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by Jacob Solomon

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These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel… concerning the (sins of the Israelites in the following places:) the Wilderness, the Arava, opposite the Red Sea, between Paran and between Tofel, and Lavan, and Hatzerot, and Di-Zahav (1:1 - translated according to Rashi).


The bulk of the Book of Deuteronomy contains Moses' final address to the Israelites before his death. He opened by reminding the Israelites of their past sins and rebellions from the Exodus onwards. In order not to offend or embarrass the Israelites, he alluded to the offences by stating where they took place (Rashi 1:1). Thus for example, Di-Zahav was where the Israelites built the Golden Calf - which was made possible because they had 'enough gold'.

Applying this comment of Rashi to the text of the Parasha shows that Moses rebuked the Israelites in two stages. The first stage was by veiled reference - in the first verse. Once the Israelites were tuned into his words of castigation, he continued to detail the offences - which form a large part of the Parasha. However the content of his warnings shows clearly that he gave his listeners self-respect. When Moses reproved the people he did not refer to the misdeeds of any individual families, such as Korach's.

As the converse to the above, the Talmud (Gittin 55b) states that the failure to rebuke one another was a fundamental cause of the destruction of the Second Temple, since reproach is necessary for spiritual progress and correction. In addition the person who does not reprove shows a failure, which also caused the Destruction.

This is derived from he famous story of Kamza and Bar-Kamza (ibid). A certain man had a friend called Kamza and an enemy called Bar-Kamza. He made a banquet that was attended by the Rabbis. He also issued an invitation to his friend Kamza to attend. By mistake, the invitation went out to Bar-Kamza. When the host noticed Bar-Kamza at the meal, he ordered him to leave. Bar Kamza begged to be allowed to stay, and he offered to pay up to the entire cost of the feast. The host ordered to him to leave and threw him out. Deeply disgusted and wounded, Bar Kamza said that since the Rabbis sat there and did not protest, he would slander them to the Roman Emperor. He managed to bring false evidence to the Emperor that the Jews were rebelling against him. That led to the Roman conquest of Jerusalem.

This raises the following issue. Why did the Rabbis sit silent at Bar-Kamza's humiliation? Perhaps it may be argued that they were in a difficult situation. They were after all guests at a banquet - enjoying the host's largesse. Well-behaved guests do not usually question their host's activities, even if they are of a lower standard of conduct than their own.

Their error may be found in method of Moses' rebuke. When Moses had to rebuke the Israelites just before his death, he was not merely in danger in losing the goodwill of one person, but of all his people. Those last words that he uttered would be the ones by which he would be most remembered.

How did he manage to rebuke and not be hated for it? He did not remain silent, as the Rabbis did in the story. Instead he drew attention to their shortcomings intelligently, by veiled references, as in opening verse quoted. Once he gained their attention and their goodwill, he continued to castigate them in such a way as his words would be remembered, but he would not be hated for it. This was the failure of the Rabbis. The correct thing to do would have been to approach the host indirectly, using a veiled reference (as Moses did)… in this case, perhaps by introducing into the conversation an intelligently applied anecdote on the subject of inhospitality. Then the discussion could have been broadened (as with Moses) so as not to exclusively refer to the host… In such a way, the fatal slander of Bar-Kamza to the Roman Emperor could have been avoided.

"All of you approached me and said, 'let us send out men ahead of us and let them spy out the land. They will bring word back to us…'" (1:22).

The word used for 'let them spy out' is ve-yachperu. In the earlier narrative in Parashat Shelach Lecha (Num. 13:2) the word used for the same idea is ve-yatu. In contrast, in Pasuk 24 here, a different word is used to describe the action of the Spies. They came to the Valley of Eshkol and they spied it out is written with another verb: vayeraglu, from the word regel meaning 'foot' and simultaneously leragel (e.g. as used in Sam. II, 19:28), meaning 'to gossip'.

From the three different verbs used here and in the Book of Numbers to express basically the same idea, we get some insight into the sin of the spies, which would be different from the traditional explanation give by Rashi on Num. 13:2.

Combining the two texts - here and in Numbers - we get the following. The Israelites genuinely wanted to spy out the Promised Land. After all it is normal military behavior to employ an intelligence service. Indeed after Moses' death, Joshua) dispatched spies to provide information about the city of Jericho (Josh. 2:1). So the behavior of the Israelites at that stage was reasonable.

This can be seen by the use of the word ve-yachperu meaning to dig into, to get detailed information. The information was to be of such a nature as to be useful to the invading Israelites. So when G-d commanded Moses to send spies, he used the words shelach lecha…veyaturu: send for yourself - for your own benefit (lecha used in the same way as in Rashi's explanation to Gen. 12:1); and spy out - bring back detailed information - as part of military preparations for the conquest of the land of the Canaanites. So both the words ve-yachperu and veyaturu involved the legitimate and necessary preparation to prepare for the conquest of the Promised Land.

The spies did not explore the land according to the wishes of the Almighty (veyaturu), or in terms of the wishes of those who sent them (ve-yachperu). Instead of carrying out the onerous task of obtaining detailed information about the Land, the Spies toured the land in such a way as to only get a superficial picture of it (vayeraglu - literally, they walked though it). Because of the lack of effort on their part in getting real information - which they tried to cover up with the samples of the Lands' produce, they failed to get a real picture of the weaknesses, as well as the strengths of the Canaanites. Therefore they brought a report which, when put together, conveyed a false overall impression of the situation. Hence the second meaning of vayeraglu - and they gossiped - they brought untrue information about the Land.

Amongst things that we can learn from this is the importance of looking into things properly before judging a person or a group. Instead of stereotyping a person with the glib response of 'I can sum up a person in a glance' it is important to make a real effort to know people and groups in detail, so we can interact with them as they really are.



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