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by Jacob Solomon

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You shall not stray after your heart and after your eyes (15:30).


The word latur is unique to this Parasha. It occurs at the beginning, with the account of the Spies: Send for yourselves men and they shall spy out (veyaturu) the Land of Canaan (13:2) and at the end: You shall not stray (taturu) after your heart and after your eyes. What is the connection between the two sections: the first about the Sin of the Spies, and the second about Tzitzit?

A deeper consideration of each section shows an important link between them.

The Spies brought a report on the land that they had explored during the previous forty days. There was nothing in the report that was untrue! However it is possible to select certain facts and put them into a particular order which together give a complete distortion of the truth. Thus the Spies did not use the fruit they brought back just to stress the wealth of the Land. They used the huge size of the fruit (derived from the text in Rashi on 13:23) to stress the massive strength and expected resistance of the Canaanites. To this they grafted their own negative speculative interpretation of the giant people (13:28) they passed by: we were in our eyes as grasshoppers and so we were in their eyes (13:33).

In this they undermined G-d's plan for the Israelites in the Promised Land in the following ways:

1. The Israelites needed emuna - faith - to inherit and live in the Land. Were they to receive Eretz Yisrael as an outright gift - without any spiritual and physical effort on their part, they would not have been able to carry out their world mission of being a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation (Ex. 19:3). For the Israelites to function as the world's spiritual leaders through Torah teachings, they had to be in constant touch with the Almighty. This connection was indeed kept up by the success and miracles involved in conquering the much feared Canaanites themselves, under Joshua. This reminded them time and time again that G-d was at their elbow. The Spies, however, did not see the difficulties ahead as part of the essential spiritual making of the Israelite nation.

2. The Torah is to be observed in difficult, as well as in perfect conditions. The Land was described as a land flowing with milk of honey rather than as a garden, as in the case of the Garden of Eden. Eretz - land - is something that by nature has to be built on, developed, and improved - often with great sacrifice. A garden, on the other hand, implies completion - something which can be enjoyed right now: indeed the Torah (Gen. 2:9-14) dwells on how G-d, rather than Man developed Gan Eden so that it should indeed be a finished product. In contrast, G-d took the Israelites out of Egypt so that they should develop though the challenges ahead: as a creative and just society, within the Torah bounds.

3. The Patriarchs had personal first-hand experience of the difficulties of living in the Land. Even though the Canaanites were already in the Land when Abraham arrived, he expressed his delight at G-d's promise to give that land to his own descendants, by building an altar to give thanks to G-d (Gen. 12:6-7, according to Rashi). The Spies, in contrast, caused the Israelites to reject that very gift which G-d had given them through the merits of the Patriarchs.

In summary the Spies created a whole mood of despair to spread like wildfire. This was destroying the maturing processes of faith, creativity, and gratitude that were the distinguishing characteristics of the Torah nation.

The Tzitzit, which include in their description the same unique language as the Spies, enhance those very maturing experiences that the Spies attempted to destroy. Firstly despair: we were in our eyes as grasshoppers and so we were in their eyes - is product of lack of faith. The Spies focused onto things that would cause despair. By looking at the tzitzit we are reminded not to stray after our eyes and emotions - which include things which reduce faith and induce despair. The tzitzit, as S'forno points out, are like a royal insignia - reminding the wearer that he is always in the service of, and in touch with, the King - the Almighty. He is watching and guiding those who keep His commandments. The wearer must think of what He wants - not what other people may or may not think of him. With faith, the Israelites not only conquered most of the land, but they also succeeded in creating and developing a civilization which at least in the time of Joshua and the Elders after him, remained loyal to being a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation (see Joshua 24:31) . In the same way the tzitzit remind us of the unique mission of the Torah Nation, and of the importance of creatively developing a society which conforms to, and brings out Torah values rather than conforming to current negative elements in other societies. Finally, despair - the sin of the Spies, led to ungratefulness (14:3). When times are such that we ungrateful for the things the Almighty gives us, the tzitzit tell us not to stray after our eyes and hearts - however unpleasant the latest event was. Rather, by looking at the tzitzit, we are reminded that He knows what is best for us in the long run and that we may well be ultimately grateful for the challenging experiences G-d puts before us, even if they are unpalatable at the time…



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