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BeHaalotecha - Shelach

This Issue's Halacha Article

Parshiot BeHaalotecha - Shelach

16-23 Sivan 5767

June 2-9, 2007

Vol.16 No.33

In This Issue:

Look Out

by Dovid Gottesman

The end of Parashat BeHaalotecha deals with Miriam's sin of Lashon HaRa, of relating to Aharon, her brother, that which she had heard from Tzipporah, Moshe's wife. Rashi explains that Miriam overheard Tzipporah comment that Moshe had separated from her in order to be constantly prepared to receive prophecy from Hashem. Miriam was punished for this in three ways. Firstly, she was afflicted with Tzaraat. Second, the whole camp waited a week to travel until Miriam healed, during which time some of Bnei Yisrael likely discussed her punishment. Third, for all generations, we must recall Miriam's sin every day as one of the six Zechirot (remembrances) along with Amaleik, Yetziat Mitzrayim, Kabbalat HaTorah, Shabbat, and the Cheit HaEigel. Why was Miriam punished so severely for speaking about Moshe, especially since, as Rashi explains, she did not intend her words to be derogatory?

At the beginning of the next Parasha, Parashat Shelach, the Torah deals with the sin of the Meraglim. Rashi explains that the two stories are juxtaposed because the spies, who witnessed Miriam's punishment, should have understood the terrible consequences of speaking derogatorily about something or someone and refrained from publishing a libelous report about Eretz Yisrael. This explanation is troublesome; how can we even compare these two incidents? The Meraglim specifically intended to speak evil of Eretz Yisrael while Miriam had absolutely no offensive intent!

Both these questions can be answered with one concept. Of the five basic senses - sight, sound, touch, taste and smell - four are for the most part objective in that a person identifies the stimulus as it is. For example, if a person smells a scent, he either smells it as pleasant or unpleasant, depending on whether it is in fact pleasant or unpleasant. The only sense that is subjective by nature is sight. A person sees things as he wishes to see them. One person sees a cup as half-full while another sees it as half-empty. The subjective nature of vision allows for the concepts of Ayin Tovah (good or benevolent eye) and Ayin Raah (bad or malicious eye). This is the relationship between the sin of Miriam and that of the Meraglim. In each case there was improper sight. Despite the fact that Miriam was looking out for Moshe, not trying to belittle him, she assessed the situation with the wrong attitude. The Meraglim saw Eretz Yisrael improperly, even though Moshe had explicitly warned them to look at the land properly and objectively (BeMidbar 13:18). Their sin was that their mouths preceded their eyes, influencing their sight and biasing their judgment.

The ability to see with Ayin Tovah can be gained only through Torah. On the heels of Kabbalat HaTorah, we must take this message to heart, adopting the trait of Ayin Tovah. According to the extent that we accomplish this, we will merit seeing the fulfillment of, "Ki Ayin BeAyin Yiru BeShuv Hashem Tzion," "For they shall see, eye to eye, Hashem returning to Zion" (Yeshayahu 52:8).

Deserving of the Proper Respect

by Moshe Aharon Poleyeff

At the end of this week's Parasha, Miriam and Aharon speak Lashon HaRa about Moshe. Consequently, Hashem defends Moshe's Kavod and says, "UMadua Lo Yereitem LeDabeir BeAvdi BeMoshe?" "And why did you not fear to speak against my servant Moshe?" (BeMidbar 12:8) Rashi comments that both "BeAvdi" and "BeMoshe" are needed to teach two separate things. "BeAvdi" teaches us that even if he were not the great Moshe Rabbeinu, Miriam and Aharon were wrong to speak badly about their brother, while "BeMoshe" adds that even if he was not Hashem's servant they should not have spoken Lashon HaRa about him. What does Rashi mean here? Even one Pasuk earlier, Hashem called Moshe "Avdi" and also said that he was "The most faithful servant in My house." When was Moshe being only Moshe and not also Eved Hashem and when was Moshe being an Eved Hashem and not being Moshe?

