach and his followers were swallowed up in
it. But even then, the people refused to accept Aharon’s appointment. Then there was a
plague, but the Children of Israel continued to murmur against Aharon. Finally, God
told each tribe to bring a rod and place it in the Tent of Assembly, and Aharon was to
place his rod there also. The people were to watch and see which rod would bud and
blossom. And when Aharon’s rod blossomed, they finally accepted him as High Priest.
“Now, why did the people accept Aharon when his rod blossomed and bore almonds?
Because it showed the vitality of life.” The curator invited the visiting clergymen to
climb up with him to the Mitzpah, Mount Zion’s Observation Tower. As they looked
down, he pointed out: “From here you can see both the old and new Jerusalem. In the
old, as you can observe, there is desolation: ruins, desert and rocks. On our side is the
new Jerusalem, where over 150,000 have settled. You can see their new homes, schools,
the new hospital and the new university. Everywhere [you look], you see life, growth
and vitality. You ask to whom does Jerusalem belong. It belongs to those who make it bud and blossom, [to those] who make it live and grow.” (Heaven on Your Head, by
Rabbi S. Z. Kahana; Hartmore House, 1964, pp. 159-60) ( The first fruits of all that is in
their Land, which they bring to the Lord, shall be yours [kohanim], every pure person
in your house may eat it (18:13). [The mitzvah of bikurim] applies… to the fruits of
Eretz Yisrael, Syria, and Trans-Jordan, but not to the fruits of Chutz LaAretz. (Sefer
HaChinuch, Mitzvah 91)



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