We left off in last week’s parshah with the Jews travelling though the wilderness. At the start of this weeks reading we see, the Children of Israel, requesting off Moshe to ask Hashem for few of the leaders to go in and check out the land, in respect to finding out different facts about the land. This already showed a lack of trust in Hashem as they had already been promised to enter a land flowing with milk and honey, however they wanted proof (Bamidbar 13:3)!
Twelve men were selected to enter the land of Israel as spies, one leader from each tribe respectively. Among the twelve leaders were two men that became very famous in the Torah when entering the land of Israel. Joshua, from the tribe of Ephraim and Calev who descended from the tribe of Yehudah. In fact all twelve spies entered into the land as worthy and righteous individuals (Bamidbar 13:4-15).
Moshe instructed the spies to investigate on the lands fertility and productivity. He also wanted to know if the righteous gentile Iyov (Job) was still alive, as his merit could be a protection for the enemy. In fact just before the spies went in, Iyov passed away, that is why it was a period of morning in the land of Israel and people were upset, in turn none of the inhabitants noticed the spies coming in (Bamidbar 14:9 Rashi).
The twelve spies entered the land of Israel and spent a total of forty days wandering around the land. Unfortunately ten of the twelve spies became more and more corrupt during their stay in Israel. They became corrupt as they knew that if they brought back a favourable report, it would result in an immediate entry into the land of Israel, they knew that after Eldad and Maidad prophesized that Moshe would die and Joshua would lead them in to the land of Israel, when the time was to come, that they would potentially lose their jobs as the leaders. In the book of Kings, we learned how Yeravim Ben Navot became corrupt and instituted a Golden Calf as he became the head of the Ten tribes, in turn stopping the members of his kingdom to go to the Temple (Melachim I 12:25-33).
Joshua and Calev refused to go with the other spies slanderous plan on bad mouthing the land. Calev even went to pray at the Cave of Machpaila (Sota 34b), in Chevron, a place that the forefathers were buried with their wives along with Adam and Chava.
The spies returned to the wilderness, on the eve of the 9th Av (Tisha B’AV). The spies went on to deliver a carefully prepared speech which was given over to all the Jews and the mixed multitude in the wilderness. They started off by relating over a bit of truth about the land, being followed up by much slanderous information. The spies related that it was a land flowing with milk and honey, they then went on to relate how many giants lived there, relating how the size of the fruits were monstrous sized, they cried out how the land was unconquerable and how the inhabitants were much mightier than the Jews (Bamidbar 13:27-29). This constituted a slanderous and bad report. They also did not learn about the sin of Miriam, which was Lashon Hara, which we learned at the end of last weeks reading of Behaalotacha (Bamidbar 12:1-2).
The spies even screamed out that they were like grasshoppers in comparison to the Canaanites. This was a very negative attitude. In life, a Jew should never look at themselves as they are a nobody, we are Hashem’s chosen people and should strive for great goals while keeping to the Torah!!
The evil report in the land was given over by ten of the twelve tribes, however, heroically, Calev came in and defended the land, stating how amazing it was and how they should have total faith in Hashem and Moshe and come in and conquer the land! The Jews did not listen and started crying with fear, they even had the cheek to complain and cry that they wanted to go back to Egypt. In turn Hashem got very angry and condemned the ten spies to an instantaneous death penalty. The rest of the Jews were also punished, most notably all men aged between twenty -sixty at the time they had entered the wilderness, were to pass away during the forty year time in the desert (Bamidbar 14:20-25)! However Joshua, Calev and all the Levites were not included in the decree. All this took place on the ninth of Av, a day that later on became a day of sorrow in Jewish history (Taanit 29a). In the book of Eichah (Lamentations) it states ‘She (the Jewish people) will weep and weep in the night (Eichah 1:2). This verse is referring to the tragedies that occurred on the 9th of Av. The First and Second Temples were both destroyed on the 9th of Av. Bar Kokhba's revolt against Rome occurred on this day. Shimon bar Kokhba was killed and the city of Betar was destroyed (Taanit 28-29).
The Jews repented and even several members insisted upon entering the land of Israel without permission, resulting in their deaths as some of the Amalekim and Canaanim attacked them (Bamidbar 14:40-45).
Hashem told Moshe to instruct all the Jews about the flour offerings and the libations (poured wine) offerings (Bamidbar 15:1-16). The poured wine offering (Sucah 48-49) consisted of a measure of wine, varying with the type of animal sacrifice that was offered with it, either in the form of a peace offering or elevation offering. This wine was poured into the drainage holes at the base of the alter. While they were pouring the wine, the Levites would be singing at the same time.
The Torah then progresses and instructs us on the mitzvah of ‘Challa,’ the law of separating a portion from the dough (Bamidbar 14:17-21). They actually only became obligated in this mitzvah when entering the land of Israel years later. The mitzvah requires one to separate part of the dough that could be made from five different kinds of grains; wheat, barley, spelt, oats or rye (Menachot 70). A measure of an ‘Omer’ had to be separated and then given to the Kohen as a gift.
The Parshah then relates the story about a man who desecrated Shabbat during the first year in the wilderness. Rabbi Akiva has the opinion that the man who desecrated this precious commandment was named ‘Tzelafchad.’ We learn much about this man’s daughters in Parshat Pinchus. He desecrated Shabbat with good intentions, to teach everyone in the wilderness, if they were to desecrate Shabbat after being warned, they would be punished by the death penalty of ‘stoning.’ So he purposely desecrated Shabbat to teach this lesson to all the people at the wilderness (Shabbat 96-97/ Bava Batra 119/ Bamidbar 15:32-36)).
The Parshah then relates the mitzvah of ‘Tzitzit.’ The word ‘Tzitzit’ means ‘fringes.’ Referring to the threads that must be made knotted according to halachic specifications, and attached to a four cornered garment (Menachot 42-43). The aim of Tzitzit is that a Jew should look at it, remember Hashem and desist from sin.
The Hebrew numerical value of the word ‘Tzitzit’ is 600 and furthermore if we add this number to the eight threads it features and the five knots in each corner, we equate to the total number of 613. This alludes to the fact that wearing this precious garment, testifies the 613 mitzvot. It is said, whoever is careful to observe the mitzvah of Tzitzit will in the future have 2800 servants at his command, as the prophet Zecharia stated in the book of Zechariah (8.23), ‘In those days, ten men of all the seventy languages shall hold onto him and serve for each corner.’
This weeks Haftorah is taken from Chapter 2 of the book of Joshua (Joshua 2:1-24). The Haftorah relates how, before the Jews entered the land of Israel, they sent out spies, in a mission that was much more successful than what took place in this Parshah. The spies in this Haftorah, were Pinchus and Calev. They stayed in the house of Rachav; she told the spies that the hearts of the Canaanites were melting with fear with the arrival of the Jews impending. The Jews entered the land of Israel under Joshua, and after seven years of successful war, they were victorious and the Jews settled in the land.