june 13th, 2015
sivan 26th 5775
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by Rabbi David Pinto Shlita
It is written, “Moshe sent them from the desert of Paran at Hashem’s command. All of them were men of distinction; they were the heads of the Children of Israel” (Bamidbar 13:3).
Our Sages discuss this verse in the holy Zohar: “They were all virtuous, but they were misled by bad reasoning. They said: ‘If Israel enters the land, we will be superseded, since it is only in the desert that we are considered worthy of being leaders’ ” (Zohar III:158a).
It was for this reason that Moshe prayed for Joshua, as our Sages have said: “May Y-H save you from the plot of the spies” (Sotah 34b). Now the letters forming the Name “Y-H” have the same numerical value as the term ga'avah (“pride”). In other words, Moshe prayed for Joshua not to be led astray by the pride of the tribal leaders, nor should he try and keep his position as a tribal leader. This would have meant a long journey for the Children of Israel in the desert, as well as the land being disparaged.
We need to understand this subject more clearly.
For what reason would Joshua have disparaged the land just to maintain his position? After all, by bringing the Children of Israel into the land, Joshua would become the leader of the entire people. He would succeed Moshe (Devarim 3:28) and not remain a simple leader of the tribe of Ephraim, as he was in the desert!
Therefore why was Moshe afraid of the spies’ detrimental influence on Joshua? In fact, what fool would have preferred to lead a single tribe as opposed to the entire people, especially if he was commanded to by G-d?
In reality, Moshe prayed for Joshua not to be influenced by the pride of the leaders. They would obviously encourage him to disparage the land, claiming that it was better for him to remain as the leader of the tribe of Ephraim in the desert, rather than give a positive report of the land and lead the Children of Israel into it, thus provoking the death of his teacher Moshe.
This is what Moshe told Joshua, “May Y-H save you from the plot of the spies” – meaning: “Do not allow yourself to be misled just to remain as the leader of the tribe of Ephraim. Also, do not allow yourself to be infused with their pride! On the contrary, you have a vested interest in speaking positively of the land. By doing so, you will acquire your place as a leader in Israel, since you are the one who will lead the people at G-d’s command. And lastly, but of no less importance, do not become infused with pride over being a leader.”
As I reflected upon this subject, a few questions came to mind. Why did Moshe send Joshua along with the spies? After all, Joshua was Moshe’s servant, so who would assist Moshe during Joshua’s 40-day absence? Furthermore, if Moshe was so concerned that he prayed for him (“May Y-H save you from the plot of the spies”), why even send him on this mission? He could have sent someone else, rather than put Joshua to the test by telling him not to be led astray!
Here is what I believe: Everyone knew that Joshua bin Nun was destined to become the future leader of the Children of Israel. He was Moshe’s servant, his representative and right-hand man. It was precisely for this reason that Moshe forced him to join the spies, and it is why Moshe prayed that he distance himself from their plot.
In fact if Joshua had not joined the spies, the Children of Israel would have criticized him. They would have said, “If you had gone with them, you would allowed yourself to disparage the land, and you would have been punished like them. Therefore you’re no better than they are, and you have no reason to govern us or become our leader.”
This is why Moshe obligated him to go, willing to forgo Joshua’s help for 40 days. Moshe then beseeched Hashem to not let him be swayed by the advice of his companions, all so that everyone could see that Joshua had not followed the spies and was fit to become the leader of the entire people. This was the meaning of Moshe’s prayer, namely: “Since you annul yourself before G-d, He will always be by your side. You will constantly see His greatness and power, and only Him will you fear. He will protect you from pride, which is repugnant to Him.”
In light of all that we have said, I would like to cite what my son Rabbi Raphael said to me concerning the verse: “He [Caleb] arrived at Hebron” (Bamidbar 13:22). Rashi cites the Sages (Sotah 34b) in stating, “Caleb went there alone to prostrate himself at the graves of the Patriarchs, that he should not be enticed by his colleagues to be part of their counsel.”
This is quite surprising, for why did Caleb do this? After all, it was certain that he would not disparage the promised land. Why was Caleb afraid of yielding to the counsel of the spies, since he did not subscribe to their views in any case?
