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Parshas Shlach

Heaven Sent -- The Message That Is


G-d spoke to Moshe saying, "Send (for yourselves) people and they will spy out the land of Canaan which I am giving to the Children of Israel... " (Bamidbar 13:1)

SEND: According to your own judgment, for I do not command you; if you want, do it. (Rashi)

Up until this point, we have seen two categories: that which G-d commands us to do, and that which He commands us not to do. Usually, there is not one thing that we are permitted to do that does not fall into one category of mitzvah or another, and if it doesn't, then it usually constitutes a transgression.

However, at the beginning of this week's parshah we have a whole new category of will and action. G-d has told MosheRabbeinu that He will not command the Jewish people to send out spies, but He also implies that He will not count it as a transgression if they do. It is a kind of confusing introduction to an event that knocked Jewish history completely off course until this very day, and therefore it needs some investigation.

There is another similar situation like this one at another momentous time in Jewish history, except that this one has a happy ending. The story is about Ya'akov Avinu and how he had to confront Eisav, his brother, upon his return to Eretz Canaan after being away from home for 34 years. After crossing the Yabok River, a northern tributary of the Jordan River, Ya'akov fought with the Angel of Eisav the entire night before prevailing.

Seemingly, Ya'akov's act of return and struggle was nothing short of heroic, for which he was rewarded with a name change from 'Ya'akov' to 'Yisroel.' Yet, everything seems to sour when we take into account what the Midrash derives from what Ya'akov did:

AND YA'AKOV SENT (Bereishis 32:4): Rav Huna opened by saying, "He grabbed the ears of a dog and became involved in an argument that was not his"... Thus, The Holy One, Blessed is He, said to him (Ya'akov), "He (Eisav) was going his own way and you went and sent things to him and said, 'So says your servant Ya'akov'?!" (Bereishis Rabbah 75:3)
From the Midrash, it sounds as if Ya'akov was to be criticized for his decision to go back and confront his brother Eisav over the blessings he took from him 34 years earlier. However, what else was he to do if he wanted to return home to his father and family? Implies the Midrash: circumvent Eisav and avoid the issue altogether, and let sleeping dogs lie.

If so, then did Ya'akov sin? The fact that he fought the Angel of Eisav and prevailed, and even received the namesake, Yisroel, for which every Jew is supposed to strive, -would seem to indicate that he did not sin. Otherwise, Ya'akov would have violated the well-known concept in the Talmud of not performing a mitzvah through a sin (e.g., stealing alulav to perform the mitzvah during Succos), and it would have put him into the category of one who sinned and benefited as a result (choteh v'niskar), Chas v'Shalom.

Furthermore, other than the injury that Ya'akov sustained temporarily in his left sciaticnerve, Ya'akov was neither criticized nor punished for his decision to 'pull the ears' of Eisav. In fact, the only fault the Midrash finds with Ya'akov's decision was that he overly humbled himself to Eisav, and that he hid Dinah, his daughter, from Eisav, citing that Eisav might have married her and she might have brought him back into the family fold.

If so, did Ya'akov do the right thing in pulling Eisav out of his lair into the light of day for a confrontation? Seemingly yes. Did Ya'akov do the wrong thing by drawing Eisav out of his settlement to confront him over issues from days of old? Seemingly yes. A little confusing, eh?

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G-d said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply." (Bereishis 1:28)
It is a positive mitzvah to marry a wife in order to be fruitful and multiply. One's intention should be the continuation of the human species. When a man is eighteen he becomes subject to the duty of fathering children; if he passes the age of twenty without having been married, he transgresses and disobeys this positive commandment. If he is occupied in Torah study and fears that the problem of earning a livelihood will interfere, he is permitted to delay, though not beyond the age of 25. (The Concise Book Of Mitzvos, Mitzvah #42)

"When a man..."? What happened to the woman over here? The posuk has G-d talking to both Adam AND Chava! Yet the mitzvah speaks only of a MAN'S obligation to have children, and the reason for this somewhat less-than-subtle omission is very simple: women do NOT have a mitzvah to have children (collective groan and, "Now you tell us!"), and the question is, why?

One of the most accepted answers is quite basic: childbirth is dangerous to one's health. True, childrearing can be 'dangerous' to the father's health as well, bringing on high blood pressure and old age earlier than expected. However, in all seriousness, childbirth itself often did, and still can cause the death of the mother in the process.

For this reason a woman is not commanded to have children, or even get married for that matter, because G-d does not command us to do that which is dangerous to our lives. In fact, very often when a danger to our life is involved, even the laws of Shabbos and Yom Kippur are suspended as much as is necessary to sustain life. Only in certain circumstances is a Jew expected to surrender his life for the sake of G-d and Torah, such as in times of anti-Semitism that seeks to undermine our adherence to Torah.

