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Parasha No. 37
Shelah Lekha: “Send thou”

Bemidbar (Numbers) 13, 1 - 15, 41

The reason why we must not speak ill about the land of Israel


1st part: study based on Rashi and the Shla
- The context
- Themes of the parasha
- The mitzvot of the parasha
1. Lashon hara, slander
   The tactics of slander
   Its victims
2. The question of commitment to the land of Israel
3. Knowing our strengths

2nd part: commentary of Ribbi M. Azaria

3rd part: halakha, morality and slander
- Vocabulary
- Definition
- The Torah and lashon hara
- Examples from the Torah
- Mitzvot in the Torah
- The Talmud
- How to keep the injunction against lashon hara
- Personal thoughts
- The heart of the problem

Review of the method of study
- read the parasha in its entirety,
- study the references cited in this commentary,
- memorize the plan,
- until you are capable of teaching it from memory,
- reflect on how the lessons of the parasha can be applied to Jewish life,
- reflect on how to apply them to your own life.

This commentary is dedicated
to all those who have been the victims
of lashon hara (slander),
that they may regain their strength.


Do not hesitate to ask me questions or make comments and suggestions.


1st part
study based on Rashi and the Shla

The context

We saw in the preceding parashiot how the camp of holiness (kedusha) was organized and how it was governed by rules of holiness and purification, through the division of the people into three groups and functions: Moshe, Aaron and Miriam, the Levites who symbolize the ideal states of man, and the benei Israel, the children of Israel.
We also learnt the method of interpretation based on semikhut, juxtaposition of the parashiot, a technique where meaning emerges through continuity. Chapter 12 of the preceding parasha described the episode of Aaron and Miriam who erred when they spoke ill of Moshe's wife. Following the exodus from Egypt, and the supreme revelation of the Torah - a time of great spiritual elevation - we now come to one of man's greatest trials, lashon hara. In this parasha, we will see it develop not just among the greatest elite (Moshe, Aaaron and Miriam), but even more among the leaders of the tribes and the people themselves. We will understand the nature of this plague which afflicts society so much and is so prominent in the politics and debates of modern Israel.

Themes of the parasha

Chapter 13 describes the mission of the spies (meraglim) who were sent to survey the land of Kanaan (Canaan), which we will deal with later.

Chapter 14 describes the dramatic story that ensued, the complaints of the people, Moshe and Aaron falling on their faces before all the people, the brave intervention of Yehoshua and Caleb who risked being stoned. The wrath of Hashem, the intercession by Moshe, the punishment of the people who perish in the wilderness. Those who fomented the rebellion by speaking ill of the land died from plagues: they admitted their error but they continued in the same path and led the people to defeat by the enemies.

Chapter 15 describes
--- the offering made on entering the land of Israel,
--- the setting aside of the hallah,
--- the offerings for the atonement of unintentional sins,
--- excommunication of those who sin intentionally,
--- the stoning to death of Shabbat-breakers.

The parasha ends with the injunction of tzizit, the fringes won by Jewish men on their tallit, prayer garment, and permanently on a small undergarment tallit, to remind them of their duties to Hashem and the 613 mitzvot they must keep.
The final verses stress the aim of the tzizit, as a symbol of the role of the Jews:

"that ye may be holy (kedoshim) unto your God
Viheyitem kedoshim lelokekhem,
I am the Lord, your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt
Ani Hashem Elokekhem asher hotzeti etkhem meeretz mitzrayim
to be your God
liyot lakhem leElokim
I am the Lord your God
Ani Hashem Elokekhem."

These verses are recited, several times a day, at the end of the Shema Yisrael.
The emphasis is placed repeatedly on the word "your."

The mitzvot of the parasha
The parasha defines:
--- two positive mitzvot (the setting aside of hallah and placing tzitziot on the four corners of a garment),
--- one negative mitzva (not to be deceived by what we see, velo tahuru ahare einekhem).
We will see that these mitzvot are connected to the other themes of the parasha.

The first mitzva: hallah
Rashi elaborates on the injunction to set aside hallah (verse 15, 20):
--- once in the land of Israel, the children of Israel had to set aside from the dough of five grains (wheat, barley, rye, oat, and buckwheat) a measure of 1/24 for an individual and 1/48 for a baker;
--- this does not apply to dough that is dried in the sun or cooked in water;
--- the portion is remitted to the cohanim for their use;
--- this mitzva was continued by the rabbis, as an educational tool, even when the Jewish people did not live in the land of Israel: instead of being remitted to the cohanim the portion was burnt (see Sefer HaHinukh, 385).
The blessing for the hallah, the separation of the dough, is:
Barukh ata Adonai Elohenu Melekh haolam asher kideshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu lehafrish hala (Blessed art thou, Hashem Elokenu, King of the Universe, who hast sanctified us with thy commandments, and commanded us to take the portion of the dough.)

According to the method of study of these commentaries, the Shla, basing himself on Rashi, elaborates on the inner meaning of a mitzva.
His commentary is based on verse 6, 23 of Proverbs ("For the commandment is a lamp and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life, ki ner mitzva ve Torah or vederekh hayim tokhehot musar"): first study the mitzva, then understand its inner meaning, and finally learn the lessons it teaches us for life. It is the Shla who formulated these 3 stages in the traditional method of study.

The example of the first mitzva
--- The Shla notes that the hallah is taken before baking, so that it will retain its pure nature and be impregnated with holiness;
--- Adam was destined to be the hallah of humanity;
--- before the journey into the wilderness, this generation was chosen to be the holy hallah of the future children of Israel (the Shla then develops the concept of Israel as reshit - the beginning --, just as Rashi did in regard to the first verse of Bereshit). We can take this further and venture to say that our generation of Jews is the holy hallah which is beginning to prepare in the land of Israel for the holiest days to come;
--- we are in many ways collectively a portion taken from the mass of people and individually a portion taken from our own families. Let us learn from the example of the generation of the wilderness and from those, like Yehoshua, Caleb, Yokhebed and the women of Israel who succeeded in overcoming the trials that faced them. Let us learn, like all generations, the meaning and value of this land which is the goal of our journey: like Israel On High, it is the place of residence of Hashem and the place of his covenant with His people.

