Rabbi Moshe Lichtman is a respected author and scholar living in Beit Shemesh who has written extensively about the centrality of the Land of Israel. Each week we plan to include a selection from his Sefer “Eretz Yisrael in the Torah.”


We all know that the saddest day of the Jewish calendar is Tish’a B’Av, but how many of us know how it all started?  And even if we know the historical facts, how many of us have truly internalized the lessons?

It all started in this week’s parashahChazal have a tradition that the Sin of the Spies took place on the ninth of Av, and on that night HaShem told the Children of Israel, “You wept in vain; I will establish for you weeping for all generations” (Ta’anit 29a).  The Mishnah (Ta’anit 4:6) lists five tragic events that occurred on Tish’a B’Av, including the destruction of both Temples.  The first tragedy was the episode of the Spies, making it the source of all of our troubles throughout history.  Therefore, it behooves us to understand this sin, so that we can rectify it and bring about the ultimate redemption, which will transform Tish’a B’Av into a joyous holiday.

An entire volume can be written on the exact identification of the Sin of the Spies and its underlying causes.  On a simple level, though, the people of Israel committed two sins: slandering Eretz Yisrael (לשון הרע) and despising the Land (מיאוס הארץ).  Concerning the first it says,  – They brought an evil report about the Land that they spied out (13:32); and the people accepted the spies’ lashon ha’ra, as it says immediately afterwards,  – The people wept that night, and [they] complained against Moshe and Aharon… (14:1-2).  The sin of despising the Land is also identified clearly:  – And your children, of whom you said they will become a prey, I will bring them [in], and they will know the Land that you despised (14:31).  The psalmist sums it all up:  – They despised the desirable Land, they did not believe His word.  They murmured in their tents, they did not listen to the voice of the Lord (Tehillim 106:24-25).

Let us concentrate on the sin of lashon ha’ra.  At the very beginning of the parashah, Rashi comments: “Why was the episode of the spies placed immediately after the episode of Miriam?  It is because she was punished on account of the slander she spoke against her brother, and these wicked men saw [what happened to her] yet did not learn a lesson.”  An obvious distinction can be made, however.  Miriam spoke against a human being, with feelings and emotions; while the spies spoke against an inanimate object made of earth and stones.  Why, then, were they expected to learn a lesson?

Many years ago, I saw two answers to this question, both of which are very applicable today.  The book “Love Thy Neighbor” quotes R. Yisrael Ordman as saying that the spies were expected to learn from Miriam that one should always see the good in everything, not the bad.  Even if Moshe had a fault, there was no reason to dwell upon it.  The spies, as well, should not have emphasized the negatives of Eretz Yisrael, but the positives.  Unfortunately, this is a lesson that we have yet to internalize, to this very day.  People often come back from trips to Israel, or a year of study here, and talk about the “hardships” they encountered.  They complain about the weather, food, manners, level of religiosity etc., while overlooking all the good – the technological advances, proliferation of Torah study, beautiful homes and communities etc.  People also accept the loshon ha’ra they hear about the Land, which is also sinful.  Thousands of Jews have canceled their trips to Israel this summer (2001) because of what they hear on the news.  I am not denying that some places may be slightly dangerous, but who says you have to go to those places?  Most areas are completely safe.  Besides which, davka now is the time to come and show support for your brethren living in Zion.

Rav J. B. Soloveitchik zt”l gives a more profound answer to our question (it is found in “Reflections of the Rav”).  What, in essence, was Miriam’s mistake?  Why did she speak against her brother?  She failed to recognize Moshe Rabbeinu’s segulah quality, his absolute uniqueness as a prophet.  She knew that he was greater than all other prophets, but she failed to comprehend that he was on a different plane, in a category of his own.  He was the only prophet to reach such closeness to HaShem.  All of this is evident from HaShem’s reaction to Miriam’s slander:  – My servant Moshe is not so; he is trusted in My entire house. I speak to him mouth to mouth, in a [clear] vision and not in riddles; he beholds the image of the Lord… (12:7-8).

