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The Spies of our Generation Print E-mail
Wednesday, 26 June 2024

According to their website, Jewish Voice for Peace is the largest progressive Jewish anti-Zionist organization in the world. They explain: “We organize our people and we resist Zionism because we love Jews, Jewishness and Judaism. Our struggle against Zionism is not only an act of solidarity with the Palestinians, but also a concrete commitment to creating a Jewish future we all deserve. We are fighting for a thriving Judaism and Jewish communities, for a municipality of Jewish cultures and for the future of the Jewish people.”

The viewpoint of Jewish Voice for Peace which may seem shocking is actually nothing new and goes back to the ten spies who were afraid to go to Israel and convinced the rest of the nation that Israel isn’t worth their while. Because of their actions, those spies died and B’nai Yisrael spent forty years in the wilderness while that entire generation died out.

We read in Bamidbar 14:37: “Those men died- who spread evil slander against the land- in a plague, before God.”

Why is it so bad that they spread evil slander about the land? Does the Land of Israel get insulted?

According to Rav David Stav, we learn from the Torah a basic way in which we are supposed to behave. We can argue and disagree, but we shouldn’t speak evil about the land. We will all be hurt if the Land of Israel has negative vibes associated with it.

Rav Stav explains:

Throughout history there have been groups of Jewish people who rejected Israel and tried to disassociate themselves from the land. There have been different excuses and the result was that they remained in exile.

Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi called this phenomenon “cherpa,” disgrace, as it says in Sefer HaKuzari “You found the place of my disgrace.”

In Tehillim 106:24 which summarizes the history of B’nai Yisrael in the wilderness, there is an allusion to the spies: “They despised the desirable land, they didn’t believe His word.”

At the end of the day, those who relate to the Land of Israel will be able to go there and connect with the Jewish nation, while those who despise the Land will remain outside in the wilderness.

Rav Stav concludes:

The Zionist movement is a continuation of the process that the heads of the nation like the Vilna Gaon and his students already put into motion. They wanted to attach themselves to the Land of Israel. The Zionist movement is the “tikun,” correction for the sin of the spies. Those who love the land, even if they have differences amongst themselves, will always remember that it is a “land flowing with milk and honey.” If we remember who gave it to us as a gift and refrain from despising the desirable land then we will reach the level of Kalev ben Yefuneh, one of the two good spies, who said (Bamidbar 13:30) “We can surely go up to the Land and we shall possess it.”

The entire Jewish religion is centered around Israel. Just open a Tanach (Bible) or siddur (prayer book) and you can’t escape it. Most of the Tanach takes places in Israel or revolves around the yearning of the Jewish people to return there. Our holidays are set up according to Israel’s agricultural calendar as are our prayers for rain. Three times a day we pray asking to return to Zion and for the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash (Temple).

While not every Jew can make aliya at this time or even visit due to all different types of circumstances, that doesn’t mean that they don’t love the land or that they aren’t yearning to return.

May all Jews who love Israel have the opportunity to come back home!

The Multifaceted Mitzvah of Challah Print E-mail
Monday, 05 June 2023

Sponsored by Lynn and David Frankel

In Memory of Lynn’s parents, Martin and Lenore Katz

Near the end of Parshat Shlach (Bamidbar 15:17-21) we read:

God said to Moshe, saying, “Speak to B’nai Yisrael and say to them: When you come to the Land to which I bring you it shall be that when you will eat the bread of the Land, you shall set aside a truma (portion) for God. From the first portion of your doughs you shall set aside challah (a loaf) as truma, like the truma gift of the threshing-floor, so shall you set it aside. From the first of your doughs shall you give to God a truma-offering, throughout your generations.”

For every batch of dough made out of one of the five types of grains (wheat, barley, rye, spelt, oats) a small piece of dough (challah) must be given to the Kohen, in the same way that they must receive a part of the produce of the field. Without separating the challah, the bread may not be eaten.

The minimum amount of dough from which challah must be taken is equivalent to the daily volume of the manna (the volume of 43.2 eggs) that B’nai Yisrael received in the desert.

Why are we taught about the mitzvah of taking challah right after the sin of the scouts?

According to Sforno, after the sin of the scouts, the mitzvah of challah became a necessity in order for the homes of the Israelites to enjoy God’s blessings. Yechezkel 44:30 states: “You are to give from the kneading bowl to the Kohen so that a blessing will rest on your house.” We also saw this with Eliyahu HaNavi (Melachim I 17:13-14) when he assisted the impoverished widow and commanded her to give him a small cake of the little flour that she had left. God said that in such a case the jar of flour in her house would not become empty during the remainder of the famine.

Our Shabbat bread is named after the challa that was separated out for the Kohen.

The Rama comments on the Shulcha Aruch, Orach Chayim 242:1:

We customarily knead a quantity of dough that is sufficient to become obligated in the mitzvah of challah, in the home. With this dough we bake breads that we will then break on Shabbat and holidays and one must not deviate from this custom.

