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Friday, June 28

The Weekly Shtikle - Shelach

Clearly, the most significant part of this week's parsha is the episode of the spies who were sent to Eretz Yisrael. As a result of their negative report, B'nei Yisrael were forced to postpone their entry into Eretz Yisrael for almost thirty-nine years. Although the report of the ten spies was, on the whole, a negative one, the pesukim seem to show an apparent progression of the gravity of the spies' arguments. We know what they said and we know how they were gruesomely punished but it is important to understand what it was that they said which warranted such retribution.

When the spies die a horrible death for their sins, the pasuk (14:37) reads, "vayamusu ha'anashim motzi'ei dibas ha'aretz ra'ah..." The men who had slandered the land died. The Torah applies a label to these ten spies – slanderers of the land, and it would certainly seem, in context, that this is given as the very reason why they were punished this awful way.

Now we must comprehend how they acquired this label. When the spies come back and deliver their report, they argue that despite the beauty and plenty of the land, they do not believe that they will be able to capture it. This point is disputed by Caleiv after which the spies go on further with their assessment of the land. It is right then, (13:32) that the Torah uses this catch phrase – or a conjugation thereof – "vayotziu dibas ha'aretz..." The Torah seems to bookmark this pasuk as the very beginning of the slander. The spies go on to wantonly refer to the land as a "land that devours its inhabitants." This very specific structure seems to imply that until this point, the spies were engaged in a legitimate debate. They were welcome to present the facts of their mission and offer their sound objective analysis. Had they not gone any further, they would not have been deserving of their terrible fate. They crossed the line when they began to distort the truth, when they offered their own misguided assessments as fact. It was this specific deceitful tactic that transformed them from spies to slanderers and made them deserving of their horrific death.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

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