Similarly, the spies failed to recognize Eretz Yisrael’s singularity (segulah), the fact that it is completely different from all other lands – A Land that the Lord your God seeks out; the eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year (Devarim 11:12).  Moshe Rabbeinu told the spies to scout the Land and seek out its segulah properties, with an awareness of the great era that was about to unfold:  A segulah prophet was leading a segulah people into a segulah land.  All they could see was the mundane – the giants, the funeral processions, the unusual fruits.  This is why they failed so miserably.

We, too, must view Eretz Yisrael and current events in a different light.  We must recognize the uniqueness of the Land and realize that we are living through very special times.  Even when things go wrong and cannot be ignored, we must keep in mind that Eretz Yisrael is one of the three gifts that God gave us through suffering (Berachot 5a).  We must avoid getting bogged down with the mundane, as the spies did.  We must look beyond the surface and be thankful that we live in a generation that is privileged to see so many of the prophecies of redemption unfold before its very eyes.  We are a segulah nation returning to its segulah land after two thousand years of exile.  How can we simply ignore this fact and continue to dwell on foreign soil, just because it is easier to live there?



In the previous article, we discussed one aspect of the Sin of the Spies – slandering Eretz Yisrael.  Now we will concentrate on another aspect, despising the Land (מיאוס הארץ).  Unfortunately, this sin has plagued us throughout our long and turbulent history, and it continues to plague us to this very day, as the author of Akeidat Yitzchak writes:

Despising the Land is the issue that has risen up in every generation to destroy us.  Because of it, we were exiled from our Land, driven far from our soil, and have been a disgrace to our neighbors…  There is absolutely no way to return to our perfected state except by returning to it [the Land].

Thus, it behooves us to understand this sin, so that we can rectify it and expedite the final redemption.

  1. Ya’akov Fiber points out in his classic work, Ayelet HaShachar (pp. 182-186), that we, the Jewish people, have been exiled from our Land three times; and we have repeated the tragic mistake of despising Eretz Yisrael every time.

Two hundred and twenty years before the Egyptian exile even began, HaShem told Avraham Avinu exactly how long it would last (400 years).  And at the time of the Exodus, He told the Jews explicitly where they were headed:  – I will bring you to the Land about which I lifted My hand to give it to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov (Shemot 6:8).  Nonetheless, when the time came to actually fulfill these promises, ten of the generation’s greatest tzaddikim (just consider the fact that Yehoshua and Calev accompanied them) dissuaded the nation from entering the Desirable Land, causing unspeakable pain and suffering for over three thousand years.

The duration of the Babylonian exile was also predetermined (70 years).  Nonetheless, when HaShem summoned His nation back home, via Cyrus King of Persia, the vast majority of Jews once again demonstrated their disdain for the Land and lack of faith in HaShem, choosing relative comfort in exile over closeness to God in Eretz Yisrael.  They even ignored the calls of Ezra the Scribe (who would have received the Torah had Moshe Rabbeinu not preceded him [Sanhedrin 21b]).  What was the result of this failure to enter the Land?  The eventual destruction of the Second Temple, as the Talmud (Yoma 9b) states:

Reish Lakish was swimming in the Jordan River.  Rabba bar Bar-Chanah came along and gave him his hand [to help him out of the river].  [Reish Lakish] said, “By God, I hate you!  [Rashi: I hate all residents of Babylonia, who did not ascend (to Eretz Yisrael) at the time of Ezra, thus preventing the Shechinah from returning and resting upon the Second Temple.]  As it is written,  – If she be a wall, we will build upon her a battlement of silver; and if she be a door, we will enclose her with a cedar board (Shir HaShirim 8:9):  Had you made yourselves like a wall and ascended all together at the time of Ezra, you would have been compared to silver, which does not decay.  Now that you went up like doors, you were compared to cedar wood, which decays [Rashi: A gate that has two doors is opened one door at a time; similarly, you ascended by halves (i.e., insufficiently)].