So, what most religious women take to be a fact of Torah life is really a level of mitzvah fulfillment beyond their call of duty, for which they are certainly rewarded, both in this world and the next. However, the principle is what we are concerned about here, and that is that G-d will not command a person, in general, to enter a situation that will endanger his or her life. If we find otherwise, then it is probably more the result of our own negligence than anything else.

Having said that, we can now appreciate what the Midrash said about Ya'akov Avinu, and why it was to his benefit in the end. There was no question that returning to Eretz Canaan and confronting Eisav along the way was both physically and spiritually dangerous. Therefore, G-d did not command it of him, but rather left the choice in his own hands.

Understanding from previous circumstances that the straight path totikun and completion crossed tracks with Eisav, his brother, Ya'akov didn't wait for any direction from G-d, but rather took things into his own hands. Doing so can often be perilous, and Ya'akov did not emerge on the other side unscathed. To this very day we do not eat the 'gid hanashe' from the hind quarter of a cow to remind us of this fact, among other important points.

Nevertheless, his overall self-sacrifice paid off and he rose to the occasion to which the Torah testifies:

He [the angel] told him, "No longer will you be called 'Ya'akov, but 'Yisroel, because you have struggled with [an angel of] G-d, and with men and have prevailed." (Bereishis 32:29)
As the angel of G-d said in no uncertain terms, "You HAVE prevailed." He had taken a great risk on his own in coming there and fighting with him, but in the end, he DID prevail.

Now we have enough information to return back to our parshahand the journey of the twelve spies.

Thus, leaving to spy out the land was quite a bold thing for the Jewish people to do. In fact, it had been an outright dangerous thing to do. That G-d had neither prevented them from going nor had commanded them to go, was a clear indication that they were putting themselves at risk, to do a good thing perhaps, but nevertheless, at great risk to themselves.

G-d knows the capabilities of a person, their assumptions about life and how they will perceive reality. Sometimes, G-d uses that information to actually test us, in order to help us understand where we have assumed incorrectly, or to reward us for our correct assumptions and perceptions and devotion to truth.

Other times, G-d specifically does not test us in certain areas, but rather looks for a more subtle way to teach us what we need to know, when the time is right. Spying out the land had not been the incorrect thing to do, as we learn later from the story of Yehoshua, but the timing of it had been all wrong. The Jewish people simply had not been on the correct level at that point in their development to properly deal with the information they were destined to collect upon reaching the Holy Land.

Therefore, the chances for success were quite limited. Hence, the results speak for themselves in this week's parshah. Now, the question is, how does this apply to our generation today?

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Moshe told everything [G-d had told him] to Children of Israel, and they mourned greatly. They rose up early in the morning and went up to the top of the mountain, saying, "Let's go up to the land which G-d has promised to us! We erred..." (Bamidbar 14:39-40)
As to why our generation should pay close attention to this week'sparshah is spelled out in Tanach itself, but amplified here in the words of the Arizal:
Now you can understand what is written, "Behold, you shall die with your fathers, and this people will rise up..." (Devarim 31:16), that is considered to be one of the verses that has no (simple) explanation (Yoma 56a). However, it can be explained with the word "rise" referring to that which comes before and after it, and both explanations are true. For, in the future, Moshe himself will reincarnate and return in the last generation as it says, "you will die with your fathers and rise." And, in the final generation, the Generation of the Desert will also reincarnate with the Erev Rav (Mixed Multitude), and this is what the posuk means, "this people will rise up." For, there is not a single generation in which Moshe Rabbeinu does not return, as the verse hints, "The sun rises and the sun sets" (Koheles 1:5), and "One generation goes, and another comes" (Koheles 1:4), in order to rectify that generation. Thus, the Generation of the Desert, along with the Erev Rav reincarnate in the final generation, "like in the days of leaving Egypt" (Michah 7:15). Moshe will also rise among them, since they are all from thesod of Da'as: Moshe, the Generation of the Desert, and the Erev Rav, as we have explained in Parashas Shemos. This is why it is written after, "to which they go there (shin-mem-heh)"- which has the letters: mem-shin-heh (Moshe), since Moshe will reincarnate with them. (Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Chapter 20, p. 54)
You never know, at this late point in world history, this could be talking about us. Therefore, it would be helpful to understand what exactly it was that the generation of the spies did wrong, since more than likely the gilgulim are going to have to rectify the mistake once and for all.