The second mitzva: tzitziot
--- The second mitzva of the parasha, the tzitzit, concerns only garments with four corners (verse 15, 38: asu lahem tzitzit al kanef vighdehem), made of wool or linen.
--- The wearing of tzitziot for other garments is governed by rabbinical jurisdiction. The commandment only concerns men but some rabbis have authorized them also for women with or without berakha (see the writings of Rabbenu Tam in the Tossafot of Tractate Rosh Hashana 33a). This is a very complex subject which must be understood from more than just a feminist perspective.
--- Verse 15, 39, which is included in the text of the Shema, defines the function of the tzitziot: to remind Jews of all the commandments of God (ureitem oto uzekhartem et kol mizvot Hashem); note that the gematria for the word tzitzit corresponds to the 613 mitzvot (600 for the word tzizit, 8 for the number of threads and 5 for the number of knots).
--- The color tekhelet (sky blue) of one of the threads corresponds to the unbrokern line between the blue sea below and the blue skies above, and to the blue stone which adorns the throne of glory (Tractate Hulin 89b and Tractate Menahot 43b).
The Talmud demonstrates that this capacity for the sublime linking and elevation of things rest solely on the humility of Avraham. It is this which will renew the hope, if one can say that, of Hashem Himself during the oppression in Egypt, as Rashi says of Shemot 24, 10: "they saw the God of Israel, and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness." Rashi writes: hi hayeta lefanav bisheat hashiebud, lizkor tzaratam shel yisrael she hayu meshuebadim bemaasav, it was before him during the time of the oppression, to remind him of the sufferings of Israel who were in slavery in the sweatshops of stone. Witness the glory of the Torah which unites together the land, the heavens, the emotions, nature, social problems, aesthetics, intimacy and unity.

The third mitzva
After the first two mitzvot which relate to food and garments, the third mitzva (verse 15, 39), velo taturu ahare levavkhem ve ahare einekhem, relates to the injunction against being led astray by one's heart and one's eyes.
The Sages note that the eyes are directly linked with the heart and desire (the word for eye in Hebrew, ayin, also means source) and it is very difficult to combat what enters our eyes, for it enters deep into our hearts as well. This relates to feelings that are easily awakened, the tendency to erupt in anger, immodesty and idolatry. We must therefore be vigilant in this regard, for these tendencies are always in us, in all of us, and we do not have a protective shield on our eyes.
Judaism is also extremely suspect of testimony based on visual certainty (see Tractates Makkot and Sanhedrin). It is written that the Mashiah will "have quick understanding in the fear of Hashem and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears; vehariho beyirat Hashem velo lemare einav yishpot velo lemishna oznav yokhiah" (Isaiah 11, 3).

Lashon hara, slander
The strange episode of the spies (meraglim) caused the Sages to apply their great wisdom to understand what the Torah wants to teach us here: because the text is not easy to understand, this gives us the opportunity to discover how the Sages uncover the meaning of the Torah.

Elaborating on Midrash Tanhuma, Rashi finds the meaning in the position of the episode: it comes after that of Miriam. Rashi describes the princes of Israel, who did not learn the tragedies that can be caused by slander, as reshaim (evil) and his words are based on the midrashim and their description of the disappointment and anger of Hashem in the face of the lack of trust shown in His promises. What follows is similar to the story of Pharaoh; because of the extent of the sin, Hashem cause the sinners to persist till they perish.
Rashi draws our attention to the great responsibility we have in directing the history of mankind towards evil or towards good: he explains this when of verse 13, 20 ("whether there is wood therein, hayesh ba etz") he writes: "if there is among them an adam kasher who watches over them and protects them through his qualities (im yesh baem adam kasher shemagen alehem bizekhuto).

The tactics of slander
We find in Tractate Sotah, pages 33a to 35, a lengthy analysis of the behavior of the spies, the meraglim, to which we refer.
For example,
with regard to verses 27 and 28 ("And they told him, and said: 'We came unto the land wither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey, and this is the fruit of it. Howbeit the people that dwell in the land are fierce…' " )
Ribbi Yohanan writes in the name of Ribbi Meir: "kol lashon hara she ein bo devar emet bitehila ein mitkayem besofo, if true things are not said first before engaging in lashon hara, the process is ineffective" (Tractate Sotah 35a).
This precise and correct analysis is a moral lesson which urges vigilance in everything we say or which others say that can be the beginning of lashon hara.
Our Sages add that lashon hara is often justified in the name of deference and necessity!

(Method: we have written in Hebrew the phrases which are fundamental to Jewish scholarship, so that they can be learnt by heart: this is one of the basic methods of Jewish study).

The victims of lashon hara
The episode of the spies illustrates lashon hara, which the Sages will later succeed in defining precisely: "it kills three people: the one who pronounces it, the one who hears it, and the victim" (lashon hara horeget shelosha: haomero, vehamekabelo vesheneemar alav, Devarim Rabba 8, 10; Shoham Tov 12, 2; Tanhuma Hukat 4).

Lashon hara, by itself, is equivalent to avoda zara, to the shedding of blood and to sexual abominations (Arakhin 15b).

It does not kill only where it is expressed, but also at a distance (Bereshit Rabba 98, 3) in time and space. And it does so more destructively than murder which sheds the blood of a victim, incest and idolatry (kashe mishefikhut damim u migiluyot arayot u me avoda zara, Tanhuma, Metzora 2).

It is the greatest Sages themselves who taught us this moral lesson, otherwise ordinary men, such as ourselves, could maintain that it relates only to the most evil of men. On the contrary, this episode teaches us that the closer we are to holiness, the greater the danger of lashon hara.