And here we are nearing the end of the third and final exile, and we are repeating the same mistake once again.  It all started in the mid-1700s, when the Vilna Gaon began encouraging his students to resettle the Land in preparation for the final redemption.  One of his disciples, R. Hillel of Shklov, writes in a book called Kol HaTor (chap. 5):

Many people are committing the grievous sin of despising the Desirable Land.  Also, many Torah-Jews do not realize that they are caught up in the Sin of the Spies…  They cover up their false opinions by saying that there is no mitzvah to settle the Land today…  These “spies” think that they are greater than the Tana’im and Amora’im who determined that “Yishuv Eretz Yisrael is equal to all the mitzvot of the Torah.”  [They also think that they are greater than] the Ramban… the Shelah HaKadosh… And who amongst all the later authorities is greater than our master the Gra, who urged his students to go up to Eretz Yisrael… to bring the end of the exile closer through Yishuv Eretz Yisrael?  Almost everyday he told us with great emotion that through Zion and Jerusalem there shall be a remnant… and that every remembrance from heaven requires a remembrance and awakening from below…  Many of our brethren from Russia were preparing enthusiastically to go to Eretz Yisrael to fulfill the command of our master the Gra, but they were cooled down by a number of Torah-Jews.

And what about today?  One could claim that Diaspora Jews cherish their ancestral Homeland very dearly.  After all, they support the State of Israel and its inhabitants both morally and monetarily: they come on solidarity missions, attend rallies, lobby their congressmen to pass pro-Israel laws, buy Israeli products, etc.  I don’t mean to belittle these very important measures in any way, but the problem is that these Jews still prefer foreign lands to their only true Homeland.  Intentional or not, this demonstrates a certain degree of disdain for Eretz Yisrael, for if they truly loved and appreciated the Land, they would settle for nothing less than actually living there.  In the words of R. Ya’akov Emden (in his introduction to the Siddur):

Do not intend to settle down in Chutz LaAretz, God forbid…  That was our ancestors’ sin, despising the Desirable Land, which caused us eternal weeping.  And this [sin] has stood against us throughout our bitter exile.  Not just one [enemy] has risen up against us, but peace and tranquility have eluded us in every generation.  We have been persecuted; we have toiled but found no rest; we have been forgotten like the dead, all because we have completely forgotten about living in Eretz Yisrael.



Ø The Lord spoke to Moshe, saying, “Send forth men, for yourself, that they may search out (ויתורו) the Land of Canaan, which I give to the Children of Israel; you shall send one man each from his father’s tribe, every one a leader among them.”  Moshe sent them forth from the Wilderness of Paran, by the word of the Lord; they were all [important] men; heads of the Children of Israel were they (13:1-3).

According to R. Shmuel David Lutzato, there is a difference between תר (a “tourist”) and מרגל (a spy).  A person who tours [a certain place] seeks out the good, [as it says,  – The Ark of the Lord’s Covenant traveled before them…] to search out (לתור) a resting place for them (10:33)…  The opposite is true of a spy; he looks for the bad, as [Yosef said to his brothers],  – You are spies (מרגלים); you have come to see the nakedness of the land (BeReishit 42:9)…  Similarly,  – He slandered (וירגל) your servant to my lord the king (II Shmuel 19:28)…  They all mean a revealing of [someone or something’s] disgrace and evil.

Now, Moshe Rabbeinu did not send the twelve men… out of necessity, as is known.  After all, God said that it was a land flowing with milk and honey.  In addition, what difference does it make if the nation dwelling there is strong or weak, seeing that HaShem will fight on [the Jews’] behalf?  Rather, Moshe sent them to tour the Land, to see its goodness and tell the people of its glory, in order to encourage them to follow HaShem.  They, however, acted corruptly, plotting an abominable scheme and overturning their dispatcher’s intention.  Therefore, we refer to them as spies, even though they are called “tourists” (תרים) in the section that describes their mission.  Indeed, the Book of Devarim (1:24) states,  – They reached the Valley of Eshkol and spied it out (וירגלו אתה), for that is what actually happened.  They acted like spies, not like “tourists,” even though they were sent to tour, not to spy.  (HaKetav VeHaKabbalah)