My son explained that when the spies began to disparage the land, Caleb silenced them. At that point the other spies criticized him: “If you speak positively of the land, it’s because you probably have a vested interest in doing so. Since you belong to the tribe of Judah, from which kings will arise, you want to enter the land of Israel so that a member of your tribe will reign over the entire people. Yet deep down, you know that we are right.”
Caleb therefore went to pray at the tomb of the Patriarchs, searching for their help. He sought a way for his positive description of the land to be sincere, even if it would cost him his position as a leader in the desert. In fact he was convinced that it was “an exceedingly good land” (Bamidbar 14:7), and his words were neither hypocritical nor motivated by the fact that members of his tribe would rule as kings.
The Words of the Sages
Understanding is Commensurate with Vigilance
It is written, “You shall not follow after your heart and after your eyes” (Bamidbar 15:39).
This week’s parsha, which is often read in the middle of summer, warns us not to be enticed by what our eyes see, for the eyes are the entryway into the sanctuary of our mind and thoughts. The Sages have said, “The thought of sin is worse than the sin itself” (Yoma 29a). How can we avoid falling into this trap?
The Rambam offers us the following advice: “But above all this, as the Sages have declared, a man should direct his mind and thoughts to words of Torah and enlarge his understanding with wisdom, for unchaste thoughts prevail only in a heart devoid of wisdom, and of wisdom it is said: ‘A beloved hind inspiring favor; her breasts will satisfy you at all times; you will always be intoxicated with her love’ [Mishlei 5:19]” (Hilchot Issurei Biah 22:21).
The author of Shomer Emunim writes, “When someone is walking in the street and sees a forbidden sight, he should control his desires and close his eyes so as not to look at evil. If he does not look, it then becomes a favorable moment for him in Heaven, and all his prayers – everything that he asks Hashem for – will generously be granted to him.”
It is said that whenever the Chatam Sofer spoke to a woman out of necessity, he would play with his tzitzit in order not to look at her face (Minhagei HaChatam Sofer).
Attaining Great Heights
In Jerusalem, people spoke at length concerning the ability that Rabbi Zundel Salant had in determining whether or not a utensil purchased from non-Jews had been immersed in a mikveh. When people asked him how he could know such things, he simply responded that anyone who is careful not to look at anything forbidden can easily achieve this.
One year before the death of the tzaddik Rabbi Meir Abuhatzera, he responded to a Rosh Yeshiva from Jerusalem (who had asked him for some advice for his students on how to achieve a true fear of Heaven) that the best approach was to guard one’s eyes and tongue. Without hesitation, he promised that anyone who succeeds in these areas will thereby attain great heights in the fear of Heaven and service of Hashem.
One day a yeshiva student approached the Mashgiach Rav Eliyahu Lopian to ask for permission to attend a wedding of a close relative.
“Are you sure that you won’t see anything indecent?” the Mashgiach asked him. The youngster began to stammer, for he could not say yes. To explain, he said to the Rav: “But my father, my mother, and I will be seated at a special table….” He concluded by saying, “To me, it won’t do any harm.”
The Mashgiach was shocked to hear this, and he said to the youngster: “Listen, it’s already been a long time since I was 18 years old, and currently I can’t see well in one eye. However when I walk in the street, I’m afraid of seeing something indecent. Yet you – who are young and have two good eyes – you’re telling me that it won’t harm you in any way?” He added a few severe remarks that we cannot write. Then he turned around and left (Lev Eliyahu, Vol. 2).
Whenever Rav Eliyahu Lopian walked along the streets, he turned his head to neither side, but would look straight in front of him. A student recounted that the Mashgiach once needed to see an eye doctor, and he had an appointment for 3:00 pm. At 2:00 pm, they left his home to wait for the bus. They waited a long time, and everyone at the bus stop was losing patience. They were looking back every minute to see if the bus was coming.
However Rav Eliyahu remained motionless, as was his habit. Yet he too suddenly appeared to lose patience and turned his head to look back. He instantly caught himself and quickly returned his head to the front with great fear, looking straight before him. He then let out a sigh and said, “In Kelm, I would have been severely reprimanded for having needlessly turned my head like this.”
The son of Rabbi Zeev Tchetchik, one of the pious men of Jerusalem, recounted the following story:
One day during Chol HaMoed Pesach, my father felt something wrong with his heart, or possibly a rise in blood pressure, and he immediately needed some medication. It was nighttime, and the pharmacies were already closed. An acquaintance of mine learned of this and immediately called my father to tell him that he could get his medication at an after-hours pharmacy on Jaffa Street.