Was their mistake that they went into the land prematurely? No, for that would have made it a sin to have left in the first place, which clearly it was not. Rather, the people themselves said it: "Let's go up to the land which G-d has promised to us! We erred..."

But they DID go, and yet they failed. What did they mean that they erred? In what respect?

They erred in their appreciation of the gift of Eretz Yisroel, and more importantly, how dependent they were on it to achieve spiritual completion.

The goal of inheriting a portion of Eretz Yisroel has been to help each Jew find his own portion within Torah Sh'b'al Peh. (Zohar Chadash 2:137b)

The essence of Torah Sh'b'al Peh (Oral Law) is within it. (Pri Tzaddik, Parashas Massey 4)

There is no wisdom like the wisdom of Eretz Yisroel. (Bereishis Rabbah 16)

(There are many, many more sources where these came from.)

They had agreed that Eretz Yisroel had been a gift from G-d, but one that they had chosen to return to its owner. They had taken the words of the Haggadah,

"If G-d had only freed us from Egypt, given us manna, given us Torah, dayainu! It is enough for us!"
in the wrong vein. For, the author of the Haggadah was not saying that Eretz Yisroel was only 'the icing on the cake.' Rather, he was pointing out that each piece of the cake is an indispensable gift that G-d did not owe us, but gave to us anyway in order to complete ourselves. And once He did, how could we take it lightly and live as if we didn't need it?

It was their attitudes that made their mission dangerous. Not the place they were going to or the timing of their arrival, but their attitudes towards it. They did not leave to receive the gift, but to return it. Life in the desert was meant to prepare them for life in Eretz Yisroel, but instead it reduced Eretz Yisroel in importance and stature in their own eyes until they literally chose life in the desert over life in the Land.

However, they had forgotten that life in the desert had been artificially supported, until G-d let the real desert life kick in and take over. All of a sudden, life in Eretz Yisroel began to appear quite idyllic once again, and they changed their colors and became willing to risk their lives to get there. As the curtain came down on life in the desert it rose on life in Eretz Yisroel, but too late. Instead, they died in the desert, and not in the most pleasant of ways either.

For a number of reasons, going back to times before most of us were even born, America was called a 'desert.' That means something, or ought to mean something, to us. In that context, it might be worthwhile to deviate a bit from the regular weekly format to speak about a few recent events in the life of American Jewry.

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This is from G-d, that which is wondrous in our eyes. (Tehillim 118:23)
The above posuk is short, but extremely, extremelypowerful. Dovid HaMelech gave us a crucial insight into history, particularly into being able to recognize the events of our lives for what they are, and the Divine messages for what they are meant to be. Without prophecy to help us to do just that, such an insight is worth far more than any advice money can buy.

One such wondrous event was the 'miraculous,' ruthless, and utter destruction of the Twin Towers in the heart of downtown New York and the financial world center, on September 11 of last year. Nevertheless, other than the people who were directly affected by that black September day, the obliteration of the World Trade Center is but a memory from the past for countless people who have chosen to move on in life without it, including millions of Jews.

More recently and amazingly, anti-Semitism has become more visible, to levels that, quite frankly, we thought would never occur ever again, and so soon after the Holocaust. Well, then again, who would have ever thought that the issue of a Palestinian homeland would become such an emotional one for so many people around the world, and that it would translate not just into anti-Israel feelings, but anti-Semitic feelings as well?

Furthermore, as someone who has lived in Israel for the better part of three decades and who has seen the transformation of the Arab attitude within Israel towards the Jews; as an amateur historian who has paid attention to the events of recent history and has taken note of them within the larger context; as someone who has heard first-hand what the Arab world truly feels about the Jewish people and their pan-Arab plan for the Middle-East, I have to say that it is a WONDER that the world has chosen as it has.

It bothers them that, in self-defense, the Israeli people have had to sustain a war they neither want nor can afford. Yet, they write off sentiments from so-called prominent Arabs, such as Dr. Adel Sadeq, chairman of the Arab Psychiatrists Association and head of the Department of Psychiatry at Ein Shams University in Cairo, who has said quite openly:

"...The message to Israel is that we will not cease... It is very important to convey this message... The child who threw a stone in 1993 today wraps himself in an explosive belt... As long as there is even a single Palestinian left, the war will not end. What is happening now indicates one thing: Israel will not exist forever. We as Arabs must know that this war will not end. The conflict will continue... Either we will exist or we will not exist. Either the Israelis or the Palestinians - there is no third option... On the strategic level, there must be a pan-Arab plan in order to reach our goal. The goal of all of us is to liberate Palestine from the Israeli aggressors. To use words that some people no longer like to use today: 'We will throw Israel into the sea.' This phrase, by the way, is the truth. Either they will throw us into the sea, or we will throw them into the sea. There is no middle ground. Coexistence is total nonsense..."
A singular opinion? Try a voice of the masses, which is readily apparent if one only takes the time to read the Arab media or to ask them personally. Dr. Sadeq is the one who the arab people go to when they are psychologically unwell.