Ribbi Yaakov Abuhatzera similarly interprets the order given to the spies to "see the land" (ureitem et haaretz, 13, 18): he writes that the more there is kedusha, holiness, the more its shield is thick, and more tumea, impurity, accumulates around it. This is evident today: the holiness of Israel and the land of Israel are the butt of constant accusations and all those who describe Israel as holy are subjected to an array of scornful adjectives (mystics, fanatics, etc.).

There is a constant double standard with regard to Israel: it is praised in one breath and denounced in another. Israel is also the butt of incessant campaigns of misinformation aimed at making it like all other countries. But this nation, the object of attacks for 3300 years and the bearer of its deed of origin, has remained true to itself.

Within Israel too, the constant cry is heard: let us give in, the other nations are too strong and we cannot afford to antagonize them. It is essential to read verses 13, 27-32. This is not a political platform; this is the Torah, this is about Israel and its relations with other nations, and most of all this is what is demanded by Hashem since the revelation 3300 years ago and it has been inscribed in writing. The same challenge exists today; just like the spies, the meraglim, opponents say: conditions today are different, we must give in to the other nations. But for centuries we have witnessed the tactics of lashon hara and we have 33 centuries of loyalty the Torah by our ancestors. The prophets of our time are worth little, even if they believe they are powerful because they dominate the media.

Ribbi Yaakov Abuhatzera also teaches us that, in order to overcome the husk that surround us, we must clothe ourselves with great strength (the word koah has a very high level of meaning) just in order to live in the land of Israel, which is the first level of mitzvot and asia. This is just the first stage; when we rise higher to live in holiness in the land of Israel, we have to overcome another 3 levels, as in the morning prayer. And the husks will become more and more difficult to overcome. This is why Yehoshua is told, at the beginning of the book of Yehoshua, that he will have to be strong in order to enter the land and lead the people.

The light will struggle to emerge, as at the fall of night. We are still, all of us, like the spies in the wilderness, uncertain of the real light which is our country.
We are not like Yehoshua who received the light and was wholly pure. We argue like the spies and look to the ideologies and gods of other nations. The Talmud says that we inevitably absorb the "gods" of the places we inhabit: "to live outside the land of Israel is like serving foreign gods" (Ketubot 111a). This is also the case when one lives in the land of Israel but views it just like any other country. Those who wish to distort Israel from afar do so also by imposing on this land the values of other nations, of other lands.

It is precisely because Moshe was sun, and completely bathed in the light of the land On High, says Ribbi Yaakov Abuhatzera, that he could not enter the land where the light is dim. He saw "all" the land (in its fullness), Devarim 34, 2. Only Yehoshua suited this half light, like that of the moon which illuminates only by reflection. This is why he was chosen to enter with the people.

The question of commitment to the land of Israel

The story of the spies is so full of questions that we could almost ask in today's jargon "What's going on?"

(method of study: we will see that in order to resolve a problem of comprehension, the Sages first draw up a list of difficulties (kushiot) presented by the text. This method is respectful of readers; it is the opposite of simplistic electoral slogans which portray everything in black and white. It is even unparalleled by Greek democracy which pitted philosophers against each. In Jewish study, one reflect, and considers. )

The Shla lists the kushiot of the great commentators:
1. What sin did the spies commit by asking to be sent to survey the land, since Moshe himself gave them a list of tasks to accomplish and points on which to report (13, 18-20)?
2. Can they be accused of making a frightening report when Moshe asked them to report exactly as things were?
3. Can they be accused of making a report which demoralized the people, when Moshe himself said similar things in Devarim 9, 1: "Hear O Israel, thou art to pass over Jordan this day, to go in to possess nations greater and mightier than thyself, cities great and fenced up to heaven. A people great and tall…"?
4. In what way did these men sin, since Hashem seems to have sent them intentionally so that they would fail in their mission?
5. Why is it written only in Devarim 1, 22 that it was the people who asked for the spies to be sent and not Moshe himself?
6. Why did Moshe send 12 spies and not just two as in the survey of Jericho?
7. Why are different verbs used to describe their mission in the verses (laregel, latur, lahkor)?
8. Why and how did these men, who were great Sages of Israel, become as they appear in this story?
9. If the verbs in verse 13, 26 vayelkhu, vayavu ("And they went and came to Moses, and to Aaron") indicate that they came back as evil as they left, how was such corruption possible from the start and how is it that it was allowed to continue? Especially as the spies are presented as the most eminent of the children of Israel (rashei benei Yisrael)?
10. Why, if Moshe judged them worthy, did he pray only for Yehoshua?
11. Why did he pray only for Yehoshua, and not for Caleb?
12. Why does the Torah repeat twice: "these are the names.." (13, 4 and 13, 16)?
13. How can one accept the idea that they preferred to stay in the wilderness, even when one knows that a sinner sins purely because of some madness that has overtaken him?

The list of questions drawn up by the Shla is impressive and it teaches us that the understanding of human and holy questions requires:
--- acknowledgment of many complex parameters,
--- understanding of the relationship between these parameters,
--- cautious and extensive examination of the questions.

The list of possible answers is equally impressive

The answers teach us about the responsibilities of those charged with reporting and influencing opinion in society; this was clearly noted long ago.

1. The report of the spies was absolutely correct; but it is the stress they put on certain facts which falsified the report in the eyes of the people. This is a popular tactic used by the media to distort the facts, particularly in regard to Israel, both at home and abroad. The meraglim did not just report that the people in the land were strong, they preceded their description with the word efes (zero, nothing) to indicate that absolutely "nothing" could be done against them. This is what demoralized the people.
(Note: Beware, for the Ramban notes that the same reproach could be said of Moshe in Devarim 9, 1).

2. The author of Akedat Yitzhak says that the meraglim should have simply made a report and not draw conclusions, interpretations or recommendations (one learns from this the importance of respecting each persons's role and the proper functioning of society, something that is rarely done today, for under the pretext that democracy gives rights to everyone, everyone believes they have the right to say whatever they want; this is anarchy, not democracy). The conduct of the spies was a sin, even if they had not used the extreme word efes. The author clearly differentiates between objective information and biased opinion.