The Melo HaOmer explains Rashi's comment in light of the Gemara in Berachot (34b) which discusses a story about Rabi Yochanan ben Zakkai's son who was severely ill. Instead of davening to Hashem by himself, Rabi Yochanan, a distinguished Talmid Chacham, asked Rabi Chanina ben Dosa to pray on his child's behalf, and, in the end, Rabi Chanina's Teffilot were answered and the child was healed. Knowing that the wise Rabi Yochanan was greater than Rabi Chanina, Rabi Yochanan's wife asked her husband if Rabi Chanina was legitimately greater than him. Rabi Yochanan answered, "No, he is not, but he is like an Eved standing before the King, while I am a noble member of the court standing before the King."

According to Rashi, Hashem was saying that Moshe was a "servant" as well as a "noble member of the court," unflawed in both regards. When Hashem rebuked Miriam and Aharon for disparaging "Avdi," "My servant," Hashem was angry that they spoke about someone who wanted nothing for himself despite his prominent stature. How could they slander a servant who wanted only to serve his King? Hashem then criticized them for speaking badly about "Moshe" because censuring someone as great as Moshe was a sin even if Moshe had not been a selfless and noble servant. Thus, the Pasuk stated both "BeAvdi" and "BeMoshe" to teach Miriam and Aharon how terrible their Lashon HaRa actually was.

From Hashem's harsh rebuke of Miriam and Aharon, two of Bnei Yisrael's greatest leaders and Moshe's own kin, one can clearly see the importance of respecting others even if their actions seem questionable at the time.

The Path of Normalcy

by Rabbi Josh Kahn

When something goes wrong, there is often quite enough blame to go around. After the Cheit HaMeraglim, Bnei Yisrael surely realized that the request to send the Meraglim was a mistake. But with whom does the blame for this grievous error lie? At the beginning of Parashat Shelach, the Torah indicates that Hashem did not tell Bnei Yisrael to send spies; rather after Bnei Yisrael ask permission, Hashem grants it to them. Hashem's permission is a concession to the request of Bnei Yisrael, but was not His original plan. In a subtle way, the idea is conveyed that while Hashem didn't disapprove of the plan, it was not His ideal, while to Bnei Yisrael this was the right way to go about their conquest of Eretz Yisrael. It seems safe to blame Bnei Yisrael for trying to push their agenda, while Hashem's approach was to let Bnei Yisrael do as they pleased despite knowing that it was not in their best interest. But where does Moshe fall? Was he in favor of sending spies, or was he on Hashem's side?

The picture from Parashat Shelach is somewhat unclear about this point. However, Moshe's narrative in Parashat Devarim seems to fill in the picture. Moshe recounts how Bnei Yisrael came to him with the request and, "VaYitav BeEinay HaDavar," "The idea was good in my eyes" (Devarim 1:23). This seems to indicate that Moshe agreed with the request, not merely granting permission as Hashem did, but giving the plan his whole-hearted support. In fact, some commentators take this approach. There is, however, a difficulty with such an approach. Why would Moshe in Parashat Devarim reprimand Bnei Yisrael for this request if he in fact agreed? Rashi in Shelach quotes an interesting Midrash which elaborates on the dialogue between Moshe and Bnei Yisrael. He quotes a parable of a person who asks a farmer to sell him his animal. The farmer agrees, but the man asks if he could have a test run with the animal. The farmer again agrees. The man goes further and asks if he can take the animal up mountains and into valleys during the test run to test the animal's endurance. The man again agrees. After seeing the confidence the farmer has in his animal, the man realizes that this must be a great animal and immediately gives him the money without the test run. The Midrash states that this is what Moshe had in mind when he supported the mission. He was hoping Bnei Yisrael would drop the request after seeing the confidence Moshe and Hashem had in Eretz Yisrael.

The approach of Rashi indicates that Moshe didn't agree with the plan, but rather hoped Bnei Yisrael would back down. This approach raises the question of why Moshe would not be in favor of this mission. Bnei Yisrael seemed to be justified in their request; after all, they weren't saying they wanted to see if the land was worth moving into. It's not like nowadays when people go to Israel to see if they are interested in moving there. Bnei Yisrael just wanted to know what community to live in. So why didn't Moshe lend his full support to this idea?

