Torah Fax

Friday June 20, 2008 - 17 Sivan, 5768

Torah Reading: Shlach (Numbers 13:1 - 15:41)
Candle Lighting: 8:12 PM
Shabbat ends: 9:22 PM
Pirkei Avot: chapter 2

Good Morning


Our parshah tells us that Moses, at the request of the Jewish people, sent twelve spies to scout the Land of Cana'an. Moses personally selected one representative for each tribe. Ten of the twelve spies returned with a slanderous report about the Land of Israel and succeeded in convincing the people that they would not be able to conquer the land. Only Joshua and Caleb remained faithful to G‑d and Moses and asserted that they will succeed in conquering the land.


As a punishment for their lack of faith, G‑d told the Jewish nation that they would not live to enter the Promised Land that they scorned; only their children would enter it.


Soon after the narrative concerning the spies, the Torah discusses the law concerning Challah, which involves the separation of a piece of dough from the larger loaf to be given to a Kohain-Priest. This commandment was to take effect as soon as they entered the Promised Land. This is in distinction to many Mitzvahs, which only began to apply after the 14 years of Joshuah’s conquest and settlement of the Land of Israel.


At first glance, there seems to be no direct relationship between these two themes: the spies’ debacle and the commandment to separate Challah.


What connection is there between the Mitzvah of giving Challah and the story of the spies?


The following is based on an adapted from a commentary by R. Yisroel of Chortkov, one of the great Chassidic Masters.


When the young generation saw how their parents and elders forfeited their share in the Promised Land, this made them give some serious thought to their own future.


Surely, they thought, their parents were promised that they would have a glorious future upon their liberation from slavery, and particularly after they received the Torah at Sinai when they were told that they were a chosen people. And despite all of that, they suffered this terrible fate that they would have to wander in the desert until their deaths, never to see the fulfillment of the many promises G‑d made to them.


Similarly, many of the members of the new generation surely reflected, what guarantee will they have that they will fare any better than their forebears? Perhaps, things will go downhill for them as well. It was not outside the realm of possibility that they too will do something foolish, and G‑d's promise would not materialize, just as the promise to their parents was frustrated by their rebellious behavior.


To allay their fear, G‑d instructed them concerning the Mitzvah of separating a piece of dough before it is baked and that it should be given to the Kohanim, G‑d's servants. G‑d also informed them that the observance of this Mitzvah will commence as soon as they enter the land; they will not have to wait until the land was conquered and settled.


How did these two details address their concerns?


The reason the spies so degenerated despite the fact that that they were chosen by Moses was because their initial thoughts at being chosen as scouts was one of arrogance. “After all,” they must of have thought to themselves, "if Moses chose us, we must be considered to be real mavens, true intellectuals and trusted leaders, whose opinions are even valued by Moses and G‑d." Their journey and mission was no longer about how best to lead the Jewish nation to the Promised Land; it was now all about them. They were now bent on demonstrating how good their judgment was and how astute were their observations and conclusions were.


What the spies were thinking was a reflection of the mindset of the entire nation. When they approached Moses and asked him to send spies to scout the land it began with the wrong emphasis and intention. Rather than saying to Moses, "we are ready to go to the Promised Land because that was the premise of our liberation and our receiving of the Torah, so let us not tarry," their initial approach was one of skepticism and doubt. They wanted to be assured that the land was conquerable and habitable.


In both cases—that of the spies and of the nation—the initial approach was flawed. To be sure, they had free choice to regain their bearings and re-realize that their mission was about how best to receive G‑d’s gift of Israel. Nevertheless as they started to slide down the slippery slope of misjudgment, of wondering whether Israel was actually good for them or not, the odds for Teshuvah, for redirecting their focus to be on G‑d and Israel instead of themselves, became increasingly less likely. This is so because there is a spiritual principle that one's journey and success in a holy endeavor is usually determined by the direction one sets forth for himself at the very outset. When one's original thought is positive and holy it is likely that one will succeed in reaching his or her destination—the Promised Land. When, however, the original plan is flawed and off course, it is more likely to be aborted.


This principle has been beautifully articulated by the great Chassidic leader (and successor to the founder of the Chassidic movement, the Ba'al Shem Tov), Rabbi Dovber, known as the Magid of Mezeritch, in a retranslation of several verses in Psalm 63:


"O G‑d you are my Almighty, I seek you! My soul thirsts for you, my flesh longs for you. In a desolate and dry land without water, so to see you in the Sanctuary, to behold our might and glory."


The Magid's ingenious retranslation of the above verse yields the following:


O G‑d, if you are my G‑d as soon as I awaken in the morning [if my first thought as I awaken is "You are my G‑d"], and my soul and flesh [begin the day] with thirst and longing for a relationship with You, then even when I am in a desolate and dry land without water [even when I am involved in mundane physical matters and material pursuits that are devoid of spiritual vitality], nevertheless, I shall be imbued with a holy desire to see You; [I will not lose my bearings and will remain steadfastly loyal to you because my original thought upon awakening was tied to You].


In other words, our spiritual fortune is directly related to the way we begin our day, week, month, year or any other beginnings in our lives.


We can now understand why the Torah follows the spies’ narrative with the commandment to separate Challah:


To allay the fears of the new generation that they too might suffer the fate of their elders, G‑d instructed them that immediately upon their entry into the Promised Land they would be given a special Mitzvah. Their first act upon arrival will be one that affirmed: "You are my G‑d!" Indeed, the underlying rationale for giving the separated dough to the Kohain, G‑d's servant, is to underscore that we and everything we possess is G‑d's.


Moreover, the very nature of the Mitzvah of Challah, that it is to be taken from the first of the dough, underscores the idea that the beginning is crucial. Indeed, a Chassidic translation of the words "Reishit Arisoteichem, the beginning of your dough you shall give to G‑d" has been translated alternatively as: "the first thing upon arising from bed (in Hebrew the word "arisoteichem" has a dual meaning: "your dough" and "your bed.") shall be given to G‑d."


The Mitzvah of Challah, to be observed immediately upon the Jewish nation’s arrival in Israel, was therefore the response to the young generation. It conveyed the message to them: Insure that your initial thoughts be pure and holy, and the rest of the journey will go smoothly. Your chances at success will be greatly enhanced.


The aforementioned teaching of the Magid has special relevance to modern times. We are at the tail end of the journey to the Messianic Age when all of the Jewish people will return to the Promised Land. And although we have been promised that "no one will be left behind this time around," unlike our ancestors in the desert, nevertheless, the trip to our final destination can be a smooth one or fraught with some obstacles.


How can we protect ourselves and ensure that we reach our goal forthwith and without any travail? When we start our day, week, month, year and other periods of our lives, with positive thoughts about Moshiach and that we want him now. This will facilitate that the rest of these periods will be devoted towards making the Messianic promise an imminent and reality.



Moshiach Matters 

Among the prophecies of Bilaam is the verse: "A star shall shoot forth from Jacob, and a scepter shall arise in Israel," which refers to the coming of Moshiach. Significantly, the Jerusalem Talmud interprets that verse as referring to every Jew. And yet this does not represent a contradiction to the accepted tradition that it refers to Moshiach, for every Jew, contains a spark of Moshiach within his soul (From Highlights, by Rabbi E. Touger, published by the Mashiach Resource Center)

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