Parashat Shlach - The Sanctity of Human Action in the Land of Israel
הרב שבתי סבתו | כה סיון התשעח | 08.06.2018
הרב שבתי סבתו
Rabbi Shabtai Sabato
קדושת המעשה בארץ ישראל
The Sanctity of Human Action in the Land of Israel
The First Portion of Your Dough
The Torah portion of Shlach deals mainly with the bitterly tragic episode of the meraglim - the spies sent by Moshe Rabbeinu to scout out the Land. Their report led the Israelites to turn their backs on the Divine gift and mission. Immediately afterwards, the Torah gives us several new commandments, including the obligation to separate and give to the Cohanim a small portion of all dough that we prepare. This is the mitzvah of challah:
רֵאשִׁית עֲרִסֹתֵכֶם חַלָּה תָּרִימוּ תְרוּמָה,
The first of your dough, you shall raise up as challah for a gift (Bamidbar 15,20)
This verse emphasizes that challah is just as important and holy as the mitzvah of terumah, the gifts we give the Cohen from our agricultural produce:
כִּתְרוּמַת גֹּרֶן, כֵּן תָּרִימוּ אֹתָה.
Like the gift of the threshing-floor [terumah], so shall you set the challah apart.
This parallel between challah and terumah is very significant. Consider terumah: It is not a mere gift to the Cohen, but actually becomes kodesh, sacred. For this reason, a non-Cohen who eats it commits a capital offense (punishable not by a human court, but rather by Heaven). Similarly, a Cohen in an impure state may not touch it, and certainly may not eat it. This extreme sanctity is understandable, for terumah is the "first budding" – that is, that which you separate before you eat of the Divinely-grown wheat.
But the nature of the holiness of challah is more difficult to grasp. G-d does not fashion the dough into challah; we prepare the flour, add water, and knead, at which point we remove "the first of your dough," rendering it subject to the obligations and sanctity of challah. How does a piece of man-made dough acquire holiness?
The answer stems from where the kneading is done. If it occurs outside the Land of Israel, the Biblical mitzvah of challah does not apply, as we see from the following law in the Sifri (Bamidbar 110):
If one brings flour from abroad into Eretz Yisrael, and then mixes it with water and kneads it into dough in the Land, he is Biblically obligated to separate challah, and the challah will have a Biblical status of sanctity. But if he did the opposite - that is, he took flour from the Land and prepared the dough abroad - he is exempt from the Biblical mitzvah of separating challah. This is R. Akiva's opinion, accepted as Halakhah.
The obligation is not dependent on where the wheat was grown, but rather where the dough was prepared. Only when a Jew kneads in the Land of Israel does the dough become subject to the mitzvah of challah. Thus, sanctity stems not only from Eretz Yisrael alone, as in terumah, but also from human actions that are performed there.
Not only Divine acts have sanctity; our mortal deeds are also imbued with holiness. Just as terumah's holiness is a function of the wheat having grown in the Land, so too, that of challah depends on its being kneaded in the Land. As the Torah states when introducing the mitzvah of challah:
בְּבֹאֲכֶם אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מֵבִיא אֶתְכֶם שָׁמָּה... רֵאשִׁית עֲרִסֹתֵכֶם חַלָּה תָּרִימוּ תְרוּמָה
When you come to the Land to which I am bringing you…
The first of your dough, you shall raise up as challah (15,18-20)
The Torah thus equates between the beginning of Divine actions and the beginning of human actions; both are sacred, and both take place specifically in Eretz Yisrael.
What is the connection between the commandment of challah and the main story in Parashat Shlach, that of the Spies?
The Spies' Fears
Moshe spent the spies to scout out the Land in anticipation of Israel's imminent entry. But they returned with such a negative, fearful, and faithless report that the nation "forgot" G-d's promises and decided not to accept His gift. We cannot help but ask: How could the scouts have possibly fallen so low in their trust in G-d? What made them so afraid of the Seven Nations then in power in the Holy Land? What brought them to feel (13,31), "We cannot rise up against the nation [then occupying the Land], for it is stronger than us"?
