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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Sh'lach(72)

This week's sedra speaks of the tragic sin of the spies. How these representatives of the People misunderstood their mandate and as a result caused the Nation to wander and die out in the Wilderness. At the end of the sedra we are taught the mitzvah of Tzitzis.

Rashi explains a familiar word - for a reason.

Numbers 15:39

And they should be for you for tzitzis and you shall see it and remember all the commandments of Hashem and you shall do them and you shall not spy after you hearts and after your eyes after which you stray.


And you shall not spy after you heart: Rashi: [The word תתורו [ is similar to the word הארץ מתור"from spying out the Land" (above 13:25). The heart and the eyes are the spies for the body, procuring sins for it, the eye sees, the heart desires and the body commits the sin.


There are two parts to this Rashi-comment. The first part tells us the derivation and meaning of a word 'you shall spy out' (Hebrew "Taturu" or "Sasuru" ). Rashi refers back to this word when it was previously used in our parasha, when the Spies came back from "spying the Land ( also in Hebrew "Mitur" or "misur") the Land." The second part of this comment tells us a psychological lesson and moral warning about how we may be seduced into sinning.

What would you ask about the word Rashi chose to compare to our word "to spy" ?

Hint: Is this word found anywhere else in this sedra?

Your Question:


A Question: In the story of the Spies the root "to spy" is used no less than a dozen times. Of this list of twelve times, Rashi chooses one of the middle times that this word is used. Why didn't Rashi choose the first time this word appeared in this sedra?

Note: Rashi will frequently compare a word in one verse to the same word elsewhere in the Torah or the Tanach in order to understand its meaning. It is reasonable for him to find the closest place the word appears. But we must always wonder when Rashi chooses the comparison word in a distant reference when a closer one exists.

So we ask: Of all the times this word appears in this sedra, why did Rashi choose this one in particular?

Hint: Look at the context of the word he chooses.

Your Answer:


An Answer: The word Rashi chose is found in verse 13:25 "They returned from spying out the Land at the end of forty days." It was this point that their mission turns sour. It was at this point that we begin to see that their spying out the Land was for negative motives. Soon after this verse they begin their disparaging report about the Land. The word 'to search' or 'to spy' can have either a positive or a negative connotation. Moses sent the Spies on a positive mission; it was they who turned it into a negative and ultimately self-destructive experience. It would seem that Rashi's search was not just philological. He was not only interested in letting us know the derivation of the word "to spy", he also wanted to find the moral equivalent to the meaning of the word in our chapter about Tzitzis. Our verse says in effect: Don't search, for negative motives, after your heart etc. Rashi thus chose the first use of the word "Spy" ( "Tur"( in the story of the spies that serves this purpose.

The Lesson

Rashi has shown us at least two important things in this simple looking comment. He shows us, by word association, how the story of the Spies is related to the mitzvah of ????? . Its inclusion at the end of this sedra is not arbitrary, by any means. Rashi's perspicacious choice of the particular word in the story of the Spies, teaches us another lesson. That is, that using our eyes (our spies) may be either for positive or negative goals. When, of all the times the word תור appears, Rashi intentionally chooses this particular one which has a negative connotation, he shows us that the Torah is only prohibiting using our eyes for negative purposes.

The Use of our Eyes: An Example

A striking example of how our intentions influence our perceptions can be found in parashas Va'eschanan. (Deut. 4:19). There it says:

"Lest you raise your eyes unto the heavens and see the sun, and the moon, and the stars, all the hosts of the heavens and be drawn away to worship them."

The message: Do not become awed by the majesty of the heavens and be drawn to worshiping them.

Let's compare this with a verse in Isaiah 40:26 (from the haftarah of the very same sedra, Va'eschanan!)

"Raise your eyes on high and see Who created these; He brings forth their legions by number; He calls them all by name; because all His abundant might and powerful strength, none is missing."

The message here is just the opposite: You can derive inspiration and bolster your faith in the Almighty by looking heavenwards and seeing the vast majestic sight of the starry sky above.

The lesson: Our eyes can perceive the very same thing (the heavens) and yet, depending on our attitude, we can interpret our perception in very different ways. Our eyes can be used for either positive or negative ends, it up to us to choose our ends.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is produced by the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. The five volume set of "What's Bothering Rashi?" is available at all Judaica bookstores.

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