The big story in Parshat Shelach is the episode in which Moshe sends twelve men to spy the Land of Israel. Unfortunately, that episode turned out to be one of the most tragic events in Jewish history, as ten of the twelve spies come back with a bad report which caused the Jews to panic and refuse to enter the Land of Israel. As a result, Hashem says (14:35) “This I will do to this congregation which is complaining to Me, in this desert they will die.”
The only exceptions to this decree are the two spies who brought back a good report, namely Yehoshua and Calev. Yehoshua learns a valuable lesson from this event, as thirty-eight years later (as relayed in the Hafotrah this week) he sends his own spies a bit differently. According to Malbim (R. Meir Leibush) there were five major differences between Yehoshua’s spy episode and Moshe’s. One difference was that Moshe sent the spies at the request of the people while Yehoshua sent them on his own. In addition, when Moshe sent spies, the Jews were far from the Land but when Yehoshua sent his spies the Jews were much closer. Because of their proximity to the Land in the time of Yehoshua, there was less of a question of whether or not to enter the Land at all, and more a question of merely how to enter.
There is one lesson which can be gleaned from both episodes in the Parsha and Haftorah, which is the lesson of appreciating Eretz Yisrael. This lesson can be learned on all four levels of Torah exegesis–namely 1) P’shat–contextual meaning, 2) Drash–deeper meaning 3) Remez–the hinted meaning and 4) Sod–the secret meaning.
Regarding the level of P’shat, one need only read the last six pasukim of chapter fourteen in Parshat Shelach to glean a “contextual” lesson as to the importance of Eretz Yisrael. The day after Hashem decreed that generation would not enter the Land, a group of Jews decide that despite what Hashem said, they would try to go up to conquer the Land. When Moshe hears this, he rebukes them, saying(14:41-43)
“Why are you transgressing the word of Hashem? Do not go up because Hashem is not with you and will not help you against the enemies. Because the Canaanites and the Amalekites are there before you and you will fall before them.”
Unfortunately, the Jews do not listen to Moshe and they do go up the next day and the Amalakites and Canaanites do kill them. Ironically, when the Jews were told that Eretz Yisrael was theirs, they refused to take it. However, once it was taken away from them, they suddenly wanted it. The obvious P’shat lesson here is: Do not wait to appreciate Eretz Yisrael until after it is gone. We continue to make this mistake in modern times, as we never appreciated Chevron, Kever Yosef (the grave of Yosef), Har HaBayit (Temple Mount), Gush Katif and the Shomron, as much as we do today, now that they are gone or our unlimited access to them is denied.
Following that incident, Hashem tells the Jews that when they come to the Land, they are to offer certain sacrifices, specifically (15:4-5): “Meal offerings of bread…and wine-libation offerings.” The question that many commentaries ask is: if the Jews have just been told that they will not enter Eretz Yisrael due to the Sin of the Spies, why is Hashem telling them what to do upon entering the Land? Rashi brings a Midrash (Oral Tradition) which says that the Jews were worried that if their children committed some sort of sin, they would also be prevented from entering the Land, just like the parents were. Thus, as a guarantee to the current generation that their children would enter the Land, Hashem commanded them now regarding the offerings which pertain only to Eretz Yisrael. The “Drash” lesson is–it is not enough for us to appreciate Eretz Yisrael (before it is too late), but we must also instill an appreciation for Eretz Yisrael in the next generation as well–i.e. our children.
But Hashem could have made it more obvious as to whom was being commanded with regard to these offerings. In other words, instead of saying (15:2): “When you come to the Land that I give you”,
why didn’t the pasuk say “When your children come to Land”, since it would be the next generation who would bring these sacrifices? Ohr HaChaim says that this verse is purposely a bit vague in order to hint (Remez) to the concept of “T’chiat Hamaytim–resurrection of the dead”. In other words, the Torah is actually hinting to us that even though this generation of Jews would die in the desert and not enter the Land now, they would enter Eretz Yisrael in the future, after they were resurrected. Interestingly, today many Jews wait until they are dead to come to Eretz Yisrael, to be buried here. The “Remez” lesson is–don’t wait till you are dead to come to Eretz Yisrael (or until you are ressurected). Come while you are alive!
But if Hashem wanted to use a Mitzvah that specifically pertains to the Land of Israel as proof that the next generation would enter, why did He pick the wine and bread offerings? Hashem could have picked Shmeetah or Terumot which also pertain only to Eretz Yisrael. The answer to this question can be found in the fourth level of Torah exegesis, namely Sod. Wine is a luxury, because a person can easily survive without it. Conversely, bread is a necessity for most people to survive. Perhaps the “Sod” (secret) that the Torah is trying to teach us regarding Eretz Yisrael is that it provides both the luxury as well as the basic necessities that a Jew needs to live his or her life. The luxuries that it provides include beautiful places to tour, a variety of climates and cultures, as well as the best tasting fruits and vegetables in the world. The basic necessities that it provides a Jew with are the chance to keep the Torah in the most ideal way, as well as a stronger dose of Hashem’s Providence. What more could one ask of a land?
Summary of Key Points:
1) The Haftorah relays the episode in which Yehoshua sends two men to spy the Land of Israel. Parshat Shelach also contains a story of Jews who are sent to spy the Land.
2) In Parshat Shelach, there is a group of Jews who decide to go up to the Land despite the fact that Hashem has decreed that the generation will not enter.
3) The “P’shat” lesson is that Jews should appreciate Eretz Yisrael before it is taken from us. The “Drash” lesson teaches us that we must instill that appreciation for Eretz Yisrael in our children too.
4) The “Remez” lesson is that people should not wait until they die to come to Eretz Yisrael. The “Sod” is that Eretz Yisrael has both the luxuries and necessities that a Jew needs to live.