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Friday, June 17

The Weekly Shtikle - Shelach

    After Moshe Rabbeinu's intense appeal following the sin of the spies, HaShem agrees not to wipe out B'nei Yisroel. Instead, they were forced to roam the desert for 40 years, during which time all the males who had were above the age of 20 at the time would perish, with few exceptions. The Torah is very clear about the significance of the 40-year punishment, clarifying (14:34) that the 40 years correspond to the 40 days that the spies spent in Eretz Yisroel - a day for a year.
 
    This seems like one of the most distinct examples of "midah keneged midah," the method of Divine retribution which exacts a specific punishment which corresponds to the crime. However, points out R' Eisenberg, there is something oddly different in this case. Normally, we would expect the punishment to correspond to the specific method in which the sin was committed, as we find with the Egyptians, who were punished by water, in response to their evil decree that the Israelite males be thrown into the Nile. This element seems to be lacking here. There was nothing inherently sinful in the 40 days for which they staked out the land. Why would the punishment be exacted according to this figure?
 
    Another question that occurred to me was that "exacting" punishment would not be a very appropriate term in this case as it was more than a year since B'nei Yisroel left Egypt. Therefore, it was really only a 39-year punishment. If they were to be punished exactly a year for each day, they should have spent a total of 41 years roaming the desert.
 
    R' Eisenberg explains that "midah keneged midah" is not simply a Divinely ironic method of punishment. At least, it doesn't have to be. In fact, sometimes it isn't that at all. There are, in fact, two types of "midah keneged midah." The first fits the more conventional use of the term, the most evident examples being Keriyas Yam Suf and Purim. As we have previously discuessed, the purpose of that form of punishment is to highlight and accentuate the utter and complete Divine Providence and dispel any suggestions of chance. However, in the second type, the punishment need not be exacted according to a specific aspect of the sin. Rather, the purpose is to serve as a reminder of the sin which caused the punishment and thus, a catalyst for repentance. The mere numeric connection between the years that they would roam the desert and the days that the spies spent in Eretz Yisroel was to be a remembrance by which B'nei Yisroel would constantly be cognizant of the actions that led to their current predicament. It is always easier to repent when you are constantly aware of why it is that repentance is necessary.
 
    I think that this may also answer my question. If we understand midah keneged midah in this light, then it becomes irrelevant that the sentence match the crime exactly. Since the total tally of years that B'nei Yisroel were to sojourn in the desert was 40, that was the number that was most likely to be on their minds. As long as the connection to the original offense is established, the punishment has served its purpose.
 
Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka
WeeklyShtikle@weeklyshtikle.com

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:
AstroTorah: Shelach Roundup
Dikdukian: What's Different About Efrayim?

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