Parashat Shelach is most famous for the story of the Meraglim, but it has a lot more to offer. The Parashah begins with Moshe choosing and sending off the twelve Meraglim, one from each Sheivet. When they come back, they don’t only state details about the land, but they publicly announced their disbelief in the ability of Bnei Yisrael to conquer it. Hashem had gained the trust of the nation after taking them out of Mitzraim, splitting the Yam Suf, and giving them the Torah; nonetheless, the Meraglim ignore Hashem’s promise to settle the nation in Eretz Yisrael, stating that the strong giants that live in the land would prevent any chance of settling. While two out of the twelve, Kaleiv and Yehoshua, pronounce their confidence in Hashem’s abilities, the people side with the other ten Meraglim and their lack of faith. As a result, males over the age of 20 lose their ability to enter the land of Israel.
After this event, some of Bnei Yisrael attempt enter the land, and while Moshe cautions them not to do so, they disregard his words – they die at the hand of their enemies. It is easy to understand the flow from the previous episode; Bnei Yisrael were just told that they did not believe in Hashem, and so they try to improve by entering the land. Unfortunately, they do not recognize that at this point in their journey, belief in Hashem requires listening to Hashem telling them to not take action anymore.
The next section relates Hashem describing to Moshe the different laws regarding Nesachim. The rules of libations, which apply only once Bnei Yisrael enter Eretz Yisrael, include bringing different amounts of flour, oil, and wine, with different Korbanot given by the individual. Every individual, and specifically a convert, is required to bring these Nesachim with their Korbanot. Rashi comments that this Mitzvah is introduced as a way to placate the fear that Bnei Yisrael now have that they will never enter the land. Hashem says that these apply when they enter the land; thus, He promises that Bnei Yisrael, after their punishment has been finished, will enter the land. Similarly, the next section, which discusses Challah, an amount of dough that must be removed when kneading and given to the Kohein, seems aimed at raising the peoples’ spirits – this Mitzvah also won’t begin until the nation enters Eretz Yisrael. Why does Hashem choose these two Mitzvot, out of all possible Mitzvot, to give Bnei Yisrael hope?
The Parashah then describes what will happen if the entire nation sins; as the Gemara (Horayot 7b) explains, this is when the Sanhedrin errs and makes an incorrect ruling. The Torah then relates about an individual who sins unintentionally, and about one who blasphemes Hashem. The next story relates the stick-gatherer on Shabbat, who is put in jail, and then stoned. The Parashah then concludes with the commandment to wear Tzitzit, white strings with one blue string on a four-cornered garment. Why are all these Halachot mentioned now, and how are they at all relevant to the Parashah?
At the start of the Parashah, Rashi (BeMidbar 13:2 s.v. Shelach Lecha Anashim) questions the relationship between Parashat Shelach and the area of Torah directly preceding it – the story of Miriam. Miriam had been punished with Tzara’at for defaming, speaking Lashon Hara, about Moshe, who had, according to Chazal, divorced his wife by the word of Hashem. Rashi states that even though the Meraglim see the punishment for Lashon Hara, they do not take heed and learn from her. The Shem MiShmuel, however, questions Rashi’s analogy. Miriam speaks Lashon Hara about a man, while the Meraglim speak Lashon Hara about a promise. What is the connection? What is the overarching theme of these sections?
We must first understand what the connection is between the Mitzvot that are given in Parashat Shelach. Rav Eliyahu Kitov says that the people are afraid that when they enter Eretz Yisrael, they will lose the three fantastic miracles that they had in the desert: the Be’air, the Man, and the Anan. Thus, Hashem gives them three Mitzvot as compensation: Nesachim, which like the Be’air deal with liquid; Challah, which relates to the Man that was their “bread” in the desert; and Tzitzit, a garment which surrounds Jews to help them keep Hashem’s Mitzvot, just like the Anan, the cloud of Hashem, that would help the nation focus on Hashem’s presence.
