Rabbi Finkelstein

FIRST ALIYAH– The seeming command from G-d to Moshe to send out spies to see the land of Canaan and report back to the people of Israel has to be understood in the context of a similar account in the book of Devarim. Moshe, in Devarim, recounts that the Israelites themselves ask that spies be sent out. Rashi comments that this is not a command from G-d, but a word of admonition to Moshe that if the latter does indeed send out spies, the consequences of their report will be devastating.

The Kli Yakar indicates that it would have been preferable for Moshe to have sent out female spies, as the women of Israel had a love for the land, while the men did not. In any event, Moshe should send out men of renown not only in the estimation of the people of the tribes, but in Moshe’s eyes.

Moshe’s description of what the spies should be observing, according to the Ramban, is not unusual, as the intended goal of this mission is to determine the strengths and weaknesses of rhe inhabitants of the land. Unfortunately, ten of the spies have decided to exaggerate about their findings in order to frighten the people of Israel, prompting the latter’s desire to return to Egypt.


SECOND ALIYAH– The Torah describes in great detail the itinerary taken by the spies in the land of Canaan, and their selection of fruit that they bring back to show the people of Israel. Rashi comments that the prevaricating spies with the exception of Caleb and Joshua, employ a well-worn tactic of telling partial truths in order to convince the people of their lies. They do speak about the quality of the land and its fruit in a positive vein, although they describe the inhabitants of the land as giants living in fortified cities and fortresses. Interestingly, despite their original praising of the land in the very beginning of their report, they do not hesitate to describe Canaan as a ‘land that devours its inhabitants.

THIRD ALIYAH– Caleb’s entreaties to the people of Israel to reject the majority report of the spies fall on deaf ears. As a result. G-d indicates to Moshe that He can no longer tolerate the people’s behaviour, and therefore will destroy them, enabling Moshe to found a new nation. The conversation between G-d and Moshe parallels the same conversation that they have in the aftermath of the Golden Calf incident. Moshe uses the same formula of reciting G-d’s thirteen attributes as a means in which to effectuate the forgiveness of the people of Israel who accept the false report, engage in what the rabbis of the Talmud call, ‘senseless crying’, for forty days. Hashem indicates that rather than destroying the people, those above the age of 20 will die during the forty year sojourn in the desert that awaits them.

FOURTH ALIYAH– The people of Israel will die in the desert, and their remains unlike the remains of Joseph, will remain buried in the desert. (Ohr Hachaim). Rashi cites the Talmud in indicating that the group of ten spies that precipitates this tragedy to befall the people of Israel is the source of the need for a quorum of ten males to constitute a minyan. The Ohr Hachaim also points out that the reference in this Aliyah to ‘one day per year’ is not a reference to the punishment of one year in the desert per day of unnecessary crying  as described in the Third Aliyah above. Instead, it is a reference to one day during the year on the Jewish calendar that is marked as a day of mourning and fasting, for the sin of the spies, and future tragedies such as the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem. That day is Tisha B’Av. The Aliyah ends on a positive note, in discussing a sacrificial law applicable when the people of Israel eventually enter the Promised Land. Rashi indicates that the Torah is stating that despite the punishment condemning the male population of the age of twenty and beyond, with the exception of the Levites, to die in the desert, the next generation will enter the land.

FIFTH ALIYAH-SIXTH ALIYAH-The Torah continues to describe certain regulations in regard to the bringing specified offerings, and spends a complete paragraph describing the mitzvah of challah, separating challah from the dough. In the days of the Temple, challah is given to the Cohanim. Today, it is separated and burned. Rabbi Sampson Raphael Hirsch, in Horeb, describes this mitzvah as a constant reminder to the head of a household that the ability of one to be able to support his/her family, is not a result of good strategy or occupation. It is G-d’s blessing .It is for that reason that we say with special intent and concentration the sentence in the Ashrei prayer that says, “You open your hand, and satisfy every living thing with your favour.” (Koren translation)

SEVENTH ALIYAH- The seventh Aliyah begins with the account of the one who was caught gathering on Shabbat and is sentenced to death for his sin. The Talmud in Shabbat relates that this individual is Zelaphchad, the father of five daughters who later approach Moshe to claim their rights in inheriting their ancestral lands. There is a second opinion in the Talmud, that Zelaphchad may have been a member of the group of Israelites who attempt to ascend the mountain leading into the land of Canaan, despite G-d’s edict that the male adult population shall die in the desert. As a result, Zelaphchad and others may have been killed in that ill fated attempt, driven back by the local inhabitants.

The end of the parsha describes in detail the mitzvah of wearing Tzizit, fringes, which are designed to remind us of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah. Tzitzit forms part of the uniform of the Jewish male in addition to Tefillin, in showing our allegiance to Hashem and to the Torah. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, in his Anthology, points to the mitzvah of tzitzit, as demonstrating our uniqueness as Hashem’s people, freed from Egyptian slavery, to become servants of Hashem.