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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Shelach 5772 "Living It"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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One Sunday afternoon, the Rabbi was showing six-year old Arnold around the Synagogue. They looked at the sanctuary, the women’s balcony, and the banquet hall downstairs. Afterwards, they were standing in the main hallway when Arnold noticed a large plaque filled with names. Arnold looked up at the plaque with curiosity, “Rabbi, who were all these people?” The Rabbi bent his head dolefully, “Arnold, this is a special plaque with all of the names of the brave men who died in the service.” Arnold and the Rabbi spent a long moment in silent contemplation, before Arnold looked up again. “Rabbi, did they die in the Friday night service or the Shabbos morning service?”

The Da’as Sofer, Rabbi Akiva Sofer zt’l, notes that there are three instances when the Torah uses the directive, “And you shall see.” The first time is in Parshas Shemos when the Torah describes the deteriorating condition of the Jews in the Egyptian exile. Pharaoh summoned the righteous Jewish midwives Shifrah and Puah[1] to inform them of his nefarious plan of mass infanticide. (Shemos 1:17) “When you deliver the Hebrew women, and you shall see [them] on the birthstool; if it is a son, you are to kill him, and if it is a daughter, she shall live.”

The second time is at the beginning of Parshas Shelach when Moshe dispatched the spies to scout out Eretz Yisroel. (Bamidbar 13:18) “And you shall see the land- how it is; and the people who dwell in it- are they strong or weak? Few or numerous.”

The final time is at the conclusion of Parshas Shelach when the Torah commands about the mitzvah of wearing tzitzis, and its significance. (Bamidbar 15:39) “It shall constitute tzitzis for you, and you shall see them and remember all the commandments of Hashem and perform them…”

Da’as Sofer explains that the Torah specifically uses the expression “and you shall see” in these three instances to allude to a fundamental concept regarding one’s Avodas Hashem (Service to G-d). He explains that there are Jews who feel that it is sufficient to be a “Jew at heart”. They rationalize that an Omnipotent G-d surely doesn’t care much about minuscule details and therefore it is enough that we believe in Him and His Torah. As for all of the details and laws, they are generally irrelevant since only internal feelings really matter.

This was, in fact, the attitude of the original reformers of Judaism who declared, “Be a Jew in your home and a non-Jew outside.” When Napoleon conquered much of Europe and tore down the ghetto walls, the Reform Jews felt that the solution to Anti-Semitism and the pangs of exile lay in the creation of the ‘new Jew’. They reasoned that if the Jews would shed their external differences, they would become a civilized and cultured nation in the world. Hitler and Stalin destroyed that notion a century later.

The Vilna Gaon notes that logically it is ludicrous for a baby to be born. The verse in Iyov[2] states, “Adam la’amal yulad- Man was born to toil.” The Gaon quotes the Gemara[3] which states that, while in the womb, the soul of every unborn fetus is privately tutored by an angel who teaches him the entire Torah. Then, as the baby prepares to enter this world, the angel taps it on the lip causing it to forget everything.

The Gaon notes that, if this is true, it seems counterproductive for a baby to be born. If he had already reached the apex of achievable knowledge prior to birth, what is the point of being born and forgetting everything? The Gaon answers that the Torah was not meant to be a theoretical or hypothetical book of academia. Rather, its purpose is, “Al m’nas la’asos- on condition that it be fulfilled.” Every word, dictate, and command of the Torah must be adhered to and followed. The knowledge of a baby in the uterus is worthless unless it subsequently has an opportunity to live what it was taught in a world of potential action and accomplishment. The very process and miracle of birth is antithetical to the notion that inner knowledge and belief are sufficient. In fact, the word “Amal- toil” is an acronym for the words, “Al m’nas la’asos- on condition that it be fulfilled”. Man was born to toil and fulfill all that he was previously taught.

This same idea is apparent from the exodus. Da’as Sofer quotes his father, the Shevet Sofer, who noted that the ultimate purpose of the exodus was for Klal Yisroel to eventually enter Eretz Yisroel and fulfill the mitzvos endemic to the Holy Land. He explains that if the purpose of the exodus was solely so that they could serve G-d, then the first plague (blood) would have been sufficient. Once the plagues began the harsh physical servitude ended and, technically, the Jews were free to serve G-d as they pleased. At that point they could have been perfectly good ‘theoretical Jews’ in heart and mind. The fact that there were nine additional plagues until Pharaoh chased them from the land, followed by the splitting of the sea and the utter decimation of Egypt, demonstrates that G-d’s Will was for the Jews to serve Him on a practical level by fulfilling all of the mitzvos, which was only feasible in Eretz Yisroel.

With this in mind, we can understand the connection between the three verses which utilize the expression, “And you shall see.” To those who feel that it is sufficient to be a Jew at heart, the Torah counters, “and you shall see [them] on the birth-stool”, i.e. you shall contemplate and analyze the process of birth. Understand the fact that despite what a child learns in the womb he is still born and forgets everything he had learned so that he can struggle to fulfill it. Additionally, “And you shall see the land”, one should also contemplate the significance of capturing and inheriting the Holy Land and the central role it played in the Egyptian redemption. Despite the fact that the Jews could have served G-d in Egypt, G-d performed numerous additional miracles to ensure that the Jews would physically leave the country and eventually enter Eretz Yisroel. When one “sees” and comprehends the vital messages of any natural birth as well as the national exodus from Egypt, then one will also understand that the ultimate goal of a Jew is, “And you shall see them and remember all the commandments of Hashem and perform them”, i.e. that one must perform the mitzvos and LIVE as a Torah Jew in action and deed, not merely in thought and emotion.

