Following are some of the ideas, insights and interpretations that emerge from our weekly Chumash learning group at the Young Israel of Oceanside, Long Island. We cite sources when possible. Some of our interpretations may derive from ideas we may have seen elsewhere, possibly without attribution. Or we may simply have forgotten the source. For this we apologize. We invite your comments, observations and participation.
On Yehoshua’s name
“…and Moshe called Hoshaya Ben Nun, Yehoshua.”
Some commentators maintain that the name change had been made earlier. Jonathan Elkoubi thinks that Moshe Rabbenu purposely changed the name here because Yehoshua was not among the prominent, wealthy Princes selected. By adding to his name with a letter that represents Hashem, Moshe enabled Yehoshua to be equal in stature with the others.
On the sin of the Spies…
(…Commonly referred to as Meraglim, though that name never appears in the text).
R’ Isaac Arama, the fifteen century author of Akedat Yitzchak (cited by Nechama Leibowitz in her Studies) observes that instead of acting as neutral observers and just reporting the facts, they offered their (unsolicited) opinions.
Similarly, Rabbi Menachem Leibtag’s view is that the group was on a National Fact Finding mission to report back the facts regarding 1) the suitability of the Land as a Homeland and 2) the feasibility of conquering the Land. Instead, the majority, after first reporting some facts, launch into a harsh tirade about the impossibility of conquering the land because the people are fierce…the cities are fortified… the residents are giants …the land consumes its inhabitants…
The text says it all
After reporting how the land “flows with milk and honey”, ten of the Spies add “EFES”-- a word meaning nevertheless, but, zero effectively negating everything the speaker just said. They then launch into a series of reasons why the Land could not be conquered. They opine that “chazak hu memenu” meaning “they (the inhabitants of the land) are stronger than us” but also translatable as “they are stronger than Him”. This Midrash cited by Rashi points to the Spies’ true agenda: to rouse the people against God by insisting that the nations of the Land are stronger than Him!
What links the story of the Spies at the beginning of the Parsha to the Commandment of Tziztis at the end?
From Martin Buber and other commentaries we learn that proximity of topics has significance (Smechus Parshios) and repetition of certain words/phrases helps us identify the underlying theme. In the Spies saga the Hebrew root-word “tur”-- meaning travel, scout, explore, go after, follow -- appears often. And understandably so, since the Spies story concerns itself with travels.
At the end of the Parsha we read “v’lo sasuru achari levavchem vacharey eeyneychem”. Tzitzis can help us to “not follow our own hearts and our own eyes after which we may go astray”. The word sasuru links to the root-word sur at the beginning of the Parsha.
The Spies allowed their eyes to misperceive and their hearts to misconceive. Perhaps by wearing Tzitzis and making a conscious effort to look at it (ur’esem oso) and thinking about its meaning and source (uz’charted) we will be able to avoid a repetition of the Spies’ wandering eyes and hearts.