He was taken aback, however, when my father was reluctant to agree. Believing that my father hesitated because he didn’t want to bother him, my acquaintance explained that it wasn’t difficult for him at all. Yet when my father was still reluctant, he asked him: “Perhaps you’re afraid that there’s a chance of chametz being in the medication? In that case we can check!”
My father replied, “No, the medication is truly necessary for me, and there’s no reason to worry about chametz or other such considerations.” However since my father remained hesitant, my acquaintance continued to push. My father then said to him, “I’ll tell you the truth: The pharmacy is in the middle of Jaffa Street, and you’ll have to take a bus to get there. Under such conditions, it’s almost impossible to properly maintain the sanctity of your eyes, and I can’t imagine that occurring on my account. However since I see that you’re adamant on going, and that it’s almost a question of life or death for me, if you absolutely promise to guard your eyes and ensure that you won’t look at anything forbidden, you can go. But don’t forget these conditions!”
My acquaintance promised him, and he went and returned with the medication. As soon as he entered my father’s home, my father firmly asked him if he had respected his promise. When he said that he had, my father calmed down, and only then did he take his medication!
Guard Your Tongue
Befitting an Intelligent Person
A person must protect the opening of his mouth and flee from Lashon Harah directed towards any individual, and especially towards the community. He must ensure that he does not protest G-d’s decisions, and he must stay far from slander, falsehood, and mockery. He must not harm anyone with his words, not even his wife. He must never shame anyone, even when reprimanding him. He must also avoid pride, divisive words, and words spoken in anger. It befits an intelligent person to flee from arguments, and a beautiful soul will also pay attention to useless conversations. He will also be careful not to give bad advice (which is often the case among matchmakers, middlemen, and salesmen), not to curse, as well as not to contradict his father or teacher, nor use G-d’s Name in vain, even in a foreign language.
– Chovat HaShemirah
Men of Faith
Stories of the Tzaddikim from the Pinto Family
Faith in the Tzaddikim
Rabbi Mordechai Knafo, who hosted Rabbi David Pinto in Morocco, possessed immense faith in the holiness of the tzaddik.
Rabbi Mordechai told the Rav the following story several years ago: Rabbi Mordechai’s daughter had planned on traveling to France in order to undergo a serious medical test, but at the last minute he realized that her passport had disappeared.
Rabbi Mordechai was very troubled by this, especially since obtaining a passport in Morocco wasn’t easy.
However he knew what he had to do. He therefore prayed that G-d would let him find her passport by the merit of the tzaddikim. While sincerely beseeching Hashem, he also lit candles, convinced that someone would bring him the passport on that very same night.
Rabbi Mordechai’s wife told him to go to sleep, but he refused, saying: “I won’t sleep until the passport is returned.”
“How can it return tonight?” his wife asked.
“I’m convinced that it will return by the merit of the tzaddikim,” he replied.
At three o’clock in the morning, someone came knocking at Rabbi Mordechai’s door. When he opened it, he discovered a Moroccan standing there with a bag in his hand. Rabbi Mordechai quickly grabbed hold of it.
“Why are you grabbing my bag?” the man asked. To answer his question, Rabbi Mordechai opened the bag and took out his daughter’s passport. He then asked the man where he had found the bag. He replied, “Near the French Embassy.”
“Why did you return it?” Rabbi Mordechai continued. “To tell you the truth,” said the man, “it wasn’t my intention. I actually thought of tearing it up, but during the night my mother appeared to me in a dream and told me to quickly return the passport to its owner. ‘If you want to respect your parents,’ she told me, ‘go and bring joy to this family by returning the passport to them.’ ”
The Arabs of Morocco are known for being very respectful to their parents, which is why this man obeyed his mother’s command and returned the passport to its owners. The Rav therefore gave him a tip and bid him farewell.
In this incident, our teacher Rabbi David Pinto saw the importance of having faith in the tzaddikim. This story did not happen decades in the past, but only a few years ago. We can likewise attain such a degree of faith, as the Prophet Habakkuk said: “The righteous shall live by his faith.” In other words, even a simple man can become a great tzaddik if he is infused with deep faith.
