JUXTAPOSITION-Parshat Shelach

Every book of Chumash has its own character. Breishit is, basically, all narrative, relating the story of the rise of our nation. Shemot is split right down the middle; first 18 chapters telling the saga of the Exodus. From chapter 19 until the end, we have mitzvot, first those given as part of the covenant at Sinai, and then the construction of the national shrine.  Vayikra has almost no narrative. It’s the book of ritual and spiritual precepts. Devarim is Moshe Rabbeinu’s farewell address. That leaves Bamidbar, the odd man out. 

Bamidbar is a mixed bag. It combines mitzvot and stories in every parsha, and this week’s Torah reading is no exception. Shelach begins with the sorry tale of the scouts sent to report on the Promised Land, and ends with the mitzva of TZITZIT. What does the Torah call the scouts who tour the land? I’ll give you a hint: It’s not MERAGLIM or spies. that term is saved for the book of Yehoshua, chapter 2, when two spies enter Yericho. They’re called TURIM. The same word we use today for tourists. That same root appears in the section of TZITZIT, in the phrase LO TATURU, ‘and you shall not wander after your eyes (Bamidbar 15:39). TZITZIT will stop you from mistakes like those of the scouts. 

However, after the story of the scouts and before the mitzva of TZITZIT we have a discussion of the voluntary offerings which Jews are entitled to offer in the Temple. Later, after a mitzva about converts and their offering, the Torah instructs us to give a portion of our bread to the Cohanim, the mitzva of CHALAH. Both of these mitzvot begin with the words: When you enter the Land. 

That’s a very powerful concept: When you enter the Land! These people have just been told that they are not going to enter the Land. Nevertheless, God, through the national spokesman Moshe, who had delivered the bad news, is right away delivering good news. 

This idea is important; it is crucial. The Jewish nation has suffered a setback. Setbacks are inevitable, but not permanent. The nation can’t wallow in the bad news; it must regain hope in the face of this adversity. But it’s not enough to just tell people that ‘happy days are here again’. You must also give them advice and good counsel along with the good news: Wear protection from making poor decisions in the future. Wear these fringes and they will remind you to keep focused on the game plan: Remember the mitzvot of the Lord to perform them… So that you shall remember and perform all My commandments and you shall be holy to your God (verses 39-40). Why should we continue to perform God’s mitzvoth? Because: I am the Lord, your God, Who took you out of the land of Egypt to be your God; I am the Lord, your God (verse 41). 

Bad times, downturns, tragedies and misfortunes can’t deter the Jewish people from the historic path that we tread. 

Notice how it works? The structure of the book of Bamidbar helps us to put the narrative into its proper perspective. The precepts and the narrative work together to weave an eternal message for the Jewish people. 

The Mei Shiloach (Rav Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Ishbitz, 1801-1854) teaches that idea in our story. We have to move through life with YIRAH (awe and reverence) for God, and realize that all beginnings, like entering the Land, are difficult. Therefore, we must always remember, through the guidance of the TZITZIT, to follow God’s plan for our Divinely guided nation. Follow the mitzvot, and the ship of state will be righted. 

The same thing is true today. We continually face trials and tribulations, but we can’t allow these bumps in the road to deter us from the ultimate hopes, goals, aspirations and TIKVA of our eternal people.  

Our leaders, religious and secular, can’t dwell on blame. Yes, we should analyze data and see where mistakes were made. But, ultimately, it’s got to be ’eye on the prize’. We must keep laser focus on where our nation is headed. Only then can we move forward and put the problems behind us. Let’s pray to God that we have such leadership. And wear your mask when around others. 

About the Author
Born in Malden, MA, 1950. Graduate of YU, taught for Rabbi Riskin in Riverdale, NY, and then for 18 years in Efrat with R. Riskin and R. Brovender at Yeshivat Hamivtar. Spent 16 years as Educational Director, Cong. Agudath Sholom, Stamford, CT. Now teach at OU Center and Yeshivat Orayta.
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