* That they may search out the land of canaan:  We find three expressions [regarding the spies]: ויתורו, ויחפרו, וירגלו.  The Jews said,  – Let us send men before us, that they may spy out (ויחפרו) the Land for us (Devarim 1:22); The Holy One Blessed be He said,  – That they may search out (ויתורו) the Land of Canaan (BeMidbar 13:1); and regarding the spies it says,  – They spied it out (וירגלו) (Devarim 1:24).  This is so because there were three opinions regarding this suggestion.  God said ויתורו, which also connotes advantage (יתרון), for He wanted to show them the advantages of Eretz Yisrael over all other lands, as it says,  – [I will go down to save it from the hand of Egypt] and bring it up from that land to a good and spacious Land (Shemot 3:8).  “Good” here refers to spiritual goodness – the fact that the very air [of Eretz Yisrael] makes one wise – for this helps a person attain the true good; for without it [wisdom], man has no advantage over [anything else] under the sun.  The advantages of this Land are all-encompassing.

The Jewish people, however, had a different motive [lit., spirit].  They always searched for a pretext to return to Egypt.  Therefore, they said, ויחפרו, which can also mean disgrace (חרפה).  They wanted to see the Land’s “nakedness,” so that they could have a reason to complain and say, Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.  Even so, they did not want [their representatives] to give a false report, but the spies acted corruptly and did a greater abomination than they were asked to do.  They uttered lies, like all slanderers do, exaggerating everything and telling more than they actually saw.  Therefore, it says, They spied it out (וירגלו), for the word רגל means רכיל (slandering), as Rashi writes on the verse  – Do not go around as a talebearer (VaYikra 19:16).

It is also possible to explain [our query as follows].  God said ויתורו because this Land is truly the “head” (ראש) of all the lands, possessing many good qualities and far surpassing all other lands.  Accordingly, the Yalkut [Shimoni] on this parashah applies the verse,  – The highest part (ראש) of the dust of the world (Mishley 8:26), to Eretz Yisrael.  The Spies, however, did the opposite, saying that it is lower than all other lands,  – A land that consumes its inhabitants (13:32).  They lowered it from the level of a head to one of a foot (רגל).  Therefore it says, They spied it out (וירגלו).  That is, they made it into something to be trampled underfoot [and treated it] like a foot, which is the lowest point on the body.  In truth, though, it is the head of all other lands, which is why [the Torah] always uses an expression of aliyah, ascent, when someone goes to Eretz Yisrael.  (Kli Yakar)


* “Whenever it says ‘men’ (אנשים), it refers to righteous men” (BeMidbar Rabbah 16).  We must explain why the Torah mentions all of these compliments: they were righteous; every one a leader among them; they were all [important] men, heads of the Children of Israel; and the fact that Moshe chose them… and HaShem agreed…

All of this contains a lesson for the future, as it says regarding the Generation of the Wilderness:   – He established a testimony in Ya’akov… so that the final generation may know… and tell their children… and not become like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation that did not set its heart aright… (Tehillim 78:5-8).  The Torah emphasizes and specifies all of these virtues of the spies so that the final generation may know that when remembrance and salvation visit Israel, we must not believe those who oppose the redemption of the Land, even if they are presumed to be upright and righteous, even if they are leaders of Israel, and even if the One Who Knows All Secrets testifies that they are tzaddikim.  Why?  Because they will eventually discourage the people of Israel from entering the Land.  Therefore, do not place your trust in them, for in the end, their disgrace will be exposed like that of the spies.  (Gelilei Zahav, quoted in Itturei Torah, vol. 5, p. 75)


Ø Chevron (Hebron) had been built seven years before Tzoan of Egypt (13:22).

Is it possible that Cham built Chevron for Canaan, his youngest son, before he built Tzoan for Mitzrayim (Egypt), his eldest son?  Rather, [the verse means] that Chevron was built up with all manner of good, seven times more than Tzoan was.  This comes to tell you the praise of Eretz Yisrael.  For there is no rockier place in Eretz Yisrael than Chevron – this is why they designated it for burying the dead – and no other land is as good as Egypt, as it says,  – Like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt (BeReishit 13:10).  Furthermore, Tzoan is the best location in Egypt, seeing that the kings dwelled there, as it says,  – For its officers were in Tzoan (Yeshayahu 30:4).  Nevertheless, Chevron was sever times better than it.  (Rashi, based on Sotah 34b)


Ø They came to the Valley of Eshkol and cut down from there a vine with one cluster of grapes, and they carried it on a pole with two, and [they also took] of the pomegranates and of the figs (13:23).