With this in mind, we can perhaps explain the three seemingly random mitzvos that G-d instructed Klal Yisroel immediately after the disastrous debacle of the spies at the conclusion of Parshas Shelach. The commentators offer lengthy explanations of the rationale of the spies for offering their slanderous report about Eretz Yisroel[4].

Zohar explains that indeed the spies had noble intentions. Throughout the forty-year sojourns in the desert, the Jews survived because of constant miracles that accompanied them. In fact their whole existence in the desert was termed a, ‘hanhaga nisis- a miraculous lifestyle’. They were aware that upon entering the Holy Land they would no longer be privy to this constant miraculous intervention and they would be subjected to a ‘hanhagah tivis- natural lifestyle’. While still in the desert they were free to devote their days to Torah study and worshipping G-d. However, once they entered the land the yoke of livelihood and mundane responsibilities would be thrust upon them. Therefore, the spies felt that it would be more beneficial to keep the nation in the wilderness of the desert, living under the constant and direct Grace of G-d while satiating themselves from the spiritual greatness and leadership of Moshe Rabbeinu. Despite the challenges of a nomadic life in a forbidden wasteland, they felt it worth the sacrifice.

The fallacy of the spies was that they did not realize that, despite their noble intentions, that was not the Will of G-d. The challenge of life in this world is for one to develop himself into a Servant of G-d and to become a Torah-abiding Jew despite the challenges, vicissitudes, and travails of life. If G-d wanted, He could easily have brought the Jews into the Holy Land and maintained the miraculous intervention they enjoyed in the desert. However, “Adam la’amal yulad- Man was born to toil” and that toil entails producing despite adversity; keeping the mitzvos even when it is not easy and convenient to do so.

Perhaps the three mitzvos that G-d commanded the Jews immediately following the failed mission of the spies demonstrated this idea and helped the depressed nation understand the root of the erroneous thinking of the spies.

There were three constant vital miracles that sustained Klal Yisroel in the desert: the Clouds of Glory, the well of water, and the manna. The first mitzvah commanded was the wine libations which were to be offered in tandem with select korbanos on the altar. That mitzvah corresponded to the well of water. Unlike water which flows naturally, producing wine is a long and arduous process. Grapes must be harvested, pressed, and allowed to ferment under precise conditions in order to create a tasty wine.

The second mitzvah was the obligation that one separate “challah”, a measurement of dough that must be given to a kohain, when one bakes. This mitzvah corresponded to the manna which miraculously descended into the Jewish camp each morning. In order to bake bread a farmer must tirelessly work in his field for months plowing, planting, threshing, winnowing, grinding etc. before he has flour with which to knead into dough for the bread. Manna was miraculous but effortless while natural bread required tremendous exertion.

After discussing the punishment for one who desecrates the holy Shabbos, the final mitzvah at the conclusion of the parsha is that of tzitzis.[5] In the desert, the Jews were privy to the Clouds of Glory which provided them with great comfort, i.e. leveling mountains and valleys, maintaining comfortable temperature, and warding off dangerous animals that prey in the desert. When one gazes at his tzitzis, it is supposed to remind him of his daily responsibilities as a Torah-Jew. The tzitzis dangle freely but they are held in place by knots. This reminds a Jew that although he is free to act as he chooses, his holy soul is bound to its source and that connection can never be severed. The tzitzis are supposed to create within a person a sense of holiness and a spirit of Divinity, on a minor scale what the Clouds accomplished in the desert. Similarly, on the holy Shabbos, one should feel that he has been elevated to angelic levels and that he is closer to His creator, as it were. For the twenty-six hours of Shabbos, a Jew lives a different existence, immersed in a world called Shabbos where delectable foods, added sleep, and surely one’s spiritual endeavors are all elevated and sanctified.

These three mitzvos as well as the sanctity of Shabbos symbolize that, despite the great miracles that were omnipresent in the desert, G-d’s true desire is that man accomplish greatness and holiness through his own efforts to transcend the mundane.

The spies felt that serving G-d effortlessly was better than to serve G-d when challenged and under duress. However, they failed to realize that Torah Judaism is not a sinecure. It is a struggle and internal melee for one to be a holy Jew in an unholy world. But that is what is demanded of us. The more we persevere, the more we will be able to realize the holiness that lies within every one of us.

It comes easy to nobody, nor is it supposed to. Nevertheless, the holiness we generate through our mitzvos and Torah observance, the challenges of life and family notwithstanding, is far more precious than the holiness of angels to whom it comes naturally.

“And you shall see…”

“Man was born to toil”

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[1] Who in actuality were Yocheved (mother of Moshe) and Miriam (sister of Moshe)

[2] Job 5:7

[3] Niddah 30b

[4] Despite the fact that they sinned, they were great men of lofty stature and they surely had a motive for speaking malevolently about the Promised Land.

[5] Prior to the mitzvah of tzitzis the Torah discusses the korbanos offered by an individual who errs. That concept seems apropos after the sin of the spies.

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