3. The use of the word efes influenced the people to believe that, in spite of the promises of Hashem, He would be defeated by the "hard reality" on the ground. This was the sin of the spies. Instead, they should have believed and said what is written in Devarim 7, 17-18 (refer to it): If thou shalt say in thine heart, These nations are more than I: how can I dispossess them? Thou shalt not be afraid of them: but shall well remember what the Hashem thy God did unto Pharaoh, and unto all Egypt." In this context, the sending out of the spies, by Moshe, with the authorization of Hashem, can be understood as an educational exercise to train the people to discover hard realities and to overcome them through true faith, emuna. I is on this very point that these great leaders of Israel failed. We have thus been given a warning of what can happen to the best of men and to all individuals. The Shla demonstrates that this is caused when there is a discordance between the heart and the mind, which is symbolized in the word veyaturu, literally, "that you will wander" (13, 2).

4. The spies also erred by analyzing the objective reality, without taking into consideration the "objective" reality that Hashem makes miracles for his people….when the latter keep his commandments.

5. Ribbi Hiya bar Abba (Tractate Sotah 34b) interprets the names for the spies as signifying that their sole aim was to find fault with the land of Israel (while the people simply wanted to know if the negative things that had been said were true). Many Jews do the same today in regard to the land of Israel" they join its enemies by find fault with Israel, in order to justify their non-presence in the land that is their inheritance. We shall see how this trait is common in Jews today and in our political and spiritual leadership.

6. The aim of the spies was to prolong the stay of the people in the wilderness, and the time before they settled the land of Israel. They were princes in the wilderness but, most probably, they would not have continued to be princes once the Temple was constructed. Bemidbar Rabba 16 interprets this episode as such, on the basis that they were leaders "at this hour and this time only" in the wilderness. The same phenomenon is seen today on the political scene, when leaders and generals switch parties and ideological allegiances simply in order to ensure themselves positions of power. The faults of men were described long ago in the Torah.

7. The Zohar says that even before leaving on their mission, the spies wanted to find obstacles in order to justify later their reason for not entering the land, like phony journalists. This teaches us to what extent human ambitions can corrupt the most noble people and their noblest qualities. These leaders were influenced by their prejudices, their "pre-judgments," and they returned just as they had left, with the same negative preconceptions. How many journalists write the same article, whether they go to a particular place or not, for they usually write it in their minds beforehand and are rarely influenced by the reality on the ground. One should read Psalm 15. The motive which, above all, caused these leaders to err, was their honor, as was the case with Balam.

8. The Shla demonstrates here that Satan does not incite men to commit "monstrous" sins consciously, but subtly corrupts our highest ideals and these subtle changes then lead us to commit grave errors without vigilance or self-examination on our part.

9. In contrast, the words which open the parasha, shelah lekha (send thou), indicate that Hashem knows Moshe's intentions are pure and that a mission could be sent out which would bring back rich fruits.

10. In the same context, Moshe asks himself, through their names, whether the spies possess the same pure character and when he begins to have doubts, he is assured that Yehoshua comes from a lineage that will not deviate from the true path and will be preserved in the name of Y-A, just as this name was used in the battle against Amalek (Bemidbar Rabba 16, 9). Ribbi Yaakov Abuhatzera also demonstrates that the function of Yehoshua is similar to that of the Levites for the people of Israel. The Levite has no possessions and represents the best qualities of Israel, living in a state of total trust with Hashem. Thus Yehoshua is the moon, and has no light of his own except for the light he receives from Moshe's sun, which is the whole light. Where the other spies fall, the moon of Yehoshua receives all the light that belongs to the pure roots of the other tribes. When Yehoshua and Caleb return and do not betray Hashem like the others, they speak in the name of the pure roots of the people and affirm "we should go up at once and possess it….." (read 13, 30). They do not say this just in their own names, or for their own tribes and families, but in the name of the whole people, for Hashem and for His Torah, and for the good of creation according to the divine plan.

11. The role of Caleb is now clearer: it is he who interrupts the report of the spies, not Yehoshua who could have been suspected of wanting to be the leader of the people.

12. The spies also erred in portraying the merits of Canaan as greater than that of Israel - an argument which is still used today by Jews and non-Jews alike regarding Israel. It is this argument which Yehoshua and Caleb denounce (14, 9).

13. The spies went so far as to say that the inhabitants of the land were stronger than … Hashem himself (mimenu, than Him, 13, 31).

(Note on the method of study: the commentary of the Shla proves how the rigorous analysis of every word of the Torah by our Sages enables us to discover the complex meaning and moral lessons the text provides for the Jewish people, its leaders, us as individuals and all human relations. The Torah is a guide for life.)

In Magid Mesharim, Rabbenu Yosef Caro asks these questions:
14. Was it not Hashem himself who sent out the spies on their mission?
15. Were we to understand that, in light of a negative report, Moshe would have proposed not to enter the land?
16. Is it not the very fact of asking for a report that caused doubt to spread among the people?

Rabbenu Yosef Caro concludes that the people of Israel tested Hashem so many times that they earned the punishment of being forbidden entry to the land of Israel. Hashem, in his benevolence, tried to find a way reviving their good ways; this is why Moshe sent out the best men among the people, but the mission failed for the most part. Only Yehoshua and Caleb saved the day. A loyal minority is enough to save a nation.

It is impressive to see to what critical examination our Sages submitted the texts and the episode describing the difficulties in entering the land of Israel. Yet they themselves did not have the opportunities we have of coming here.
From time immemorial the Sages knew the importance of this question and that it does relate to just one period in history, but occurs in every generation.