The Maharsha (Sotah 35a) points out a very interesting fact.  Although the Torah praises Eretz Yisrael for producing seven specific types of fruit (see Devarim 8:8), the spies only brought back the non-essential ones: the three mentioned in our verse and dates (as it says four verses later,  – Indeed it flows with milk and honey [i.e, date nectar]).  They did not, however, bring back wheat, barley, or olive oil, which are far more essential for human survival.  By doing so, they tried to convince the Children of Israel that Eretz Yisrael lacks the basic necessities of life.

Rabbi Zev Leff explains this as follows.  The spies brought back the fruits that people usually eat for dessert, not the ones used for the main part of the meal.  In effect, they were saying, “Eretz Yisrael is a nice place to visit – a beautiful vacation spot, where one can take great pictures and have a nice time, a Disney Land of sorts – but it is not a practical, viable place to live.”  Our task is to rectify this sin and strive to bring our latent desire for God’s Special Land to the fore and actually live here.  (Heard in a public lecture.)


Ø They [the spies] told him [Moshe] and said, “We came to the Land to which you sent us, and indeed it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.  But (אפס) the nation that dwells in the Land is fierce, the cities are fortified very greatly, and we saw there the children of the Giant” (13:27-28).

Since Moshe commanded them to see whether the Land is fat or lean (v. 20), they responded that it is fat, and indeed it flows with milk and honey.  And in response to his question, Does it have trees or not? (ibid.), they said, This is its fruit, because he had commanded them to show him [its fruit].  Behold, so far they spoke the truth, answering [all the questions] they were commanded to answer.  And they were supposed to say that the nation that dwells there is fierce and the cities are fortified, for they had to respond truthfully to their dispatcher, as he commanded them,  – Is it [the nation] strong or weak (v. 18), whether [it dwells] in unwalled cities or in fortresses (v. 19).  However, their wickedness was in the word אפס (lit., “zero”), which implies something excluded and precluded from man, something that is utterly impossible [to achieve]…  They told him that the Land is fat, it flows with milk and honey, and its fruit is good, but it is impossible to obtain [these things] because the nation is fierce…  (Ramban)


Ø Calev silenced the people toward Moshe and said, “Let us ascend at once and conquer it, for we can surely do it” (13:30).

They were afraid, because they had heard Eldad and Medad prophesying, “Moshe will die and Yehoshua will lead [the Jews] into Eretz Yisrael,” and they saw that Moshe did not protest nor order them [to stop].  Therefore, [they thought]: to enter a fortified land and fight against Amalek, whom they had already encountered, and against giants, without Moshe – they would all fall by the sword!  Therefore, Calev silenced the nation concerning the fact that they attributed all the wonders to Moshe.  On the contrary, [he said], “His greatness depends on you!”  After all, as long as God was angry with the Jews, He did not speak intimately with Moshe [see Rashi, Devarim 2:17].  Therefore, Calev said, Let us ascend at once – meaning, by ourselves, without Moshe, for HaShem does not perform miracles on account of Moshe.  Rather, the Jewish nation itself deserves particular Divine providence.  This explains [Calev’s confidence in saying], for we can surely do it.  This also explains [the first part of the verse]: “Calev silenced the people” regarding the fact that they attributed everything “to Moshe.”  Do not say such things, and do not think that victory and miracles depend solely on Moshe.  Not true!  Only, Let us ascend at once!  (Meshech Chochmah by R. Meir Simcha of Dvinsk)


Ø They brought forth an evil report on the Land that they had spied out… (13:32).