Until this point, Bnei Yisrael experienced a totally miraculous existence in the desert, having their every need handed to them by Hashem. It therefore should have come as no surprise for them to capture Eretz Yisrael in the same miraculous fashion. The mission of the spies was therefore deemed unnecessary, for the plan was for them to speedily reach Israel, whereupon Hashem would take care of their battles and properly apportion land to each of them. This lifestyle is comparable to that of a child being given everything by his parents. But Bnei Yisrael asked for a different approach.

The problem was that Bnei Yisrael no longer wanted this type of lifestyle. They felt mature enough to take the initiative. No longer did they want to be given everything on a silver platter; they were going to take care of themselves. They therefore wanted to scout out Israel. Hashem and Moshe didn't agree with this approach. The result of this rift was the sin of the Meraglim. Although the approach of Bnei Yisrael was admirable, they were not yet mature enough to handle being on their own, and they therefore reacted improperly to the report the spies brought back.

Interestingly, when the time arrived for Bnei Yisrael to enter Eretz Yisrael, they did so through more natural channels. Life in Israel was to be governed through the natural order, no longer the miraculous lifestyle of the desert. After the debacle of the Meraglim, Bnei Yisrael demonstrated to Hashem that although they needed to mature, it was this lifestyle that they needed to live in Israel.

This change in spiritual lifestyle could be why Moshe was not allowed to lead Bnei Yisrael into Eretz Yisrael. His style of leadership was perfect for the desert, but was unsuitable for Eretz Yisrael. This further explains why Moshe states in Parashat Devarim that it was because of the sin of the Meraglim that he couldn't enter into Eretz Yisrael. The commentators wonder why Moshe attributes not being allowed to enter Eretz Yisrael to this sin when we know it was really because of the sin at Mei Meriva? Perhaps Moshe means that it was this event that dictated the need for Bnei Yisrael to go into Israel through natural means, and consequently Moshe could not bring them.

Both of these lifestyles have their time and place. Sometimes we need to live the miraculous, totally entrusting ourselves to Hashem to make sure things work out. But most of the times we need to do things in the natural order of the world. We know Hashem is really in charge and that everything we do is in His hands, but we also have our own roles to play in the normal course of the world.

You Lie!

by Avi Levinson

Parashat Shelach records the unfortunate episode of the ten spies' negative report about Eretz Yisrael. Bnei Yisrael apparently committed a grave sin by accepting this pessimistic view of the unassailability of the inhabitants of the land, and were accordingly punished with forty years of wandering in the desert. Simply put, they should have had more faith in Hashem's promise that they would certainly be able to conquer the land, as Yehoshua and Kaleiv implored them to believe. Why, in fact, did Bnei Yisrael fail to trust Hashem? To any believer, Hashem's word is worth more than that of ten humans. What great temptation did Bnei Yisrael have to disbelieve Hashem?

To answer this question, we must first understand the root of the Torah prohibition of accepting Lashon HaRa. In the context of laws related to Beit Din, the Torah states, "Lo Tisa Sheima Shav," literally translated as "Do not accept a vain report" (Shemot 23:1). What exactly is a vain report? The simple explanation is that this prohibition goes together with the one mentioned in the Aseret HaDibrot in Parashat VaEtchanan, "Lo Taaneh BeReiacha Eid Shav," "Do not serve as a vain witness against your fellow" (Devarim 5:17). The Ramban and Chizkuni understand this to be an injunction against giving useless testimony, such as that someone has acquired an object but has not yet performed a Kinyan (Halachic act of acquisition). The Gemara (Pesachim 113b) records that Rav Papa administered lashes to someone for violating a similar prohibition. Accordingly, the interdict against accepting a vain report would proscribe Beit Din from accepting such useless testimony. In fact, this appears to be how Rashbam reads this verse.