Yes, the giants then in the Land of Israel were frightful: "We saw there the titans, the sons of the giant… and we felt [as small] as grasshoppers, and so we were perceived in their eyes." (verse 33) But this does not explain their tremendous trepidation. The scouts were not just anyone; they were the heads of their tribes! "They were all men of stature, heads of the Children of Israel!" (verse 3)
These men of stature were witness to G-d's miracles causing the collapse of the greatest kingdom on earth at the time – the Pharoahs' Egypt! They also saw the Ten Plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea, the Clouds of Glory, the water flowing from the rock, the Manna from the sky, and more. Was all this not enough to prove to them the constant Divine supervision to which Israel was treated? Why were they not convinced by the two scouts who were able to keep the big picture in sight? Yehoshua bin Nun and Calev ben Yefuneh told them, "G-d is with us! Do not fear them!" (14,9) If Yehoshua and Calev were able to realize that G-d was with them, why were the other scouts blind to it?
The answer is rooted in the difference between G-d's leadership during the Exodus and in the Desert, and His guidance during the conquest and settlement of the Land. These were two different periods, marked by two different types of leadership (as we explained elsewhere, in "The Spies' Failure").
The Exodus and the desert journeys were run exclusively by a miraculous Divine supervision; the Israelites were merely passive partners. It began with Moshe's command as they were about to cross the Red Sea, with the Egyptians close behind:
י-הוה יִלָּחֵם לָכֶם וְאַתֶּם תַּחֲרִשׁוּן
G-d will fight for you; you remain silent. (Shmot 14,14)
This was the type of atmosphere and experience that the scouts absorbed, where miracles take place without Israel's active participation. The scouts were imbued with a sense of G-d's active supervision in their lives.
All this was about to change with the entry and conquest of the Land of Israel. This conquest was to require a long and drawn-out war for the Land, involving active Israelite participation. In fact, the entire settling and building of the Land was to be accomplished not by Hashem's open miracles, but by the People of Israel themselves. They were to plant trees, build houses, and grow food. Hashem's supervision and help in their efforts in war and peace would be ever-present, but behind the scenes.
A perfect example of such can be found in Israel's second battle against the Ai, recounted in the Book of Joshua. We see that it was Hashem Who advised Yehoshua to place an ambush outside the city, and Bnei Yisrael, under Yehoshua's leadership, then carried it out cleverly and skillfully. This led the enemy to abandon the city and "chase" the Israelites whom they believed had run away, thus bringing about Israel's ultimate victory. This shows us that it was G-d's will that Israel should wage war in a natural manner, with Hashem helping only from above by sowing fear among the Canaanites.
This is very different than Joshua's first battle, the war against Jericho. There, the wall around the city fell miraculously, with Israel doing nothing more than marching around it and blowing shofars! Why was G-d so involved in the battle for Jericho, yet took a back seat in the battle against Ai?
This question leads us to a more comprehensive understanding of the principle of Divine supervision over Israel: G-d created the world and imbued it with natural laws, alongside man's abilities and powers, and His goal was that these laws and properties should reign supreme. Only when they do not suffice to bring about His Divine will does He employ miracles and other supernatural means to achieve His desires.
In Egypt and in the desert, natural law simply could not guarantee that the Nation of Israel would reach the Promised Land in security and with sufficient food and drink. This is why Hashem had to act, via His prophets Moshe and Aharon, to bring forth water from boulders, and manna from the Heavens, in subjugation of the laws of nature.
Once Israel reached Eretz Yisrael, the desert's manna stopped, because it was no longer needed; the earth of the Land itself brings forth food according to natural law. The boulder, too, ceased bringing forth water, for Eretz Yisrael was lush with streams. Neither was there a need for the Clouds of Glory, because the Israelites could build houses for protection.
The same is true regarding war: Am Yisrael had gained great experience and confidence after the battles against the Emorite kings Sichon and Og. They therefore needed no further actively-miraculous intervention in their wars with the Canaanites in Eretz Yisrael.
In Jericho, however, one more miracle was required to topple the walls, since this could not be done via natural means. Once this was accomplished, the people fought quite naturally with their spears and arrows against the enemy inside the city.
Here we see a total partnership between human actions, on the one hand, and G-d's blessing and supervision, on the other. But this was something that the spies, back in the desert, were not accustomed to, for they had never experienced it. In fact, they still remembered the difficult war with Amalek which did not even end with a clear victory; Shmot 17,13 states that Joshua was able merely to "weaken" or "break the ranks of" the enemy.