Knowing our strengths
Having studied the first level, we now proceed with the Shla to a higher level of understanding and examine some unanswered questions.
The aim of the spies'mission was not simply to teach us about lashon-hara or about trust.
It was essential in order to teach men to recognize the strengths they possess. For this two components are necessary:
--- on the one hand, they must look squarely at reality and assess it both in respect of their positive and negative strengths and they must use intelligence and courage in making their preparations;
--- on the other hand, after they have done this, and only then, as is stressed by Rabbenu Behaye in his introduction to the parasha, they must put their entire faith in He who rules the world for only He can ensure success.

It is this last point which the spies failed to recognize, because they feared they would lose their positions as princes once the people entered the holy land, for then the Kohanim and Leviim would take over as leaders.

The spies were aware of the ultimate aim: to reach the land chosen as the terrestrial paradise and holy dwelling place with Hashem. The bunch of grapes which they bring back expresses this vision: it is a symbol of the wine that was preserved since the first days of creation, the yayin hameshumar. The grapes are suspended on a pole and carried by two people.

2nd part
The commentary of Ribbi Menahem Zazria

The Shla presents the commentary of Ribbi Menahem Azaria which describes the meaning of this famous scene. The pole (mot) is a word made up of two letters (mem, tet) which correspond in Hebrew to the number 49 and the letter vav.

The number 49 is apt for this episode: the children of Israel have left the 49 levels of impurity of Egypt, and they must now transform them into levels of purity by attaining the 50th level, which can only be acquired through the addition of Hashem who is 1. This is the time when the trust of the people in Hashem is to be tested, for these men knew their traditions and the miracles through which they were saved by Hashem.

The above is expressed in the Hebrew lettering:
The number 1 is represented by the letter vav, whose full form is vav alef vav.
Since the letter vav is the sixth letter of the alphabet and has the numerical value of 6, then the meaning becomes clearer:
the spies should have been 12 like the double vav, and they should have returned not just as one vav consisting of just themselves (vav vav, 6 + 6=12) but as a complete vav (vav alef vav) united with Hashem, which is the inner and invisible (alef) element that unites all things (vav alef vav).
(Explanation: the number 13 represents the 13 divine qualities of Hashem, and is the numerical value of the word ehad which defines Hashem, and of the word ahava for which He is the sole source; identify these words in the verses of the Shema Yisrael and note the first word that precedes it and the first word that follows it: ahava and veahavta. Since we are made in this image, we should think with the 13 rules of reasoning of Ribbi Yishmael.)

Thus, in their report, the spies recounted what they had seen but omitted to describe:
--- the presence of Hashem which protected them during their journey and the vision they had that the inhabitants had lost, through their conduct, their right to the land.
They deliberately suppressed this message which Hashem had sent them, and, in doing so, they suppressed Hashem himself from history, and the people followed them and rebelled against Him. This debate is still relevant to Jews living in Israel today, for many find it difficult to assume the identity of a holy people who follow the Torah in His land. We are all affected by these debates, and even making aliya to Israel does not completely resolve them.

By suppressing Hashem, the meraglim suppressed the source of life and they became the victims of their own machinations: because they moved away from the source of life, they perished. The Hebrew word for death (mot) also means "weakening, collapse."
The divine protection which intervenes to save the people is so evident that Rashi writes in the names of Caleb and Yehoshua:
"Hashem is with us, thus let us ascend and even if we have to ascent with ladders till we reach the heavens, we will succeed,"
alo naale; afilu vahasmayim vehu omer asu sulamot vaalu sham.
Rashi implies that "it is Hashem who will lead us."
Rashi in Troyes said this; this is the beauty of Jewish devotion.
Let us acknowledge the unique gift which we, unlike other generations, have been given of carrying out the divine mission.

Through their ill deed, the meraglim shattered the equilibrium between our world and Hashem, which existed before the fall of Adam, and which they could have restored.

This was the meaning of Moshe's question: "whether there is wood therein?" This meant, is there the tree of life as in paradise ; just as by Abraham's side there was a tree which revealed the quality of those who passed by it. Go, Moshe told the spies indirectly, and this tree will tell you that the inhabitants of this country have already lost their shade (their vital forces) and will reveal your true essence.

History has proved it: the Land of Israel always reveals the true nature of man and the true nature of the world. As is written in the text: "it is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof," which means that it destroys masks and reveals the truth.

The difference between the report of the spies (do not enter this land and you will have peace) and that of Yehoshua and Caleb (this is a difficult land because many claim it, but we are linked to it through the proofs and promises given to us and because Hashem is faithful) is now very clear and reveals their different characters.

The Shla also compares this episode with the conduct of the spies who were sent to survey Jericho (Yerikho), which we will not study here, but readers can refer to the page devoted to Jericho on this site.

The function of the mission of the spies was to show 1) that there is unity between the world below and the world above and 2) that this unity is more powerful than natural laws. . The people of Israel acknowledged that their destiny would continue to depend on the will and benevolence of Hashem which he manifested in the past.

Ten out of leaders of the children of Israel erred but history continued and soon, in Jericho, the two emissaries of Yehoshua will atone, by their exemplary conduct, for the errors made by the ten:

two are enough to make reparation;

this should not be forgotten.



1. Memorization exercises for the second level:
The development of memory is an essential part of Jewish study.
One technique is to learn a verse by heart, every day, until you master it completely.
Select from this commentary the Hebrew expressions which you care for most and learn them by heart.

2. Stimulate discussions in your own entourage -- with your spouse, family, friends or community - on the themes of this parasha.


3rd part
Halakha, musar and lashon hara

--- halakha: rules governing conduct and daily life which are based on the Torah and formulated in the Mishna and the Gemara.
--- musar: morality
--- lashon hara: slander or malicious gossip.

Why is so much emphasis placed on the dangers of lashon hara in Judaism? Is it because this is a common phenomenon, or because Jews often disagree? Is this an indispensable social law, or part of children's natural education (it's not nice to gossip or tell tales)?

I will try and answer these questions according to the method of Modia, which bases itself on the sources, the links between the Torah, our emotions and daily life, and the teachings of the Sages, in particular, the Hafetz Hayim.