Today, we don’t give the separated piece of dough to the Kohen. Rather, we either burn it or throw it in the garbage (wrapped in plastic). The amount of flour needed to make the dough in order to take challah and recite a bracha is more than 7 cups. If you are only using 5-7 cups of flour then you take challah without reciting  a bracha.

Although taking challah is considered one of the three women’s mitzvot (along with family purity and lighting Shabbat candles) and a time when women specifically pray for whatever they need, if a man is baking bread then he is obligated to observe the mitzvah as well.

What is interesting about the mitzvah of challah is that it is one of the Mitzvot HaTluyot Ba’Aretz, a mitzvah that Biblically is specifically only observed in the Land of Israel yet it was taken on as a rabbinic mitzvah by those living abroad so that people in the Diaspora would not forget how to observe the mitzvah. Today, challah is considered a rabbinic mitzvah in Israel as we see in the Talmud, Ketubot 25a since all of the Jews in the world are not yet living in the Land of Israel. When the demographics change, it will become a Biblical mitzvah in Israel once again.

The Ten Tests Print E-mail
Monday, 13 June 2022

In Parshat Shlach, Bamidbar 14:22-23, God declares:

Surely, all those men who have seen My glory, My miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have tested Me now these ten times and have not listened to My voice: surely, they shall not see the Land that I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who provoked Me see it…

We learn in Pirkei Avot 5:4:

With ten trials our ancestors tested the Holy One, Blessed is He in the wilderness, as it said, “They have tested Me now these ten times and have not listened to My voice.”

What were the ten tests?

The Talmud, Arachin 15a provides us with a list:

Two at the Sea of Reeds, two concerning water, two concerning the manna, two concerning the quail, one concerning the Golden Calf and one in the Paran desert (the incident of the spies).

The Gemara then gives us details about each of the incidents:

The two tests at the Sea of Reeds refer to when Bnai Yisrael descended into the sea and ascended out of the sea. Even when God was miraculously saving them, B’nai Yisrael were worried that He was also miraculously saving the Egyptians. They were afraid that instead of the Egyptians drowning, they would also appear on dry land. Therefore, God told the ministering angel of the sea to spit them out so that B’nai Yisrael would see their bodies. As we read in Az Yashir (Shmot 14:30) “And Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore…”

The two concerning the water were in Marah and Refidim. In Marah (Shmot 15:24) “The people complained against Moshe.” In Refidim (Shmot 17:2) “The people contended with Moshe.”

The first trial concerning the manna was that B’nai Yisrael were not supposed to go out on Shabbat to collect it, nevertheless, some people did go out to gather it (Shmot 16:27). The second test with the manna was that on the weekdays, they were not supposed to save any for the next day, yet some did leave it over (Shmot 16:20).

B’nai Yisrael tested God in two incidents with the quail: In the first incident they complained (Shmot 16:3) “If only we had died by the hand of God in Egypt, as we sat by the pot of meat, when we ate bread to satiety, for you have taken us out to this wilderness to kill this entire congregation by famine.” In the second quail episode we read (Bamidbar 11:4) “The rabble that was among them cultivated a craving and B’nai Yisrael wept once more, and said, ‘Who will feed us meat?’”

The Golden Calf (Shmot, Chapter 32) was certainly a provocation which is ninth on the list and the Sin of the Spies in the Paran desert (described in our Parsha, Parshat Shlach, Bamidbar, Chapters 13-14 as well as in Dvarim, Chapter 1) is tenth.

Maharsha points out that unfortunately these ten incidents are not the only times that B’nai Yisrael tried God’s patience. This is just the list of tests that took place up until the Sin of the Spies. It is also interesting to note that Avot D’Rebbi Natan (34:1) and the Rambam each have different lists.

The list in Arachin is not a comprehensive list of all of the trouble that B’nai Yisrael caused in the wilderness. However, by using the number ten, the rabbis are showing us the significance of their behavior.

On the flip side, we also see in Chapter 5 of Pirkei Avot that Avraham was tested ten times and he withstood them all- to show the degree of our forefather Avraham’s love for God.

With Avraham as well, the various commentaries keep different lists of his ten tests. However, the lesson is clear: Be like Avraham who successfully passed God’s tests and not like B’nai Yisrael who were constantly out to test God and cause trouble.

Israel: a home or a vacation destination? Print E-mail
Friday, 04 June 2021

In Parshat Shlach, before the scouts went to check out the Land, Moshe gave them some questions to keep in mind (Bamidbar 13:17-19):

...Go up there into the Negev and on into the hill country, and see what country it is. Are the people who dwell in it strong or weak, few or many? Is the country in which they dwell good or bad? Are the towns they live in open or fortified? Is the soil rich or poor? Are there trees in it or not?

And then Moshe told them what souvenirs to bring back (verse 20):

You shall strengthen yourselves and take from the fruit of the Land. This was during the season of the first ripe grapes.

