by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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This week's sedra tells the story of the Spies and their fateful sin of badmouthing the Land of Israel.
Send for you men and they will tour (spy out) the land of canaan which I am giving to the Children of Israel ; one man from each the tribe of his father, send each prince of them.
Send forth for yourself: Rashi: Why was the section of the Spies placed in juxtaposition to the section about Miriam? Because she was stricken on account of slander, which she spoke against her brother and these sinners, witnessed [what happened to her] and yet did not take a lesson from it!
What Is Rashi Saying?
On the basis of the idea of S'michos Parshios, Rashi quotes a midrash that criticizes the Spies. They should have learned the evils of slander from the fact that Miriam spoke slander against Moses, her brother, and was punished by G-d. But as you think about the comparison between the Spies' behavior and Miriam's slander, you should have some questions. Are they comparable cases?
A Question: Miriam spoke slander against Moses, the Spies gave an evil report about the Land. Since when is saying something bad about an inert object, like land, considered slander? Another point that could be made: Miriam spoke against the "man of G-d," Moses, the master of all prophets. How can the evil report of the Spies begin to be compared to Miriam's audacious act? Considering the differences between the two situations, one wonders why the Spies should have seen the connection and learned a lesson from Miriam's sin.
Do you see any comparison between the two parashios?
An Answer: If we look again at the section about Miriam and we look closely at Rashi's words, we can get a better understanding.
Miriam and Aaron spoke about the Cushite woman whom Moses took for a wife. A Cushite is, according to simple p'shat, a woman from Cush, a country whose natives are black-skinned. This is the only aspect of this woman mentioned in the Torah. Rashi mentions that Miriam was stricken and her punishment for her slander was "and behold Miriam was afflicted with leprosy like snow (12:10).
Perhaps by understanding Miriam's punishment we can understand the deeper meaning of her sin. Miriam's skin, the Torah tells us, was white as snow; the Chushite woman's skin was black. A paradoxical situation existed, as the Cushite woman was pure "on the inside" although she was black on the outside. While Miriam, on the other hand, was "pure" (white) on the outside even though she had sinned and was impure on the inside.
The lesson is: Don't judge by appearances. What looks "pure" on the outside may be problematic on a deeper level, and contrariwise, what looks "black" on the surface may be quite pure and beautiful on the inside.
See that Rashi emphasizes Miriam's punishment, more so than her sin, when he says, "she (Miriam) was stricken on account of slander." Her punishment was the symbolic "white as snow" appearance of leprosy.
Do you see how this ties in with the sin of the Spies?
A Common Denominator Between Miriam and the Spies' Sins
An Answer: The Spies also judged by outward appearances and drew incorrect conclusions from outward appearances. What evidence is there of this?
The Spies' Misperception
An Answer: Moses told them to "see the Land …and the cities they dwell in; if they are open (non-walled) or fortified" (13:19). On 13:19 Rashi says that Moses gave them a sign: "If they live in open cities, they are strong…but if they live in fortified cities, they are weak." This is the opposite of what we might have thought. We would have thought that based on appearances, a fortified city would be harder to conquer, but Moses told them otherwise. In effect, he said "Don't judge by outward appearances."
What report did the Spies return with? They said, in their most damning sentence: "However, the nation is mighty, the people that dwell in the Land. And the cities are greatly fortified to the utmost (13:28)". They drew the exact opposite conclusion than Moses had instructed them. They are strong…because they dwell in greatly fortified cities! They fell into the perceptual trap of judging by outward appearances.
Clearly, they had learned nothing from Miriam's, experience who was punished for judging by appearances.
"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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