Why did G-d not fight on their side against Amalek? Because Israel's faith in G-d was not strong; they had constantly been testing Him: … they tested G-d, saying, Is G-d amidst us or not? (Shmot 17,7) G-d therefore decided that the destruction of Amalek would have to wait several generations, until King Saul would lead the Nation of Israel in the Land of Israel to total victory over them.
The scouts realized that once they arrived in Eretz Yisrael, the rule would be that they would have to fight their own wars, with G-d's help but without His active and miraculous participation. When they saw the giants there, it simply frightened them.
What could be the antidote to this fear? The additive for strengthened faith was to be the mitzvah of challah. Let us see how.
When You Come to the Land
We saw above that both terumah and challah are equally holy. In truth, though, there is one important difference between them. Let us again quote the Midrash Sifri:
Regarding challah, the verse says: Upon your entry into the Land. R. Yishmael said: The Torah wrote about this 'entry' differently than all the others. Regarding the others, it said, "When you will come" and the like, while here it says, "Upon your entry." This teaches you that immediately upon their arrival in Eretz Yisrael, they became obligated in the mitzvah of challah.
The mitzvah of separating challah is obligatory upon Israel from the very first day they enter the Land. This is very significant, considering that the mitzvah of terumah was not applicable for 14 full years: the seven years of conquest, and another seven during which they divided the Land to the families of the tribes and settled it. The reason for this difference is this one word written regarding challah: בבואכם, upon your entry.
So, challah applies immediately upon our arrival in the Land; what does this tell us?
We have already explained that challah is separated from kneaded dough – the product of human action in the Land of Israel. This teaches us that sanctity applies to the results of human actions, on condition that they are done in the Holy Land.
This is precisely the great message of the war for the Land of Israel! There is sanctity in our own actions of Divinely-commanded war for the Land. Such a war is not a profane, secular action; G-d stamps His Name upon our deeds and achievements that are directed towards fulfilling His will. This is why challah, of all things, was commanded to Israel even before the complete conquest of the Land – because it signifies that we need not worry, as the spies did, that G-d's providence might not apply to our earthy actions. Challah indicates that G-d's supervision is manifest in Bnei Yisrael's actions, such as war for the Land.
This realization strengthens our trust in G-d, that which the Spies lacked. The mitzvah of challah rectifies the weakness that led to their terrible sin. And this is why the obligation of challah is mentioned right after the story of the Spies.
The other tithes, terumah and maaser, are different. They apply not immediately upon arrival in the Land, but only 14 years later, after the Land has been conquered, divided and settled. Why? Because the sanctity of terumah and maaser derives from the Land itself, where the seeds grow Divinely into holy produce – but this sanctity of the Land begins only when the Nation of Israel has truly taken root there, i.e., after the wars and after it has become sovereign, with every family knowing precisely its plot of land.
This point is worth elaborating upon. What is the source for G-d's presence amidst the Nation of Israel in the Land of Israel?
וְלֹא תְטַמֵּא אֶת הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם יֹשְׁבִים בָּהּ אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי שֹׁכֵן בְּתוֹכָהּ
And you shall not defile the land upon which you reside [and] in which I dwell (35,34)
Is there a connection between the two underlined phrases – Israel's habitation in the Land, and G-d's dwelling there? There most certainly is, as we see from the continuation of the verse:
כִּי אֲנִי י-הוה שֹׁכֵן בְּתוֹך בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל
For I am G-d, dwelling amidst the Children of Israel.
The verse is to be understood as G-d saying: "Why do I dwell in the Land? Because I dwell amidst the Nation of Israel, and Israel lives in the Land." Only in Eretz Yisrael does Israel live as a sovereign nation; outside the Land, Israel does not function like a nation, and is certainly not sovereign. That is to say: The sanctity of Eretz Yisrael stems from Israel living there as a nation, with G-d in its midst.
The mitzvah of separating challah joins the series of mitzvot whose essence is the rectification of the sin of the spies. Other similar mitzvot appearing in Parashat Shlach are tzitzit and the pouring of wine over the altar, as we have explained elsewhere. All of the Torah's mitzvot were given only to purify and refine man's soul and spirit. Their purpose is that we may cleanse ourselves of the weaknesses that overtake us and that express themselves in our sins.