The spies’ intention was evil: to cause the Jews to tarry in the desert.  They began by making things up in order to delay the Jews [in the desert], but when their first “invention” did not suffice, they slandered [the Land] outright.  Their motive was [as follows].  They understood why the original princes – Nachshon and his colleagues – were not sent [to spy out the Land]: because their eminence was being saved for Eretz Yisrael.  And undoubtedly, that is what would have happened, had [HaShem] not decreed to wipe out [that entire generation].  The spies thought that as long as Israel remained in Chutz LaAretz, they would retain their positions of authority, for once they rose to power they would not be deposed.  Perhaps this is the meaning of Chazal’s statement “At that time, they were fitting” (see Rashi on v. 3).  That is, they were worthy to be leaders in Chutz LaAretz.  After writing this, I found the same idea in the Zohar…  (Sh’nei Luchot HaBrit [the Shelah HaKadosh], Torah SheBichtav, Parashat Shelach)


Ø Yehoshua son of Nun and Calev son of Yefuneh… spoke to the entire congregation of the Children of Israel, saying, “The Land that we passed through to spy it out – the Land is very, very good.  If the Lord desires us, He will bring us to this Land and give it to us, a Land that flows with milk and honey.  Only, do not rebel against the Lord, and do not fear the people of the Land, for they are [like] our bread… the Lord is with us; do not fear them (14:6-9).

A land that flows with milk and honey:  It itself [is bountiful], even without farmers tilling the soil, like in the forests, as it says,  – All [the people of] the land came into the forest, and there was honey all over the field (I Shmuel 14:25).  This would not be possible if the Land or its air had any blemish.  (Sforno)


Ø And now, may the strength of my Lord grow… Please forgive the iniquity of this nation (14:17-19).

See Parashat Ki Tisa, “The Merit of the Patriarchs.”


Ø But My servant Calev, because he had a different spirit with him and he followed Me fully, I shall bring him to the Land to which he came, and his descendants shall possess it (14:24).

I saw a beautiful idea in the holy work Tzror HaMor, by the grandfather of the Beit Yosef’s wife, our master, R. Avraham Seba, who was among those expelled from Spain.  He writes that the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael is second only to that of the Holy One Blessed be He Himself.  That is, first comes God and then, immediately after Him, comes Eretz Yisrael.  This is why the verse says that Calev son of Yefuneh followed the Lord fully [by defending the Holy Land].  That is to say, he literally followed the Lord, because Eretz Yisrael comes after HaShem.  (Eim HaBanim Semeichah, p. 299)


Ø But Yehoshua son of Nun and Calev son of Yefuneh lived from the men who went to spy out the Land (14:38).

See Parashat Terumah: “Guard Your Share.”


Ø The people mourned greatly.  They woke up early in the morning and went up to the top of the mountain, saying, “We are ready, and we shall go up to the place of which the Lord has spoken, for we have sinned.”  Moshe said, “Why do you transgress the word of the Lord?  It will not succeed.  Do not ascend, for the Lord is not in your midst…”  But they impetuously ascended to the mountaintop… (14:39-45).

The Torah did not record the episode of the Ma’apilim (the impetuous ones) in Parashat Shelach for naught.  At this point, they believed Moshe’s words, so why did they refuse to listen to him when he said, Do not ascend…?  [The answer is]: they thought that this is included in Chazal’s statement “Do whatever the master of the house tells you to do, except ‘leave’ ” (Pesachim 86b)…  Therefore, they ascended impetuously against HaShem’s will, as our Sages say, “Chutzpah is a king without a crown” (Sanhedrin 105a)…  The explanation [is based on] the well-known [Kabbalistic concept] that “Kingship” is Knesset Yisrael (The Assembly of Israel) and “Crown” is HaShem’s will.  Thus, [this statement] means that [Chutzpah represents] self-appointed governance, without the desire of the One Who desires, [and it refers to a time when] Knesset Yisrael comes near on their own accord.  But the Ma’apilim failed, because they used [this trait] before its time, as Chazal say, “During the era of ‘the footsteps of Mashiach’ chutzpah will increase” (Sotah 49b).  For that is the proper time for it…  Therefore, Moshe said to them, It will not succeed.  [He was saying], “Seemingly, this is a [legitimate] idea, but it will not work.”  [The Torah] deliberately used the word It (והיא), which Chazal always interpret [in an exclusionary sense]: “It, but not another.”  This implies that [chutzpah] will succeed at some other time, i.e. in our time, which is [the era of] the footsteps of Mashiach.  (Tzidkat HaTzaddik, by R. Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin, sec. 46)[1]


Ø The Lord spoke to Moshe, saying, “Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: When you shall come to the Land of your habitations, which I give to you…” (15:1-2).