Each one of these Mitzvot has a bigger role. When the Jews sin regarding the Eigel, Hashem becomes furious and wants to destroy the nation. However, thanks to Moshe, Bnei Yisrael do not befall that fate. At that point, Hashem does not stop the nation from entering the land; rather, Hashem waits, because He knows that the nation’s future is to sin again regarding the Meraglim – He gives the punishment then. Regarding the Cheit HaEigel, Moshe breaks the Luchot, equivalent to Torah SheBichtav. Gilui Arayot, Shevichut Damim, and Avodah Zarah are all present at that sin, paralleling the destruction of the first Beit HaMikdash. Similarly, the Meraglim break the Torah SheBa’al Peh. The key to the Torah Sheba’al Peh is that it is based upon a Mesorah, an unbroken chain, which originated from Moshe Rabbeinu. Therefore, any question on Moshe brings question to the Torah Sheba’al Peh. In Parashat BeHa’alotecha, Miriam questions Moshe’s actions. Although Moshe might have been wrong, Hashem had allowed him to do so. Miriam portrays this lack of faith, and expresses it through Lashon Hara. Rashi thus comments that even though the Meraglim see that Miriam is punished for her actions, they do not take heed and commit the same sin. The Meraglim do not have faith that they will conquer the land, as Moshe said by the word of Hashem. Then, through Lashon Hara, they create a mass disbelief and lack of faith in Moshe’s Torah, the Torah Sheba’al Peh.
This theme of disregarding Torah Sheba’al Peh pervades Parashat Shelach, and can explain the relevance of all the Mitzvot and stories in the Parashah. The Sanhedrin is the body that further defines Torah Sheba’al Peh; thus, when a mistake is made, there must be a way of correcting it. The case of the individual is related to Avodah Zarah, and blaspheming is mentioned next. Rambam states that one of the 13 fundamental beliefs is the belief that Moshe gave the Torah Sheba’al Peh. One who doesn’t believe in this can be called a blasphemer – it is as if he worships Avodah Zarah, because he denies Judaism. Thus, much of the Parashah is related to issues regarding Torah Sheba’al Peh, and the rest relates to Lashon Hara.
Lashon Hara is the easiest way to split a group of people. When the people have the audacity to speak and listen to Lashon Hara about Moshe Rabbeinu himself, they have committed a heinous crime. They are then sentenced to death, but Moshe saves them from dying yet again. Later, the nation cries over the report of the Meraglim, and the fear of entering the land and dying. The Midrash states that at that point, Hashem says, “If you want a reason to cry, I will give you a reason to cry.” That night was Tish’a BeAv, and years later, Tish’a BeAv is remembered for the destruction of the Temple. As stated, the sin of the Meraglim is connected to the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash. The sin of the Meraglim is Lashon Hara, a sin that splits our nation; thus, it is very fitting that the second Beit HaMikdash, which is destroyed because of Sin’at Chinam, baseless hatred among Jews, is what happens as a result.
It is after the sin of the Eigel that Hashem first introduces Nesachim, and He says that the community has to bring Nesachim with the communal Tamid offering. Regarding the Meraglim, He adds a second dimension, because the first wasn’t enough – He gives the obligation to individuals who bring Korbanot. Challah is also another dimension to a different Mitzvah – the Mitzvah of Terumah. The difference is that Challah is taken from dough when the flour has been placed all together, and is representative of the community. Lastly, Tzitzit are representative of adding Hashem to the mix; there are three strings wrapped around by a fourth of Techeilet. Techeilet reminds us of the blue sea, which reminds us of the sky, which reminds us of the Kisei HaKavod where Hashem rules all. May we quickly be able to take ideal use of our individual strengths and bind together as a complete unity surrounded by Hashem’s presence, and be the Tikun for the past sins of our people and merit the coming of Mashiach and the return of the Beit HaMikdash.