By the merit of such faith, we can experience incredible wonders, just like a tzaddik. Otherwise, how are we to understand the above story? Nevertheless, faith is not easy to acquire, for a person must work on himself to attain it.
At the Source
It is written, “Vehitchazaktem [You shall strengthen yourselves] and take from the fruit of the land” (Bamidbar 13:20).
Rabbi Moshe Galanti asks why they needed to be encouraged (hitchazkut) to take the fruit of the land, and why Moshe had to tell them this.
He responds by saying that for us – something which the Shulchan Aruch confirms (Choshen Mishpat 192:10) – it is obvious that anyone who ventures into a field that he has purchased from his friend, and there he takes some fruit from a tree, is considered to have acquired the field through chazakah. This is the meaning of the term vehitchazaktem: When you make your way to this land, acquire it through chazakah by taking “from the fruit of the land.”
A Single Entity
It is written, “The entire assembly arose and issued its cries” (Bamidbar 14:1).
Midrash Yalkut Shimoni explains this verse as follows:
Upon returning from exploring the land, each spy went to his own tribe and sat down in a corner of his home. The children were worried: “What’s wrong?” they asked him. The spy would then pretend to break down, saying: “I’m suffering greatly on your account, my sons, my daughters, and my daughters-in law! The Emorim will deceive and conquer you! Who can stand before any of them?”
They would then break down in tears, and their neighbors would also start to cry. Each family shared their hopelessness with another, until finally the entire tribe was afflicted. This is how 600,000 men began to act as a single entity that burst into tears and cried out in pain to Heaven. This is the meaning of the verse, “The entire assembly arose and issued its cries.”
It is written, “But you killed this people like a single man” (Bamidbar 14:15).
The gaon Rabbi Shemuel Kahana, the grandson of the author of Meirat Einayim, explains the expression “like a single man” by relying on a principle stated by our Sages in the Gemara: If a man commits a transgression, he is forgiven the first and second times, but not the third. Are we not taught that he is forgiven up to the fourth time? This is not the issue here, for one case refers to an individual, whereas the other refers to the community (see Yoma 86b). As for the community, they are forgiven up to the fourth time.
The sin of the spies was the third sin committed by the Children of Israel since the exodus from Egypt. Hence according to the strict measure of justice, they had to be forgiven once more. That was Moshe’s argument: By carrying out His threat, “I will smite them with the plague and annihilate them, and I shall make you a great and more powerful nation than they” (Bamidbar 14:12), G-d would be applying the rule of the individual – who is not forgiven the third time – to the community. The nations of the world, which heard the echoes of G-d’s words, would then say: “Because Hashem lacked the ability to bring the people into the land…” (v.16).
It is written, “So that you may remember and perform all My commandments and be holy to your G-d” (Bamidbar 15:40).
According to Abrabanel, we must wear tzitzit because “most of us are drowning in material desires, business concerns, and personal needs.” Hence G-d enjoined us to set up visual reminders for ourselves. These reminders must be evident whether we are naked (our circumcision) or clothed (our tzitzit), and they must also be evident in the home (our mezuzot). It is incumbent upon us to constantly speak of them in order to keep the Creator’s existence in mind, as it is written: “I have set Hashem before me always” (Tehillim 16:8).
Hence we read that the tzitzit must always be visible, “So that you may remember and perform all My commandments and be holy to your G-d.”
The Light of the Zohar
The Entire Shema
It is written, “They shall make fringes [tzitzit] on the corners of their garments throughout their generations [ledorotam]” (Bamidbar 15:38).
Rabbi Nehorai said in regard to the passage on tzitzit: “Here we read, ‘They shall make fringes…throughout their generations [ledorotam – spelled with a vav],’ whereas in regards to Shabbat we read, ‘to make the Sabbath an eternal covenant throughout their generations [ledorotam – spelled without a vav – but which can also be read as lediratam: throughout their dwellings].’ The passage of the tzitzit appears in the reading of the Shema, but does not appear in the mezuzah, which is found in the home of a Jew. How does this balance out? When we don our tallit (which holds the tzitzit) and we leave our home through the door with the mezuzah (which lacks the passage on the tzitzit), we are leaving our home with the entire Shema. G-d rejoices and the angel of destruction leaves, protecting us from all harm. Thus ledorotam is written without a vav in order to point to lediratam – their dwellings, where we find ourselves complete and surrounded by mitzvot. In that case, the angel of destruction leaves and we are protected from all harm.”