Onkelos, however, translates this injunction as "La Tikabeil Shema DiShkar," "Do not accept a false report." Onkelos seems to have changed the type of speech which we are forbidden to accept from "vain" to "false." How can Onkelos make an equation between two seemingly disparate terms? A simple answer would be that the Torah seems to equate them. In the version of the Aseret HaDibrot which appears in Parashat Yitro, the Torah's formulation is, "Lo Taaneh BeReiacha Eid Shaker," "Do not be a false witness against your fellow" (Shemot 20:13). By contrast, as previously mentioned, the version in Parashat VaEtchanan has the word "vain" instead of "false." Although Ramban and Chizkuni maintain that the two versions mean two different things, Onkelos disagrees and translates both versions as "La Tas'heid BeChavrach Sahaduta DeShikra," "Do not give false testimony against your friend." (This may reflect a broader dispute between Chazal and Ramban regarding the disparities between the two accounts of the Aseret HaDibrot. Chazal consistently attempt to reconcile the two versions and explain how both in actuality say the same thing, while Ramban feels that the simple reading of the text in Devarim indicates that Moshe was adapting and extending the Aseret HaDibrot.) A plain reading of Onkelos would thus indicate that there is a prohibition for Beit Din to accept falsehood as fact. While this seems obvious based on the prohibition to pervert justice (VaYikra 19:15), the Torah sometimes prohibits things multiple times in order to make one who violates such an interdict Chayav many times (see Rashi to VaYikra 11:3 s.v. Otah). In fact, several commandments regarding judicial procedures are repeated, such as the prohibition to discriminate in favor of the poor (Shemot 23:3 and Vayikra 19:15).

Nevertheless, Chazal interpret "Lo Tisa Sheima Shav" as a prohibition to accept Lashon HaRa rather than to accept falsehood. This, however, creates a difficulty. How is Lashon HaRa automatically considered false? In fact, Lashon HaRa, by its very definition, is a true, yet derogatory, statement. Rav Yitzchak Berkowitz explains that the falsehood inherent in Lashon HaRa is not the statement itself. Rather, the falsehood refers to the speaker's attempt to incriminate the subject of the statement and form a negative impression of him in the listener's mind based on one or two isolated events. Consider an example. Someone walks into a non-Kosher restaurant, purchases a meal and eats it. Any onlooker would confirm that the person has eaten non-Kosher. However, does that onlooker know why the person ate non-Kosher? Has he considered the possibility that this person has a medical condition which necessitates his consumption of non-Kosher food? In most cases, the answer is no. If someone would say that this person has consumed non-Kosher, he would certainly be correct. But in his attempt to characterize the action as forbidden and brand the person a sinner, he might very well be mistaken. This is the falsehood embedded in most Lashon HaRa; the failure to fulfill the positive commandment to give others the benefit of the doubt (VaYikra 19:15, vide Rashi there). Yet Hashem recognizes that there is a latent desire in humans to be judgmental and propound their often unfounded views of others.

In fact, in this sense, Lashon HaRa is also vain (Shav). Of what use is it to characterize someone as a sinner or ignoramus based on an isolated incident in which a host of mitigating factors may exist? Such judgment is surely a waste of time and could very clearly be labeled "vain."

With this background, we can answer our original question. Bnei Yisrael's temptation was the tendency entrenched in human nature to judge based on superficial or unsubstantiated reports. It is in this vein that Chazal comment that the spies' error was that they saw many funerals in their travels throughout Eretz Yisrael, and, instead of recognizing that Hashem was distracting the natives from noticing the spies, erroneously concluded that Eretz Yisrael was a polluted and inhospitable land. The spies made a superficial judgment of the nature of Eretz Yisrael, and Bnei Yisrael similarly fell into the trap of forming unfounded opinions based solely on the spies' personal interpretations of the situation without considering any other possibilities.

Many people wonder how the Torah can demand that we refuse to give credence to Lashon HaRa. Doesn't the Torah seem to be demanding naiveté? The answer to this challenge is quite simple. More often than not, there are extenuating circumstances or background information which completely changes the story. Entire books have been devoted to stories containing actions which on the surface appear to be in violation of the spirit or letter of Halacha yet in reality are correct or even meritorious. While Halacha allows and in fact requires that we consider the possibility that the Lashon HaRa is completely accurate and take attendant precautions, it concomitantly mandates that we judge the subject of the statement favorably and not form a negative opinion of him. So doing, we can avoid the pitfalls of accepting Lashon HaRa and the terrible consequences this sin can bring.

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