Shelach-Jewish tourism

At the beginning of a parsha, Rashi often comments on the connection with the previous parsha. This occurs in our parsha as well (Shelach), where Rashi says that “…these wicked people (the spies) observed what happened to Miriam and learned nothing.”  Miriam was struck with the plague toward the end of last week’s parsha (Beha’alotcha) because “she was verbally involved” in speaking about her brother Moshe, and yet the spies took no heed and proceeded to fall into the same trap.

1) Since our parsha, the story of the spies, follows the previous parsha chronologically, why does Rashi find it necessary to comment?

2) The term that Rashi used regarding Miriam is iskei diba – “”verbal involvement.” He does not say that Miriam spoke lashon harah, or “evil speech.”  Rashi later explains that iskei diba is “all the offshoots and results of talk, which may be good or bad.”  If Miriam’s speech could possibly have resulted in good, why did she deserve punishment?

Another great sage, the Ramban, asks at the beginning of our parsha, “what was the great sin of the spies?”  Their mandate was to scout out the land, and indeed upon their return they reported the truth as they saw it, “the people…and the land are powerfully fortified…”  When they reported that the Jews, “would not be able to ascend…since they are stronger than us,” they were simply following their mandate of reporting back on what they saw.  Moreover, even Caleb agreed with them, saying, “We shall certainly ascend…” indicating that he agreed that there was no natural way that the Jews would be able to conquer the land, but that with the supernatural help of Moshe, the Jews would nevertheless succeed.  And if so, what was the problem with the spies’ report?

As it turns out, this was Rashi’s question as well.  Two different events in the Torah, one following on the footsteps of the other, do not require explanation when the connection between them is obvious.  But in this case, the story of Miriam was a private event, while the story of the spies was a public event, in which the leaders of the tribes sinned in a way that affected the entire Jewish nation.  For that reason, Rashi finds it necessary to explain the connection – the spies did not pay attention to what happened to Miriam.

Miriam’s mistake was that she did not recognize Moshe’s great spiritual level, which put him beyond the criticism that she leveled against him.  She meant him no harm with her criticism, and indeed Moshe was not offended.  Nevertheless, Miriam had no business involving herself in Moshe’s personal life. That is why Rashi says not that Miriam spoke lashon harah, but rather iskei dibah – “verbal involvement.”  That she should get involved in Moshe’s spiritual life could only lead to negative results, and that is why she was punished.

The sin of the spies was of a similar nature.  They said nothing negative about the land of Israel, and they only reported events as they perceived them.  However, just like Miriam, they presumed themselves to be on a level to offer criticism and opinion, when that was not their mandate.  They not only reported on the land, but they offered “spin,” leading to the false conclusion that, “we cannot enter the land.”  Their mandate was only to report, not to give their opinion, and that is where they erred.  It was up to God and Moshe to bring the Jews into Israel and clearly they would have done so in a super natural manner had the spies not exceeded their mandate and offered their own opinion, misleading the Jews.  And therefore, like Miriam, they were punished.

For a more detailed and lengthy version, go to www.jerusalemconnection.org

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol 18, page 141-149

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