When you shall come: He [God] informed them that they would [eventually] enter the Land.  (Rashi)


To the land of your habitations:  He no longer called it “the Land of Canaan,” in order to promise them that they would inherit it and dwell therein.  (Oznayim LaTorah)


See also Parashat VaYeitzei, “Additional References” 28:18.


Ø The Lord spoke to Moshe, saying, “Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: When you come to the Land into which I bring you, it shall be that when you eat of the bread of the Land, you shall offer up a gift to the Lord.  The first of your kneading troughs, you shall offer up a loaf (challah) as a gift…” (15:17-20).

When you come to the land… Perhaps [this means] when two or three spies enter the Land?  [Therefore], the Torah says, When you come (בבאכם, as opposed to the usual כי תבאו – Rashi) – I [God] said [that you must fulfill this mitzvah] when you all come [into the Land], not when a minority of you come.  And when Ezra went up [to the Land], not everyone went up [with him] (“Most of them remained in Babylonia” – Rashi).  (Ketuvot 25a)


This teaches that challah is [only] rabbinically ordained nowadays.  That is, in Eretz Yisrael; for in Chutz LaAretz there is no obligation to separate challah at all.  The only reason [we do it there] is to ensure that the concept of challah not be forgotten, as the Talmud explains in Bechorot 27b.  (Torah Temimah)


Ø Parashat Shelach ends with three seemingly unconnected sections: 1) the sin offering brought by one who commits idolatry unintentionally, 2) the story of the mekosheish (the stick gatherer) who violated the Sabbath in the desert, and 3) the mitzvah of tzitzit (fringes).  Rashi (15:41) quotes R. Moshe HaDarshan’s explanation as to why theses three sections are adjoined:

Why is the story of the mekosheish juxtaposed to the section dealing with idolatry?  It is to teach that one who violates the Sabbath is like one who worships foreign gods, for it, too, is equal to all the mitzvot [of the Torah].  Accordingly, it says in the Book of Ezra,  – You descended upon Mount Sinai… and gave [Your nation]… Torah… and mitzvot… and You made known to them Your holy Sabbath (Nechemyah 9:13-14).  The section dealing with tzitzit is also juxtaposed to these [two], because it, too, is equal to all the mitzvot, as it says, [So that you shall remember] and perform all My commandments (15:40).

Allow me to take this one step further.  In my humble opinion, the entire parashah (not just the last three sections) is interlinked by this idea.  What did the first half of the parashah discuss?  The Sin of the Spies, the libations, and challah.  Now, just as idolatry, the Sabbath, and tzitzit are equal to all the mitzvot of the Torah, so is dwelling in the Land of Israel, the mitzvah that the spies convinced the Jews to reject!  We already demonstrated above that the section discussing the libations is placed immediately after the Sin of the Spies because it starts with the words When you shall come to the Land of your habitations (15:2).  HaShem wanted to reassure us that despite our sins, we would eventually enter the Promised Land.  Similarly, I believe that this also explains why the mitzvah of challah is located where it is, for it, too, begins with the words When you come to the Land into which I bring you.[2]

Thus, one could say that Parashat Shelach is one of the most important parshiot in the Torah.  After all, which other parashah revolves around so many mitzvot that are equal to all the rest? [3]

[1] This source is a very important one to consider when studying the issue of the Three Oaths mentioned in Tractate Ketuvot (111a).

[2] After writing this, I found a Midrash that explains this issue differently.  According to the Midrash, the Torah placed the section of challah here in order to juxtapose it to the prohibition of idolatry, not the episode of the spies, as I posited above:  “Why was the section dealing with challah placed near the section dealing with idolatry?  It is to teach you that whoever fulfills the mitzvah of challah is like one who abrogates idolatry, and whoever neglects the mitzvah of challah is like one who affirms idolatry” (VaYikra Rabbah 15:6; see the commentators there for an explanation of this statement).

[3] There are only seven such mitzvot: the four mentioned above, Torah study, brit millah (ritual circumcision), and charity and kindness.