Friday, June 19, 2009

Parshat Shelach Lecha - פרשת שלח לך

This week's Parsha details the episode of the Meraglim - the spies who were sent on a reconnaissance mission into Canaan, the future land of Israel. There are two things I'd like to point out about this incident. One derives from a D'var Torah I read online by Rabbi Yosef Kalatsky, and one I heard from a friend who I believe would prefer to stay anonymous.

R' Yosef Kalatsky's D'var Torah refers to the Haftara which is taken from Sefer Yehoshua in Nevi'im. There a similar episode is related whereby Yehoshua sends out Meraglim, spies, of his own. In this case, he sends out Caleb and Pinchas to scout out Jericho. The text there says that they were sent out as, "מרגלים חרש." The commentators point out that word חרש can be interpreted as silent or alternatively may be understood to mean earthenware. We learn that the latter word hints at the cover that Pinchas and Calev took while they were scouting the land - they posed as earthenware salesmen. The question is, why is that significant?

The choice of earthenware as the trade which the spies used for cover is noteworthy because earthenware is typically used for pots, jugs and the like - it is used to hold things. Once an earthenware jug or ot is broken, the fragments that are made are completely useless - there is no intrinsic value in earthenware. Unlike metal which can be melted down and reused, earthenware is only valuable as long as it has a purpose - it's value is entirely dependent on it's purpose.

Now we can understand why Pinchas and Calev were descibed as earthenware salesmen because they were charged with a task, and they made themselves fit the roles described to them. The spies who were sent by Moshe to scout out the land of Canaan, but they had their own designs and ultimately did not fulfill the purpose of their mission.

The second thing I'd like to mention about the incident of the meraglim is brought to you by a good friend of mine. He and I were once talking as we meandering through the streets of the Old City. He posed me the following question: Why did the Meraglim report back with bad things to say about Eretz Yisrael? After all they had been through, why should they have worried about entering the land of Israel? Moreover, this was the generation that had just received the Torah at Har Sinai - surely they couldn't have tripped up so easily?

The question really caught me. All too often I have only learned about incidents that happened in the Torah from a child's perspective - often the person or people we read about acted improperly, but we all too easily dismiss the misguided actions of our forbears as foolish or thoughtless when the reality is very different.

My friend answered for me. In this case, the spies sent by Moshe were, as read in the Torah, all great leaders. These people, as I pointed out above, had all been present at the greatest moment in the world's history - the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai. Clearly they understood the gravity of the situation they were in, it would be foolish of us to doubt their understanding of the task they had been charged with. It was not because of some plot that these men failed in their mission - their mistake was an honest and well-intended one.

Up until now, Am Yisrael had camped in the desert with Hashem's schinah surrounding them on all sides. They travelled with the Ananei HaKavod, the Clouds of Glory, accompanying them wherever they went, shielding them from the elements, ensuring that the conditons would be optimally comfortable. In this time, Am Yisrael would learn Torah from Moshe and they experienced very direct connection with Hashem. Their food was provided for in the form of the heaven-sent Man, their clothes miraculously grew with them, and within the clouds, even if it were scorchingly hot outside, the conditions remained permanently pleasantly Spring-like. As all the physical needs of Am Yisrael were taken care of, all that remained to be done was to learn Torah.

The Meraglim, seeing that settling the land of Israel would require hard labour and many hours of toiling, working the land, decided that it would be better to stay in the desert with Hashem looking after them so that B'nei Yisrael would be able to continue learning Torah without interruption. In this context, we can say that surely there's not a more noble mistake in the entire Torah!

Unfortunately for the Meraglim, their decison was indeed in error. They had missed the point; this world is all about work and engaging oneself with one's surroundings. There can be withdrawal to a desert island in order to meditate and ponder the meaning of life - life is to be lived, to be experienced. The Meraglim didn;t understand that tilling the land doesn't actually take away from learning Torah - doing such mundane tasks in Eretz Yisrael take on a higher physical dimension.

My friend finished by stating how he thinks that we would do well to learn the lesson being taught here - it is vitally important to live in Israel, even if it tougher, for in Eretz Yisrael, normal and everyday acts sanctified with holiness.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom!

I'd like to point out that I thought I'd take the opportunity to write rather Zionistic d'var torah as the next 7 days will be very special for me. This is my last week in London and I will finally officially make Aliyah on Thursday. Wish me luck :)

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