Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Parshat Shelach

The Spies, Challa and Tzitzit

This week's parsha is a mixture of events that seem to be unrelated to each other and the rest of Sefer Bemidbar.

It begins reasonably enough, with the events recalling catastrophe of the spies. This is a direct continuation with the previous parsha's events and explains why Israel remained stranded in the wilderness for forty years. It continues with the Maapilim, those who refused to be condemned to die in the wilderness. They led an authorized attempt to conquer Canaan and were massacred. This is in line with Sefer Bemidbar's theme.

However, suddenly the parsha turns and teaches the following:

- Laws about fulfilling vows
- The laws of Challa
- How to atone for sins done in error
- The episode of the Shabbat desecrator
- The laws of Tzitit

The Torah, in next week's parsha, then resumes Bemidbar's theme, with the episode of Korah.

What is this interruption all about? The first two laws are doubly troubling as they begin with the statement:

"Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: When you arrive in the land of your dwelling place, which I am giving you" (Bemidbar 15:2).

That generation had just been told that they weren't going to "arrive in the land" at all. This seems to be rubbing it in their face.

Rashi says that actually, God is consoling them. He stresses that Israel should not despair - they will arrive. Moreover, the actual laws are about fulfilling vows, stressing that God will fulfill His vow and he will take them to the land of Israel, despite all that has happened.

The Torah continues and discusses the laws of Challa, the donation of the first dough to the Temple. This stresses that not only will God bring Israel to Canaan, they will be prosperous and have flourishing crops.

Nevertheless, despite these assurances, how does Israel know that God won't continuously delay this promise? They will likely sin again and God will, therefore again delay fulfillment of His vow. How do they get out of this cycle?

The Torah therefore, explains what to do when the nation errs. There is no need to fear; by bringing a sacrifice Israel can gain atonement.

However, the Torah then warns that this only applies to laws committed in error. If anyone deliberately breaks the law, such as the Shabbat desecrator, there can be atonement. That individual will be punished.

In order to allay the despair that keeping the Torah is just too difficult, the people are then taught the laws of Tzitzit. Its primary focus is: "when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the Lord to perform them" (ibid 15:39).

Israel can now be confident that they have the tools to ensure their commitment to God so that He will keep His promise and bring them to the land of Israel.

Once this is complete, Sefer Bemidbar can resume its normal course and recount the story of Korach.

Therefore, rather than being a cause of despair, Parshat Shelach gives us the tools to enable us to avoid the pifals of the spies, enabling us to rejoice in God's fulfillment of His promise.


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