The subject has two aspects: lashon hara or malicious gossip which consists in speaking ill of someone, and rekhilut which consists in hawking the gossip around.
Who is a hawker of gossip? Someone who says negative things and goes from one to another saying: someone said this about you: ezehu rakhil? Ze she toen devarim ve holekh meze la ze veomer: hakh amar ploni alekh.

The Torah and lashon hara
--- Note: the references cited below which are drawn from the Torah are not meant to be seen as proof but as tools for analyzing and understanding our actions.
--- If the Torah teaches us about lashon hara, this means that the subject is of immense importance and is not just about social manners. The Torah is not a book of morality. But what is this important subject?
--- If the Torah shows that the greatest men erred in this respect, how much more likely are we to err?
--- Torah of life, and of divine life shared with man, it teaches us that lashon hara is a dangerous phenomenon that affects the very source of things, and that a solution to the problem is critical for society.
--- We shall learn to understand what is lashon hara, how to overcome it, and the consequences it entails.

Examples from the Torah
1. The problem began from the beginning of creation, with the serpent who invented the process: falsify somewhat the facts, hawk them around, spread doubt and destroy. If the problem exists from the very start of creation, this means it is a fundamental human problem, which will continue and have grave consequences. Indeed, the state of grace was destroyed in this way, the relations between men and women have been affected ever since and stamped with misunderstandings, our relations with the creator have been damaged, and man has floundered ever since.
Tractate Arakhin 15b of the Talmud defines the consequences: lashon hara kills three people, the person who spreads the slander, the victim and the person who hears the slander.
2. Sara is reproached with having spoken ill of Avraham, her husband when she stressed his advanced age and thus attributed to him their difficulty in having children (Bereshit 37, 2).
3. Joseph is strongly reproached with causing hatred to erupt as a result of the slander he committed (Bereshit, ch. 37).
4. Miriam became leprous because of her sin of lashon hara even though its intent was noble and for the good of the community (Bemidbar ch. 12, parasha Behaalotekha).
5. The spies (meraglim) spoke ill of the land of Israel and caused considerable harm to the people and to history (Bemidbar ch. 14, parasha Shelah Lekha). They delayed the entry into Israel and their whole generation died in the wilderness because of their sin, except for Yehoshua, Caleb and the women who have been always, in this case too, wrongly accused of gossiping. Following the evil path of the serpent, the spies began a plague which that has persisted ever since -- uttering untruths about the land of Israel. Today the untruths spoken about Israel, its mission and its people, have become huge distortions as a result of the lies perpetrated by political and theological writers.

The mitzvot of the Torah
Lashon hara is a defined transgression both of the positive commandments, mitzvot ase, (action which must be carried out) and of the negative commandments, mitzvot lo taase (action which must not be carried out). These precepts should be understood both in the literal and figurative sense.

The Hafetz Hayim lists and analyzes the negative mitzvot which relate to speaking ill of others (in the book Hafetz Hayim and in the book Shemirat halashon):
--- Shemot 22, 21: kol almana veyatom lo teannun, Ye shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child.
--- Shemot 23, 1:lo tissa shema shav, Thou shalt not raise a false report.
--- Vayikra 19, 14: lo tekallel heresh, Thou shalt not curse the deaf.
--- Vayikra 19, 14: lifne iver lo titen mikhshol, nor put a stumbling block before the blind.
--- Vayikra 19, 16: lo telekh rakhil beamekha, Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people.
--- Vayikra 19, 17: lo tisna et ahiklha vilevavekha, Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart.
--- Vayikra 19, 17: lo tisa alav het, nor suffer sin upon him.
--- Vayikra 19, 18: lo tikom ve lo titor, Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge.
--- Vayikra 22, 32: lo tehalelo et shem kodshi, Thou shalt not profane My holy name.
--- Vayikra 25, 17: lo tonu ish et amito, Ye shall not oppress one another.
--- Bemidbar 17, 5: lo yiye keKorah ukheadato, be not as Korah and his company.
--- Devarim 6, 12: hishamer lekha pen tishkakh et Hashem Elokekha, beware lest thou forget Hashem your God. (This is a warning against abusive language.)
--- Devarim 19, 15: lo yakum ed ehad beish lekhol avon u lekhol hatat, One witness shall not rise up against any man for any iniquity or for any sin.
--- Devarim 24, 8: lishmor meod, observe diligently.

Then the Hafetz Hayim lists and analyzes the positive mitzvot, transgression of which constitutes lashon hara:
--- Shemot 20, 12: kibed et avikha vet et imekha, honor thy father and thy mother (the word et indicates that this relates to a category of people, not just to a particular person).
--- Shemot 23, 7: midevar sheker tirhak, Keep thee far from a false matter.
--- Vayikra 19, 18: veahavta lereakha kamokha, love thy neighbor as thyself.
--- Vayikra 19, 15: vetzedek tisphot amitekha, in righteousness shall thou judge thy neighbor.
--- Vayikra 19, 17: hohheah tokhiah, thou shalt surely rebuke thy neighbor.
--- Vayikra 19, 32: vehadarta pene zaken, honor the face of the old man.
--- Vayikra 21, 8: vekidashto, thou shalt sanctify him.
--- Vayikra 25, 35: ger vetoshav vahaimakh, a stranger or a sojourner that he may live with thee.
--- Devarim 10, 20: et Hashem Elokekha tira, Thou shalt fear Hashem they God (the word et indicates a category, not just a particular person).
--- Devarim 24, 9: zakhor et asher asa Hashem Elokekha lemiriam baderekh, Remember what Hashem thy God did unto Miriam by the way.
--- Devarim 28, 9: vehalakhta bidevarav, walk in His ways.

In addition the Torah writes:
--- Devarim 27, 24: arur make reehu basater, Cursed be he that smiteth his neighbor secretly.

