Parshat Shalach

Rabbi Moshe Abarbanel

In Parshat Shalach we learned about the 12 spies who explored the land of Israel.  We also read the Haftorah of Yehoshua regarding the 2 spies sent 40 years later to explore.  I found it interesting that at the end of the Parsha before the Haftorah, Moshe records the Mitzvah of Tzitzit.  I kept asking myself, “What is the essential difference between the 12 spies sent by Moshe the 2 spies sent by Yehoshua?”

Of course we see many differences.  First is the number of spies.  Second is that the 12 spies are princes of Israel who the Torah goes out of its way to name.  Third, the two spies, according to the plain text are not princes, nor are they named.  Fourth is how far they traveled.  Fifth is the report  they brought back and to whom they disclosed it.  But I felt these are all accidental differences.

The Greek poet Sappho wrote, “What is beautiful is good.”  We Jews believe, “What is good is beautiful.”  How does this relate to the question above?  I believe the 10 of the twelve spies only inspected superficially.  They brought back fruit, looked at the people from a distance and reported about the fortified city.  The two spies Yehoshua sent did none of this.  They, at great personal risk, entered the city of Yericho.  They wanted to understand the nature of the people.  They understood the old saying, “It is not the weapon, it is warrior.”  In fact Rachav informs them of the residents fear, “Because we heard how God dried the sea of Reeds before you when you left Egypt and what He did to the two Amorite Kings when you crossed the Jordan river, to Sichon and Og…(Yehoshua 2:10).”  The supernatural way that God intervened on behalf of the Children of Israel cause huge dread.   More importantly the inhabitants lost their courage as Rachav informs them, “Our hearts have fallen, no man has the courage to stand before you…(Yehoshua 2:11).”  Fear dominated their men of valor.  Without brave and fearless leadership the troops will never prevail.

I believe the Torah places commandment of Tzizit at the end of Shalach for a reason.  It warns us not to “Explore after our hearts and eyes…”  When a person places too much emphasis on the ascetics, he loses sight of what is important and good, i.e., the essence. This is a primary difference between the two sets of spies.  The 10 spies explored superficially, straying after their eyes.  The 2 spies looked deeper into the nature of the people.

May God guide us to clearly distinguish between the superficial and the essential.

Shabbat Shalom.