Sparks of Torah – Parshas Shelach




Last week’s parsha concluded with a most interesting episode involving Miriam and her brother Moshe. She discovered that Moshe had separated himself from his wife due to his status as a prophet. However, she maintained that Moshe’s stance was unacceptable. After all, she and Aharon were also prophets yet they had continued to live with their spouses in a normal fashion. Why should Moshe treat his wife this way and unnecessarily cause her anguish? Hashem ‘heard’ them referring to Moshe in a ‘degrading’ manner because they equated his level of prophetic quality with theirs which was mistaken. Moshe had to be fully ready to ‘receive’ a transmission from Hashem at any moment. Therefore, he had to always be prepared which required abstention from relations with his wife. Miriam who had spoken against Moshe was stricken with tzora’as, a spiritual disease which afflicted those who slandered others. The entire nation was required to remain in one place for a seven day period until Miriam was absolved from her sin and healed.

This week’s parsha deals with another episode of slander. This time the perpetrators were from the crème-de-la crème of our people. The leaders of each tribe were selected to investigate the land of Israel if it was acceptable to settle there. The spies decided to sabotage the idea of going to Israel and therefore reported negatively concerning the nature of the land in order to discourage the idea of settling there. Not only did they malign the land, they also defamed Hashem. The motivating factor which caused them to react in such a violent manner is outside the discussion of this article. Nonetheless, our Sages teach us that they made a major error because they had witnessed the severe punishment that Miriam suffered due to her slander of her brother although she had good intentions. Still she was harshly rebuked by Hashem. They should have seriously contemplated the consequences of their decision and realized that they were walking on thin ice. Yet, these highly intelligent scholarly individuals did not consider the ramifications of their actions and embarked on a very dangerous course. What flaw led to this corrupted judgment?

In order to fully understand the folly of such prominent leaders of our nation, we must first explore the underlying theme that promotes slander. The primary motive that creates the ambiance that encourages such insidious speech is arrogance. The Talmud states that Hashem and the arrogant person cannot reside together in this world. This means that his attitude is removing Hashem from his midst and doesn’t allow Him to enter into his thoughts and actions. It is easy to understand that if one can ignore Hashem and eliminate Him, then, of course, it is no wonder that such a person would purge mortals from his world view. His interest focuses on his own needs for advancement in life and negates the obligation to demonstrate concern for others and their necessities.

Although Miriam truly loved her brother and was essentially concerned about his seemingly radical behavior, nonetheless, there was a subtle but existent pride which goaded her to make such a disparaging remark about Moshe’s prophetic status. That slight but detectable comment for a person of her stature was defined as slander. The men who were sent to spy out the land should have realized that even a slight error for noble and honorable people is labeled as malicious and destructive and they should have been overly cautious in their decision to deride the significance of settling in Israel and ultimately humbling themselves to Hashem’s word.



The parsha concludes with the mitzvah of tzitzis. From a small hint of gazing at the fringes on the corners of our clothing we can reach great heights and even envision that we are connected with Hashem himself. In life as well, we must be able to focus on the small thoughts which can encourage us to strive to enhance our lives in so many ways.