Rabbi Nehorai declared, “I testify that when someone passes between the two lintels of his home while enwrapped in tallit and donning tefillin, he is surrounded by the Shechinah as well as by two angels, which accompany him to synagogue and bless him. The accuser, which stands before the person in question, follows them and replies ‘Amen’ against his will.”
In the Light of the Parsha
Still Attached to Egypt
It is written, “The entire assembly said to [Moshe and Aaron]: ‘…Is it not better for us to return to Egypt?’ So they said to one another, ‘Let us appoint a leader and let us return to Egypt’ ” (Bamidbar 14:2-4).
The fact that the Children of Israel proposed to “appoint a leader and let us return to Egypt” proved that they were still attached to that country and therefore not fitting to enter the land of Israel. In fact whenever confronted by a trial, they suggested returning to Egypt, as it is written: “Perhaps the people will reconsider when they see a war, and they will return to Egypt” (Shemot 13:17). Furthermore, their connection with that country incited them to sin, as was the case with those who allowed themselves to be led astray by their desires and declared: “We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt free of charge” (Bamidbar 11:5). The memories of their past existence in Egypt pushed them to want to live there again. Hence G-d decided that this generation would not enter the land of Israel, for their own parents had dwelled in Egypt for generations and maintained a certain attachment to that country. Their children, on the other hand, had grown up in the desert, completely detached from Egypt, and therefore merited to enter the land of Israel.
In the Footsteps of our Fathers
Gazing from On High
The land of Israel, sitting at the center of the world, benefits from special attention from the Creator, as it is written: “It is a land that Hashem your G-d seeks out. The eyes of Hashem your G-d are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to year’s end” (Devarim 11:12). The slanderous words spread by the spies concerning the land of Israel left no traces on humanity. In each generation, we discover new meaning in the brief testimony of Joshua and Caleb, who said: “The land that we passed through, to spy it out – the land is very, very good!” (Bamidbar 14:7).
The author of Michtav Me’Eliyahu wrote, “Even in our days, we find in Israel a certain serenity that exists nowhere else. In recent years, while everyone is fleeing their country for elsewhere because they fear a new world war, the only ones leaving Israel are travelers in search of new worldly pleasures. Nobody has fled the land through fear of war, for such fear does not hang over Israel. This is very surprising: Logically speaking, people should be more afraid in Israel than anywhere else! Where does this sense of security come from? It is one of the blessings that G-d has bestowed upon the land.”
During his first visit to Israel, the Rebbe of Boyan, Rabbi Mordechai Shlomo, was welcomed at the port of Haifa. From there, he was driven in a car to Tel Aviv along with a few chassidim. Throughout his journey, which lasted almost two hours, the Rebbe didn’t say a word. He only looked out the window and gazed at the land.
One of the chassidim dared to ask him a question: “Rebbe, please teach us what’s so interesting to look at?”
The Rebbe responded as follows:
“It is said in regards to Israel, ‘The eyes of Hashem your G-d are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to year’s end.’ It therefore benefits a man such as myself to also look upon it.”
On day a Jew from Israel went to visit the Rebbe of Karlin, the author of Beit Aharon. The Rebbe asked him about life in the holy land, and the Israeli praised it. However he stressed that the Jews living there suffered greatly because of foreigners. Upon hearing this, the Rebbe became livid! He declared, “You have a trace of the spies in you!” Hurt by this, the Jew replied: “But Rebbe, I didn’t slander any Jew!”
The Rebbe responded, “The spies didn’t slander any Jew either. Nor the land, nor its inhabitants!”
Let us recount what Rabbi Yechezkel Abramsky told his students: “When I settled in the land of Israel, I purchased a parcel of land in Galilee according to the holy words of the Ibn Ezra concerning the verse in Vayishlach: ‘He purchased the parcel of land’ [Bereshith 33:19] – the text teaches us that the land of Israel has great value. Possessing a portion of it is as important as acquiring a portion of the World to Come.’ ”
Rabbi Yechezkel Abramsky added, “I never traveled to Galilee, nor did I ever see the land that I owned. In fact I purchased it only through faith in the words of the Ibn Ezra.”