Below are examples from the Talmud and the Midrashim that should be added to the lists of the Hafetz Hayim:

The Talmud
--- Berakhot 18a: those who speak ill of others, Hashem will destroy them even when there is peace with Israel.
--- Pesahim 87b: Yeroboam, King of Israel, was judged worthy of pertaining to the kings of Yehuda for he refused to listen to the calumnies perpetrated against the prophet Amos.
--- Pesahim 88a: even in a generation that curses fathers and does not bless mothers, one must not speak ill of a servant to his master.
--- Pesahim 118a: he who creates lashon hara, spreads it, listens to it, or bears false testimony merits being thrown to the dogs for it is written: "ye shall cast it to the dogs (lakelev tashlihun, Shemot 22, 30)" and then "thou shalt not raise a false report" (lo tisa Shema shav, Shemot 23, 1). The same is written in Makkot 23a. This is the interpretation rule of juxtaposition, semikhut.
--- Yoma 22b: Rav believes that David listened to calumny and was punished for it. When he said: thou and Ziba divide the land, tahleku et hasade, a voice from heaven spoke: Yeroboam and Roboam will share your kingdom, II Samuel 30. (This illustrates the extreme gravity of lashon hara.)
--- Taanit 7b: the stopping of the rains is due solely to he who spreads lashon hara, ein hageshamim napatserin ela bishvil mesape lashon hara.
--- Zevahim 15b: anyone who spreads lashon hara increases sins till they reach the skies, he deserves to be stoned, magdil avonot ad hashamayim, raouil lesoko beaven.
--- Ketuvot 8a: if someone hears something he should not be hearing, let him block his ears.
--- Baba Batra 164b: one must not say good of one's kin for, by this way, one will speak of them….Men are not preserved from three sins every day, nitzol mehem bekhol yom…among them lashon hara….Most people steal, rov begezel, and a minority have forbidden sexual relations, umiut bearayot, but all engage in lashon hara, vehakol belashon hara.
--- Zevahim 88b: the robe of the cohen hagadol (which bore a row of bells) serves to atone for sins of speech, meil mekhaper al lashon hara, yavo davar shebakol veyekahper al kol.
--- Arakhin 15a: he who speaks is punished more severely than he who acts. He who speaks lashon hara, let plagues fall upon him, negaim baim alav, as it is written: "those men that did bring up the evil report upon the land, died by the plague before Hashem (Bemidbar 14, 37).
--- Arakhin 15b: he who spreads lashon hara will have no reparation of his sin, siper ein lo takana.
--- Jerusalem Hagiga 2: hamitkabed bikelon havero, ein lo helek leolam haba, he who speaks ill of his friend will have no part in the world to come.

The Midrashim
--- Midrash Bereshit Rabba: he who speaks evil is himself the serpent who made lashon hara about the creator, ish lashon ze hanahash she amar lashon hara al borea. (This is the crux of the problem; through speech we unite with Hashem, altering it is to directly harm Hashem himself).
--- Vayikra Rabba 10: for lashon hara, there is no atonement, ein kapara.
--- Bemidbar Rabba 19: why is it called "three," because it kills three people; he who says lashon hara, he who hears it and its victim, lama nikra shelishi she hu horeg shelosha, haomero, vehamekabel, veneemar alav.
--- Sifri 275: Miriam's error was not to speak face to face with Moshe, ma Miriam she lo dibera ela she lo befanav shel Moshe.
--- Avot of Ribbi Natan: our fathers committed 10 sins against Hakadosh Barukh Hu and he did not punish them except for the sin of lashon hara, ela al lashon hara. (This emphasizes the power of verbal behavior).

How to keep the injunction against lashon hara
How is the injunction kept in practice? What measures can one take to avert lashon hara?
The Hafetz Hayim summarizes the halakhic points on this question and lists when lashon hara must be suppressed:
--- even when it consists in truths (afilu al emet), and if one knows that it is true (afilu yodea she hu emet), and even when one has no intent to incite hatred (afilu ein mitkaven baze lehaknis sinea).
--- even if there was a true conflict, or shameful deeds, or if one was the victim.
--- even if someone who refuses to say calumnies is threatened with humiliation, attacked or risks losing his employment and all his possessions (hayav liten kol asher lo velo yesaper).
--- whether it is said orally or in writing, by letter (al yede mikhtav), or by simple allusions (al yede remez).
--- whether it is said face to face (befanav), in public (bifne rabbim), or anonymously or jokingly (derekh tzhok), or mockingly (lealig), or deceitfully (ramaut), even when one cannot guess who is targeted (af she lo yuvan klal mi hu), even when no harm would come to the victim (afilu im lo yagiya shum raa lifloni), even if it says nothing new (afilu ein megale lo davar hadash), and even if it is something that has already been said (she ehad kvar siper lo).
--- even if it concerns reprehensible and repugnant acts, or if it is aims at commercial gain.
--- if it relates to a person's ancestors (bemaase avot), his kin (kerovav), or to a per son's former actions (maase harishonim), or to dead people (asur levazot et hametim).
--- if it bears on someone's deficiencies (mi tzad hesron shlemut hamaalot), his weaknesses (halush), his poverty (ani), his wealth (ashir), or his possessions (hafatzav).
--- one must even guard against being suspected of engaging in lashon hara (hayav adam lishmor atzmo she lo yiye neheshad limesaper lashon hara).
--- it is forbidden to live in an environment where lashon hara is spoken (din issur dira bishekhuna baale lashon hara).
--- it is forbidden to have a regular synagogue seat close to where people engage in lashon hara (din issur keviat makom beveit hakneset etzel baale halashon).
--- in the presence of lashon hara, it is forbidden to listen to it even in public or in a group of people (bifne rabbim), and even if it is uttered by many people (afilu im Shema ze heharbe anashim, or even if it is included among good things that are said (rekhilut al yede sipur lashon tov).
--- it is forbidden to read lashon hara (issur keriat lashon hara).

Those people who are charged with examining the actions of others and drawing up reports or judgments (judges, reshut le beit din lesaper) must still study the halakha, despite these very detailed laws, in order to fully adhere to them.

