Parashat Shlah

The Eyes Have It

The commandment of tzitzit (fringes) follows the incident of the spies, reminding us to enhance our vision with faith and see new possibilities.

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Why is the commandment to make fringes on the corners of one's garment placed at the end of this Torah portion after the incident involving the scouts? Is there any connection between the two? (Hint: The word tzitzit is connected to l'hatziz, "to glimpse or peek.")

By the Way…

"The land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelite people" [Numbers 13:2]. The Torah added another condition to make the spy mission an acceptable one: It is that those who do the spying be aware it was God who was going to give them this land. The Israelites would not be able to conquer even a single town in that land by themselves. The only way they would be able to do so would be "if I give it to them" [Numbers 13:2]. (Or HaChayim)

"Adonaispoke to Moses, saying, Sh'lach-l'kha, 'Send forth.'" L'kha here denotes according to your [Moses'] understanding. As for Me, I do not command you to do so; if you so desire, then send them. (Rashi on Numbers 13:1)

The purpose of sending the spies was so that future generations would not claim: "The previous inhabitants of Canaan were weak, and the Israelites conquered the country by natural means." (Tzvi Yisrael in Torah Gems, p. 59)

One can understand their statement "We looked like grasshoppers to ourselves" for that was the way they really saw themselves. However, what right did they have to say "and so we must have looked to them?" What difference should it make how we [the scouts] appeared to them? (Rabbi Menahem Mendl of Kotzk on Numbers 13:33 in Torah Gems, p. 67)

Did the spies lie? Did they make up what they told the people? Obviously not; they told the people exactly what they had seen. What, then, was their sin? The answer is that not everything that is not a lie is the truth.… The truth is not necessarily as things appear but stems from the depths of the heart, from the sources of one's faith. Truth and faith go hand in hand, and a person does not acquire truth easily and by a superficial glance. What is required is hard work and effort, wisdom and understanding. The spies did not work at finding the truth in God's word. They did not understand the divine secret. They preferred their limited and deceptive vision to God's promise, which is the absolute truth--and that was their great sin. (Rabbi Menahem Mendl of Kotzk in Torah Gems, p. 64)

"All thine enemies have opened their mouths against thee" [Lamentations 2:16]. Rabbah said in Rabbi Johanan's name: Why [in Lamentations 3:46–51 and 4:16–17, which are written in the form of alphabetical acrostics] did he place the [verse beginning with the letter] peh before the [verse beginning with the letter] ayin? Because of the spies who spoke with their mouths [peh means mouth] what they had not seen with their eyes [ayin means eye]. (Talmud, Sanhedrin 104b)

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Rabbi Randy E. Sheinberg is a rabbi at Congregation Rodeph Sholom, New York, NY.