Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
PARSHAT SHELACH LECHABamidbar (Numbers) 13:1-14:41
Haftorah - Joshua 2:1-24
Mazal Tov to Lorraine Victor of Windsor, Ontario, Canada on the birth of a grand-daughter Allison Rose. May she always be a source of Joy to her entire family.
Those of you who are familiar with the depiction of the wanderings of the B'nai Yisrael (the Children of Israel) in the desert, know that originally, they were to go directly to Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel). However, after the building of the Ohel Moed (the Tabernacle), the trip into the Promised Land was delayed because of a sequence of three transgressions reviewed in last week's Parsha (Bamidbar 10:33 - 11:10).
Our Parsha this week begins with the B'nai Yisrael nearing Eretz Yisrael and making a request of Moshe, to send spies into Eretz Yisrael. The people are fickle, they want to know what kind of a country Israel actually is. Can they conquer it? Can they support themselves in it?
Hashem agrees to the request, with certain conditions. Moshe was to hand pick each of the twelve tribal representatives. He was to also require them to supply answers to questions that would satisfy the curiosity of the nation, regarding the quality of the Land and the demeanor of the people living in it.
Upon their return, ten of the twelve spies bring back an evil report. They tell the people that giants inhabit the Land "and we are like grasshoppers." They also say, "Eretz Ochelet Yoshveha He - it is a Land that devours its inhabitants." However, Yehoshuah (Joshua) and Kalev (Caleb) report that, "Eretz Asher He Zavat Chalav U'divash - it is a Land flowing with milk and honey."
Our Rabbi's teach us that the sin of the ten spies' report was that of Lashon Hara. In the laws against speaking Lashon Hara (evil speech), we are taught that there are many different forms of speech that fall into the general category of evil speech (such as slander or lying) but Lashon Hara specifically refers to idle talk which is also true. The people, hearing and accepting this Lashon Hara from their leaders, were disheartened and wished to return to Egypt.
That generations punishment was severe, the whole generation of former slaves (with the exception of the tribe of Levi) was destined to die out in the desert. This "stiff necked people," who complained and rebelled at every turn, who witnessed the greatest miracles in history, who heard the voice of the living G-d, who walked on dry land through the parted Sea of Reeds, who drank water that poured forth from a stone, who ate Manna that descended from heaven, and whose camp was shaded in the day by a Pillar of Cloud and was illuminated at night by a Pillar of Fire. All their other complaints were forgivable, but this lack of faith, went beyond the realm of forgiveness. This nation of little faith, could not possibly conquer Eretz Yisrael.
What was so wrong with accepting this report? Anyone who ever lived in Eretz Yisrael knows that life there is extremely difficult. Wars, terrorist attacks, hostility, rude behavior, terrifying drivers, heavy taxes, long waits for telephones, army and reserved duty, are just a few of the aspects of everyday life in the Holy Land. So it was then and so it is today. Though we all love Eretz Yisrael, why aren't we all living there? Is it not a "land that devours its inhabitants." That's not Lashon Hara, that's reality.
Two of the spies Yehoshuah and Kalev however, reported, "Eretz Asher He Zavat Chalav U'divash - it is a Land flowing with Milk and Honey." Though this attempt failed to convince the nation that Hashem had brought them this far and that He will also successfully bring them into the Land, it is very significant.
Rabbi Aryeh Levine, zt"l (Zecher Tzaddik Livracha - the memory of the righteous should be for a blessing), asks an interesting question. Why is the Land of Israel referred to as a "Land flowing with Milk and Honey?" Why not peanut butter and jelly, or any other two substances? What qualities are there in milk and honey that are distinctive? He answers that both milk and honey are - Yotzey Min Haklal - they are exceptions to the norm.
In the Laws of Kashrut (dietary laws), there is a principal that whatever the status of a product is, so is it's byproduct. For instance, if swine is not kosher, then the rendered fat (lard) of swine is also not kosher.
Milk comes from an animal. Any use of the animal's by-product would be classified as a meat product ( and forbidden to be mixed with dairy products). Yet milk is not only not meat, it is an exception to the rule and becomes a completely different classification - a dairy product.
Honey on the other hand, is the produced by a non-kosher animal which should render it also not kosher. Honey too, is an exception to the rule and is kosher. In fact, since the Torah calls the Land of Israel, "a Land flowing with Milk and Honey," we learn from this that honey actually is kosher (no reference would ever have been made comparing the Land of Israel to a non-kosher substance).
In order to live successfully in Eretz Yisrael, one must be an exception to the rule. One must always appreciate the fact that Israel is a gift for those who are worthy. It is true that Eretz Yisrael is a difficult place to live in, yet those of us who live or have lived there, are enchanted by its beauty and serenity. Of course all the criticisms of Israel have a presence of truth to them, but as Jews we must make do, on a different plane. We must be - Yotzey Min Haklal - exceptions to the norm.
This is the outcome of Lashon Hara, whether you are its bearer or its receiver. It blinds you from having an exceptional outlook, you see the world from a distorted perspective. And with such a distorted view of Hashem's precious gifts to His people, we could never successfully reside there.
This is why that generation had to die out in the desert. Not because this transgression was so much greater than others, or that this "was the straw that broke the camel's back," but because when they lost the ability to be exceptional, they would have been "devoured" by the land.
Beware of the powers of Lashon Hara. It can debilitate you and weaken any spirituality that you might possess. It can blind you from the miracles that you have witnessed with your own eyes, until you can no longer derive strength from them. Gossip is common among us, not participating in Lashon Hara, will make you exceptional.
Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
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