The Historic Journey of the Letter Yod
Parashat Sh'lach begins with a list of the names of the Ten Scouts – a list that ends with an interesting and strange detail. The Torah states:
אֵלֶּה שְׁמוֹת הָאֲנָשִׁים אֲשֶׁר שָׁלַח מֹשֶׁה לָתוּר אֶת הָאָרֶץ
וַיִּקְרָא מֹשֶׁה לְהוֹשֵׁעַ בִּן נוּן יְהוֹשֻׁעַ.
These are the names of the men Moshe sent to scout out the Land,
and Moshe called Hoshea bin Nun "Yehoshua." (13,16)
Moshe Rabbeinu changes the name of his loyal servant, the representative of the Tribe of Ephraim, by adding the little letter yod to the beginning of his name, and Hoshea thus becomes Yehoshua. What is the meaning of this name-change? Is it connected in any way to the fact-finding mission on which Moshe sent the scouts? And, what is so special about the letter yod that it was chosen for Yehoshua’s new name?
The Medrash Rabbah (B'reshit 47), in its unique and picturesque style, comes to our aid to reveal the secret of Yehoshua's new name:
- Shimon bar Yochai said: The letter yod that Hashem took from Sarai [the Matriarch Sarah] was flying around before the throne of G-d, and said, “Master of the Universe, is it because I am the smallest letter of all that You took me away from the righteous Sarah?”
Hashem answered: "You originally were in a woman's name, at the end of the name. I will now place you in a man's name, and in its beginning: And Moshe called Hoshea bin Nun ‘Yehoshua.’"
The added yod thus did not come out of nowhere, but rather from the name of Sarah Imeinu, after her name was changed from Sarai. And another thing that R. Shimon bar Yochai teaches us in this Medrash is that even a small letter is important, and is certainly not ignored or nullified without reason. Even the letter yod has a function – and an important one.
Let us analyze the deep connection between Yehoshua bin Nun and Sarah Imeinu, and how it relates to the letter yod. We know the special bond, deep and strong, between our holy forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, and Eretz Yisrael. They lived in the Land, journeyed in the Land, and merited to receive prophecy here. G-d appeared to them time after time, promising them the Land as an inheritance for them and their descendants forever after. In the end of Parashat Bechukotai we read:
וְזָכַרְתִּי אֶת בְּרִיתִי יַעֲקוֹב וְאַף אֶת בְּרִיתִי יִצְחָק
וְאַף אֶת בְּרִיתִי אַבְרָהָם אֶזְכֹּר וְהָאָרֶץ אֶזְכֹּר
I will remember My covenant with Yaakov, and also My covenant with Yitzchak,
and also My covenant with Avraham, and I will remember the Land. (Vayikra 26,42)
Hashem remembers the Patriarchs together with Eretz Yisrael. They are bound together.
When Moshe Rabbeinu prayed for Israel after the Sin of the Golden Calf, he cited the merit of the Forefathers. But when he prayed for the nation after the Sin of the Spies, who spoke ill of the Land of Israel, he did not mention the Patriarchs and their merit. Why?
The Ramban, in his commentary to the Torah, explains that after the Sin of the Spies, Moshe did not mention the Forefathers precisely because they were so closely bound up with the Land. How could he cite the merit of those who so loved Eretz Yisrael, on behalf of the people who had just turned their backs on that same Land? The merit would immediately be used against them!
Furthermore: The great strength of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov was their burning, perfect, unconditional faith in Hashem. Hashem had promised the Land to them and their children, and even though they went through many difficult trials, their faith and trust that He would fulfill His word never wavered. In this respect, they were the exact opposite of the Spies who went to check out the Land and who did not believe that Hashem could rid it of the fearful people then ruling there.
We saw above that the Spies said the people living in the Land were “stronger” – as if they were stronger not only than the People of Israel, but – if it can be said – even than Hashem Who accompanied Israel. They were clearly detached from the Patriarchs on this matter. This is the reason why one of the two righteous scouts, Calev ben Yefuneh, went to pray at the graves of the Patriarchs in Hevron. He went to attach his soul to the power of faith and self-sacrifice that so characterized Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov.
