TORAH MINUTE - SHLACH LECHA - JUNE, 1992
Most noticeable, after my first read-through of SHLACH LECHA, is the fact that this portion could literally have been written yesterday. Unlike the histories of the book of Genesis which clearly appear to have been handed down through antiquity, each of the verses of SHLACH LECHA convey extremely modern themes, chiefly because most of the concepts introduced here are in common use to this day.
The story of the MIRAGLIM (spies), actually an account of the misuse of intelligence information, could easily have happened (and has) many times during the past 40 years. The incident itself is entirely pre-determined in the wording of its first sentence, SHLACH LECHA, send for yourself (spies). The word LECHA (for yourself) is used to indicate that HASHEM has assured you, Israel, of the splendor of the Promised Land, and that you will conquer it. You insist however, on not believing Hashem, so send, for yourself, spies to view the land I will give to the CHILDREN of Israel. BENAI YISRAEL (Children of Israel) is accented here to indicate that because of the former slaves, refusal to believe in HASHEM, only their children would enter the "Promised Land".
In order to prove His intent to give the Promised Land to the next generation, Hashem continues to instruct Israel in ways of Torah. Again, in keeping with the theme of this portion, each of laws and concepts introduced here are with us today, many in daily practice.
The MINCHA, or meal offerings which accompanied the animal sacrifices, may not be practiced today as they appear in the Torah, but the MINCHA (afternoon) service is certainly a part of our daily worship routine. The laws of challah, the ritual separation of part of the bread dough, are still practiced today. The text of the discussion of the consequences of Idolatry that follows is a part of our High Holy Day liturgy.
Since I am one of the last of an almost extinct breed of ardent Death Penalty opponents, my interest was certainly piqued by the discussion of death by stoning as a punishment for deliberately violating the Sabbath. Again, this text and the commentary that surrounds it, could easily have been written today to fuel the modern day debate over whether people, or courts composed of people, can take a life.
The MAPHTIR (last section) of SHLACH LECHA which concerns the TZITZIT (fringes) is certainly the best known part of the text since we not only read it several times daily in our worship services, but we also practice it. I feel obliged to repeat to you one of the many laws of TZITZIT that I read in the commentaries. Although we have an ERUV around this neighborhood, (ritual wall around a community which relieves it's residents from some restrictions on carrying goods on the Sabbath) many people still wear their TALIS (prayer shawl) to Synagogue rather than carry it. The Meam Loez mentions that the TZITZIT should be checked before one leaves for Synagogue on Sabbath because if they are not in order one risks the dual sins of offering a blessing in vain and violating the Sabbath because a TALIT with invalid TZITZIT is considered to be CARRIED rather than WORN. Interpretations of the ERUV do vary, my grandfather for example, held that the ERUV only exempts us from carrying items required for Sabbath services. It thus appears to be a good idea that everyone who carries their TALIT to Synagogue check the TZITZIT before departing to avoid the possibility of violating the Sabbath by carrying an unnecessary item.
I would like to close with another aspect of the story of the MIRAGLIM. As I've mentioned, one reason the story touches us is that it has been repeated so many times in recent experience. The downfall of an entire generation of Israelites as a result of the MIRAGLIM incident, certainly reminds me of the great "There is light at the end of the tunnel" lie of 1967 which caused so many of my generation to "turn on, tune in and drop out." However another, and more important reason, is that the sins of the Children of Israel and the MIRAGLIM have a direct and personal effect on us today. On the day of the return of the MIRAGLIM, the Israelites cried bitterly when confronted with the biased report of the MIRAGLIM. HASHEM was so incensed at their lack of faith that He vowed they and all future generations would always have a reason to cry on that day. That day, according to our sages, is the ninth day of AV, the day that all modern Jews bitterly mourn the loss of our Temples, our national identity.
My father and I will always have yet another direct tie to the story of the MIRAGLIM. It holds that if the MIRAGLIM returned on the ninth of AV, they were dispatched on their forty day mission on the twenty-ninth day of SIVAN. This day is the YAHRTZIET (anniversary of the death) of my mother, Cecille H. Sturm of blessed memory. In speaking about the effects of events on a generation, I cannot help but wonder how many members of the previous two generations owe some part of their success to my mother and her fellow educators. My mother was a person of many interests, my own fascination with aircraft and the space program was inherited from her. She figured out how to track the early spacecraft and taught this to her elementary school classes. One of my fondest memories is together peering up at the summer skies, tracing the progress of ECHO and other satellites. Thirty years later she was proudly looking down upon the earth as my first passenger when I received my helicopter pilot's license. She was even studious with "Soap Operas". She won all the "Who shot J. R." contests because she studied the newspapers and found out which actress was about to leave the cast.
First and foremost however, was my mother's passion for education. In deference to that, I began to author these "Torah Minutes". I never expected however, that preparing these lessons would be so exhilarating. I share with you a two page distillation of many hours of research, but only by preparing a "Torah Minute" yourself can you experience the deep, personal satisfaction of learning that accompanies this task. I urge everyone who has not already tried it to become a Guest Speaker. It is well worth the trip.