Consolation after the Sin of the Spies

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Student Summaries of Sichot of the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion

Parashat shelach




Consolation after the Sin of the Spies

Summarized by Shaul Barth

Translated by Kaeren Fish



The lion's share of our parasha is devoted to the sin of the spies and its effects and ramifications.  However, near the end of the parasha we find a series of halakhic units, including the details of the libation offerings, the separation of challa, and the sin offerings brought in the case of unwitting idolatry. Ramban explains why these units appear specifically here, following the sin of the spies:


Having promised that the younger generation would come to the land, [God] conveyed to them the rest of the sacrificial laws, namely, that they should offer libation offerings when they come to the land. Perhaps this was [conveyed to them] at this point to comfort them and to reassure them, for they were despairing, saying: "Who knows what will happen in all that time, until forty years are over? What if the younger generation, too, will sin?" Therefore God saw fit to comfort them, for by commanding them as to the commandments that apply in the land [of Israel], He was reassuring them that it was revealed to Him that they would come and possess the land. (15:2)


Ramban explains that Moshe chose to convey these parashot to Bnei Yisrael specifically at this time, in order to comfort and encourage them. Moshe taught them some of the commandments related to the land, in order to reassure them: You will indeed die in the desert, but your children will enter the land and will merit to offer libation offerings and to separate challa. There is some light at the end of the tunnel; there is a future towards which you can hope and aspire.


At first glance, this would appear to provide only partial comfort. There is no real reassurance here for the older generation; all that is promised to them is that the younger generation will enjoy a better fate. In general, we are concerned not only with the future, but also with the present. It is not sufficient for a religious person to think about the special existence that awaits him in the World to Come; he must also ask himself every day to what measure he has succeeded that day in coming closer to God. A person must aspire to constant progress in his Divine service; he should not nonchalantly rely on the fact that, ultimately, his spiritual achievements will be deemed worthy of reward.


What, then, of Moshe's words of encouragement, which seem to pertain only to the future? Do they perhaps also contain some measure of comfort and consolation to the generation that is doomed to die in the desert?


Every time I reach parashat Shelach, I am struck anew by Moshe's words. Just a moment ago, Moshe announced to Bnei Yisrael that they will die out in the desert – and already he presents them with commandments that are meant to be fulfilled only in the land, as though there is no significance at all to the question of whether his audience will ever actually perform these commandments. Simply learning and internalizing Torah imbues a person with special power – even if the subject of his study is not something that he is ever going to be able to fulfill. The Torah is God's word; it consoles man and brings him relief, whether he is able to perform it or not.


The Gemara (Avoda Zara 17a) discusses the special severity of the sin of minut, heresy. It then goes on to assert that if one is excessively devoted to a particular sin, it is like minut. Mori ve-rabbi Harav Yitzchak Hutner zt”l explained that the very fact that a person thinks that he cannot live without a certain experience, and that that is what gives him the power to go on – that itself is heresy. A person is entitled to engage in all kinds of things, and to enjoy his involvement in them, but under no circumstances may he allow himself to cleave to them and to think that it is they that allow him to live. A person must cleave only to God. Only God should be a person's support and comfort when all appears lost: "Were it not for the Torah in which I delighted, I would have died in my affliction" (Tehillim 119:92).


The parashot that appear after the sin of the spies, then, present a dual comfort.  First, there is the promise that the younger generation will enter the land. Second, the very fact that Bnei Yisrael are now engaged in these halakhic issues is itself a consolation and source of encouragement – even if the current generation will never merit to fulfill them.  Though the current generation would not enter the land, their engagement in Torah was itself ennobling and purifying.



[This sicha was delivered at seuda shelishit, Shabbat parashat Shelach 5763 (2003).]