Insight on the Weekly Torah Reading: Shelach



   
             
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The Seeing Heart

By Michael Chessen

     It is perhaps most appropriate that Israel's Ministry of Tourism has taken its icon, the image of two men bearing a "larger than life" cluster of grapes on a pole, from the Torah portion of Shelach. This is because this week's Torah reading is perhaps one of the most illustrative readings in the five books of Moses. Not only does the portion contain some very vivid descriptions of the Land of Israel (both objective and later tragically exaggerated), but we also witness the manifestation of previously warned against spiritual degeneration liable to befall us, and view just how one might come to stray from following the Torah's commandments.

     The Rashi commentary points out that the incident of the spies, or simply "scouts", follows the incident of Miriam speaking ill of Moses in order to demonstrate the consequences of failing to internalize the moral lessons of Miriam's behavior and subsequent process of atonement. This omission on the part of the spies fulfills an earlier prophesy in Leviticus which states that the failure to diligently learn and study God's Torah ultimately leads to a denial of God's supreme holiness. After initially praising the Land of Israel the spies begin to slander it by the statement which is taken simply as saying that the inhabitants of Kena'an are "stronger than us" (Numbers 13:3). The Hebrew pronoun in this verse, however, is ambiguous, and could also be translated as "him". Indeed, the spies' subsequent "evil report" demonstrates that they appear to suggest that even God Himself would be of no match for their future enemies.

     The term "spies" is not explicitly mentioned in our reading, but we elicit it from the Torah's usage of the Hebrew "latoor", "to seek" in describing the mission of the twelve chosen scouts. The Torah subsequently uses this same verb at the end of our reading in prescribing the commandment to attach tassels, or "tzitzith" to the corners of one's garments. These are to serve us as a visual reminder of our obligation to serve God in holiness. However, in continuing that these reminders will help prevent our being led astray, or perhaps more precisely "mis-seek", the Torah warns us first against our hearts and then against our eyes. It would seem that in striving to follow the path of holiness, what we happen to see counts less than what our hearts are actually seeking.

     Rabbi Yissocher Frand links the concept of the "seeing heart" back to the sin of the spies by referring to the blessing that one should "see the goodness of Jerusalem"(Psalms 128). On the surface, this appears to be a blessing that one should merit seeing Jerusalem enshrined in messianic splendor. However, Rabbi Frand points out that "seeing" the goodness of Jerusalem could also refer to the ability to discern the goodness of the "not yet perfect" Jerusalem of the present, and by extension, the modern State of Israel. The proper sense of perspective will hopefully help us all to hasten the coming of the more perfect era by enabling us to serve God and keep His Torah more genuinely in happiness.

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom!

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