And, if some fringe group wants to file a class action suit against the American Orthodox world for 'extorting' billions of dollars from gentile companies for kashrus certification, it is only a fringe group after all, isn't it? I mean, there have ALWAYS been lots of those around that have always been quite anti-Semitic.

You mean, like Hitler's, may his memory be erased, for example, at the beginning of the 1920s?

In fact, that's exactly why no one ever took him seriously in the beginning, not the world and not the Jews: no one, and I mean NO ONE at the time ever thought he'd end up controlling one of the most powerful nations and gaining access to the very resources he'd need to carry out his megalomaniac plans. What were the odds of that happening again, 1 in 6,000,000?

And, if a violent hate mob gathered together on the campus of SFSU a few weeks ago and threatened to murder the Jews, and they seemed to have meant it, and the police were 'afraid' to seriously stop them out of fear of starting a riot, does it mean anything long term?

It depends who you ask. It depends upon what you want to believe. After all, what did you mean when you said, "Never in America"? Was it, "Never in America, or never Americans"?

There is a difference, you know. While it is true that it would require a great change of nature for MANY Americans today before they could act as the Europeans did towards the Jews during World War II, it does not mean that America cannot become a place of great anti-Semitism, and even, G-d forbid, pogroms.

This is because while we Jews and the America people were naively looking the other way, or better yet, sleeping, Divine Providence was importing Middle-Eastern hatred of the Jews into America and just about every American institution. Not just into America, by the way, but also into Canada, Australia, England, South Africa, you name it - to just about every country in which Jews thought to take refuge after the last world war.

Furthermore, the Arabs that make up minorities in countries such as the States and Canada are like loose threads that hang down from your sleeve and which seem to beg to be pulled off. However, had we known that by pulling that thread it would drag with it every other thread holding the sleeve together, wouldn't we have just left it alone?

Every Islamic Arab living anywhere in the world is such a loose thread/canon that is attached to massive Arab homelands, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, etc., and the American government knows it. The governments of the so-called 'Free World' know that if they 'pull' that Arab 'thread' as they ought to, morally, the whole darn Arab 'sleeve' might just come along with it...

Can you feel the potential paralysis of countries as big and as mighty as the United States of America to protect its Jewish constituents - ON ITS OWN HOME SOIL? There are only about 7,000,000 Jews living on foreign soil around the world, and only about 6,000,000 in America alone, in a country of 260,000,000 people. Does anyone ever wonder how quickly it could flip-flop and become a place of great insecurity for so many Jews? Did we learn nothing from the destruction of the Twin Towers last September?

First of all, we have to understand that any level of anti-Semitism is on the fringe, and is just a function of G-d's mercy. It is not a reality of anti-Semitism, but a Divine way of communicating of what might be coming our way if we don't fix things soon, or at least look as if we are trying to do something about the vast assimilation and intermarriage.

How do I know? Because the Talmud says:

Rav Chisda and Rabbah the son of Rav Huna both said: Why is it called "Sinai?" Because it is the mountain from which hatred (Hebrew: sinah) came down to the Nations-of-the-World... (Shabbos 89a)
So, you can write to your congressmen and senators and you can complain bitterly about the ugly and unfortunate change of events regarding anti-Jewish sentiments in America and around the world. You can even applaud when the House of Representatives passes a motion to curb European anti-Semitism, and you can also write to the White House and implore President George Bush to take the moral high ground and support Israel.

However, don't forget how many letters were written in advance of, during, and after the Holocaust to try and save the millions of Jews who were being rounded up and slaughtered by so many peoples, and to absolutely no avail. Including the letters that went to the White House begging Roosevelt to bomb the concentrations camps once and for all and slow down the death of countless Jews. Again, to absolutely no avail.

History repeats itself, it really does, and on many levels. However, Parashas Shlach-Lecha lasts but one week during the course of year, and for many, only twenty minutes on one Shabbos morning. However, its message is eternal and perhaps, knocking loudly now at the collective Jewish door. The first time it did, "we erred" - and we're still paying the price.

When it knocks again this time, be sure to be home and open the door and let it in.

This is from G-d, that which is wondrous in our eyes. (Tehillim 118:23)
I don't know about you, but I'm in wonder about the situation today, and I'm concerned.

Have a VERY throughtful - and peaceful Shabbos,
Pinchas Winston

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