One must also guard against expressions that can have double meanings (dibur she yesh lo shnei panim).

Personal comments
Now that we have learnt what the Torah teaches us on the fundamentally evil, destructive and irreparable nature of lashon hara which can kill and which cannot be repaired at any internal, external or celestial level,
and now that we have studied the teachings of the Sages and the examples they set out, we can see that the most common forms of lashon hara today are the political attacks, slander and gossip about peoples'intimate and sexual lives which we read, hear and see in our media. All of this constitutes lashon hara, even if it has become part of our daily lives and we take perverse pleasure in it.

The greatness of Judaism is that it knows how to distance itself from the destructive behavior and values of the masses: "Get thee out…, lekh lekha," God said to Avraham.
In this we are helped by the teachings of the Torah and our Sages, and through them, we can help to better the world around us in our own small way.

The injunction against lashon hara goes even further. Rashi says that on Shabbat it is not enough not to work, or speak of work or business affairs; one must not even think about these things. Similarly, there is a prohibition against even thinking lashon hara (din issur mahshevet lashon hara). Our vigilance must therefore be "complete" and "forceful" (shemira meula ve hazaka).
It must consist in not saying anything bad or evil (shelo ledaber lashon hara urekhilut veshum davar ra). These verses from the Torah teach us this:
--- netzor leshonekha mera usefateikha midaber mirma (Psalm 34, 14).
--- shemor pithe pikha (Mikha 7, 5).

In all times, Jews have grouped together to help each other combat lashon hara. There is even one such group on the Web.

The heart of the problem
We are now much more aware of the dangers that lashon hara can cause to society, to our relationships and to us as individuals.
We said that these dangers stem from the fact that lashon hara harms the very root of things and harms the word of Hashem. The Sages demonstrate this by analyzing with great sensitivity the meaning of our "tongue" (lashon): it is the central, intimate part of us which is in union at all levels with Hashem. The numerical value of the word when written in full corresponds to the same "number" as the holy name Elokim (300). The Torah itself is called leshon limudim, the tongue that teaches knowledge. A man who, instead of studying Torah, wastes his time in futile conversation (siha betela) is called a letz (buffoon), and a man who uses his tongue for lashon hara commits a sin graver than idolatry (avoda zara), incest or forbidden relations, for he has truly killed someone, he has shed the blood of a person and he has extinguished the light of the shekhina in the world.

A Jew knows the importance of this question: he is a realist, a social and thinking person who has learnt that all levels of life are interconnected. By harming this level, one harms all the others; by improving one area, one improves the world, bringing it closer to the state of grace and enabling the realization of the divine plan.
A true and sincere word creates unity in life, for all time. Everyone knows this.
A hurt through words should never destroy true love.
So it is with the words of God to man.
So is in Hebrew where every letter as a particular meaning within a word, like the molecules of nature.
He who discovers the meaning of these letters discovers something unforgettable and will see the Torah as a myriad of living letters, each one bearing messages of light, sound and taste - the teamim.
So we say:
ma ahavti toratekha, kol hayom hi sihati
how I love thy Torah, it is my meditation all the day (Psalm 119, 97).
The whole of this Psalm describes the relationship of love, through words, with Hashem.

Who is the Hafetz Hayim?

Rabbi Yisrael Meir ben Arie Zeev haCohen, of Radin in Poland (1839-1933) was given the name Hafetz Hayim from Psalm 34, 13-15 because of his great qualities and great works. The Psalm says: "mi haish he hafetz hayim…..? What man is he that desireth life and loveth many days, that he may see good. Keep thy tongue from evil and thy lips from speaking guile. Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it." He personified these verses.
His works testify to this: Ahavat hessed (love of goodness), Kuntress ahavat Yisrael (Booklet on the Love of Israel), Hafetz Hayim and Shmirat halashon (guard one's tongue) which defines and explains the mitzvot that relate to slander(rekhilut or lashon hara) and hatred in all its forms. He founded a yeshiva (Radin, 1869) to disseminate his teachings. He was admired by every stream of Judaism -- by both the rival hassidim and mitnagdim. He studied with Rabbi Yisrael Salenter who founded the movement based on musar, morality, and who was a great talmudist and author of brilliant commentaries on the Talmud.
The Hafetz Hayim also wrote Mishna Berura, the Mishna Made Clear, a book which explains and comments on halakha according to the Ashkenazi tradition and is based on the section of the Shulkhan Arukh which is called Orah Hayim. His influence was and still is immense. His writings are an essential part of every Jewish library.


- Psychology and Repentance
   (in french)

Part 15

Part 16

- Jerusalem excavations
- Terror and counseling
- Peace and peoples
- Israel and Iran
- Visual study & song on snow
for, through our union with the song of nature, the plan of Creation will be fulfilled

Poem: to be moon

In french

Avec Modia, vivez
vos vacances en Israël,
Texte et photos

- Par Modia, arrivez au Kotel
- La vie du Kotel
- Prières au Kotel
- Fête au Kotel
- La destruction du Temple
- Photos rares et émouvantes des abords du Temple
- Synagogues de Jérusalem
- Maisons de Jérusalem
- Les fleurs de Jérusalem
- Ici, tout sur Jérusalem
- "Le" texte sur Jérusalem
- Voir et visiter Israël
- Voyage dans le Nord d'Israël
- Belle carte d'Israël
- Jérusalem et les nations

- Vacances en Israël sur Modia
- Le Kotel en film direct
- et ici aussi, autre caméra

- Trahison historique:
L'antique synagogue de Jéricho


Part 17

- Love towards all people
- Light in war
- Before the hanukiah
- Land of Israel
- Jerusalem excavations 2007
  Proof of the lies propagated
  by the media

In french - Hope in Israel

Part 20
"Encounters with God
in the real"

- You are planning a tour in Israel - Photos
- My photos and judaism
- New year of beauty
- Flowers
Gallery photos

Part 21

- My english songs


Rav Professor
Yehoshua Rahamim Dufour
(Dipur, in hebrew)

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