Yehoshua bin Nun was the second scout who did not fall into the trap that caught the other ten. He also wished to join up with the Fathers of our Nation and their special bonds with the Land – not by going to their graves, but by receiving a letter from the name of Sarai/Sarah. Moshe attached it to Yehoshua's name, thus joining him with the souls and character traits of the Forefathers.
From Within and Behind
The letter yod, the third letter of Sarah’s original name, is also the first letter of the Name of Hashem.
Avram and Sarai set off to conquer the Land of Israel from the hands of the idol worshippers. With the strength of their faith in G-d, and with their boldness of spirit, they served as a “pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire” lighting up the way for the world. Our Sages taught us that Avraham Avinu converted the men, while his wife would convert the women. They did not need the letter yod to walk before them; everywhere they went, Avraham would build an altar to G-d, and there he would call out in G-d’s Name and spread the truth of His path (as in B'reshit 12,8 and 13,4).
But they did need protection from behind, so that no one would harm them or those with them. This is why it was important for the letter yod to be attached to the end of Sarah's name. Hashem told Avraham:
אַל תִּירָא אַבְרָם אָנֹכִי מָגֵן לָךְ
Do not fear, Avram, I will protect you. (B'reshit 15,1)
That is, "Go forward with your strengths, and I will stand behind you and protect you." A perfect example of this is when Avraham went down to Egypt and Pharaoh took Sarai, thinking she was Avraham's sister – and G-d responded right away:
וַיְנַגַּע ה' אֶת פַּרְעֹה נְגָעִים גְּדֹלִים וְאֶת בֵּיתוֹ עַל דְּבַר שָׂרַי אֵשֶׁת אַבְרָם
Hashem smote Pharaoh and his house with great plagues,
because of the matter of Sarai, Avram’s wife. (12,17)
When they completed their mission of walking through the Land of Israel, across its length and partly across its breadth, Hashem entrusted them with a new task: the building of the body and soul of the Nation of Israel. For this purpose, Hashem took the yod from Sarai's name and divided it in two – i.e., two letters heh. (The letter yod has a numerical value of ten, twice the value of the letter heh.)
One of the heh's was made part of Sarai’s new name, Sarah, and the other one was given to Avram, rendering him Avraham. Note that the letter heh is also from
G-d’s Name - and it was now given over to Avraham and Sarah in order to help them build the Nation of Israel.
The letter heh leans to the feminine gender in Hebrew. That is, words that end with a heh preceded by the kamatz vowel, such as ishah (woman), yatz'ah (she went out), and the like, are feminine. The heh also represents the reproduction and enhancement of the Jewish people: When it was added to Avraham’s name, G-d said, “I have made you the forefather of many nations” (B'reshit 17,5), and a few verses later, when He added the heh to Sarah, He said, “Kings of nations will come from her” (verse 16).
From there on in, their descendants Yitzchak and Yaakov concentrated on the spiritual and physical building of the family of the House of Yisrael; the ties to the Land were maintained, but its conquest was “put on hold.” After 400 years, Yehoshua bin Nun received the scepter and the mission of conquering Eretz Yisrael.
Moshe knew that the conquest of the Land of Israel required great powers of "action," as well as tremendous spiritual strengths. In Eretz Yisrael, Heavenly help would be supplied only after the people themselves prepare for war with full strength and faith.
However, Moshe feared that Yehoshua might be lacking the full extent of the necessary spiritual powers. This is why he gave him the letter yod in its entirety. The letter yod is a masculine letter – as seen by its central presence in words such as ish, shir, kir - and it symbolizes action. Moshe not only granted him the entire "ten" of the yod, but also placed it at the beginning of his name – serving as a type of "pillar of cloud and fire" akin to the advance guard for Bnei Yisrael on their desert journeys.
As Rashi tells us, when Moshe gave Yehoshua his new name, he prayed, “May Hashem [represented by the letters yod and heh] save you from the wicked counsel of the other Spies.”
Thus Yehoshua, armed with a link to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, was enabled to lead the People of Israel in conquering the Land of Israel, in fulfillment of Hashem’s promise to their Forefathers.