In Bamidbar 13:23, we see which fruits they brought back:

They reached Nachal Eshkol and there they cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes- it has to be borne on a carrying frame by two of them- and some pomegranates and figs.

They may have also brought dates as they said (verse 27):

We arrived at the land to which you sent us and indeed it flows with milk and honey and this is its fruit.

Honey in the Torah usually refers to date honey.

Out of the seven species of the Land of Israel, the only ones that they did not mention or bring back were wheat, barley or olives.

Rabbi Moshe Lichtman in his book, Ertez Yisrael in the Parashah, quotes Rabbi Zev Leff:

The scouts 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…but it is not a practical, viable place to live.”

In order to keep Covid out of Israel, most non-residents have not been able to enter the country. This is the first time since the establishment of the State of Israel that tourists couldn’t just pop in for a quick vacation. Even those who have a “valid” reason for entering such as visiting close relatives or attending a wedding, bar/bat mitzvah or birth of a grandchild are faced with endless paperwork and there is no guarantee that their visit will be approved.

When this is all over, I wonder if aliya will be on the rise or if things will go back to how they were before.

Beware of what happens behind closed doors Print E-mail
Thursday, 11 June 2020

Sponsored by Steven Toberman and Bonnie and Mickey Kamel to commemorate the 28th yahrzeit of

Earl Melvin Toberman z"l יחיאל מרדכי בן אביגדור הלוי וגיטל

 After the scouts returned from their trip to the Land of Israel, they gave their report to Moshe, Aharon and B’nai Yisrael. They started with the positive, both in Bamidbar 13:27: “We arrived at the Land to which you sent us, and indeed it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit” and in Dvarim 1:25: “Good is the Land that HaShem, our God, gives us!’”

The scouts continued with a factual report about the cities and nations who lived there (Bamidbar 13:28-29):

However, the nation is mighty, those who inhabit the Land, and the cities are greatly fortified to the utmost, and we also saw the offspring of the giant over there. Amalek lives in the southern part of the land, the Chiti, Yevusi and Emori dwell in the mountain and the Cnaani dwell by the sea and next to the Yarden.

According to Ramban (Dvarim 1:25), after Calev encouraged B’nai Yisrael that they surely could inherit the Land, the scouts chose to continue the conversation later and slander the Land when they were not in the presence of Moshe or Aharon.

We read in Bamidbar 14:1-4:

The entire community arose and raised their voices; and the people wept that night. They murmured against Moshe and Aharon- all of B’nai Yisrael- and the entire congregation said to them: “Would we have died in the land of Egypt or in the desert, would we have died. Why does God bring us into this land to fall by the sword: our wives and infants would be as spoils; is it not better for us to return to Egypt?” They said to each other: “Let us appoint a head and we will return to Egypt.”

What went on that night to cause B’nai Yisrael to become so antagonistic?

Ramban (Bamidbar 14:1) points out that the scouts went into the people’s tents towards evening, after they left Moshe, and in the morning, the people rose early and they all murmured against Moshe and Aharon. And likewise Moshe said (Dvarim 1:27) “You slandered in your tents and said, ‘Because of God’s hatred for us did He take us out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorite to destroy us.’” For it was in their tents that they spoke the words of a complainer as it says in Mishlei 18:8: “The words of a talebearer are like blows and they descend to the innermost parts of the body.”

Ramban explains further (Bamidbar 14:3) that the spies only gave the evil report privately in their tents, they did not say it publicly to the entire congregation since Moshe and Aharon would have testified against them that they spoke falsely.

Ramban believes that the verses in Bamidbar 13:31-33 were said behind closed doors, while Moshe and Aharon were not present: “We are not able to go up against the nation, for they are more powerful than we…The Land through which we have passed to scout it, is a Land which consumes its inhabitants…There we saw the giants…”

Somehow, overnight, when Moshe and Aharon were not around, the scouts convinced B’nai Yisrael that God was bringing them into the Land where they would fall by the sword and that their wives and infants would be as spoils, therefore it would be better to return to Egypt.

Despite everything that God had done for B’nai Yisrael so far- saving them from the Egyptians, feeding and taking care of them in the desert, promising that He would fight for them and take care of them in the Land of Israel, they were still willing to accept a negatively skewed report that was told to them privately.

We can learn from here that we need to beware of what happens behind closed doors and take rumors with a grain of salt if they were started quietly by people who are too embarrassed to be upfront and out in the open.

God will protect us Print E-mail
Friday, 21 June 2019

Dedicated to the Memory of Louis Levine z”l, Baruch Aryeh ben Avraham Halevi, on his Thirteenth Yahrzeit, 19th of Sivan

At the burning bush (Shmot 3:8) God promised Moshe that He would save B’nai Yisrael and bring them into the Land of C’naan:

“I will come down to deliver them out of the hands of Egypt and bring them up out of that land to a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey; to the place of the C’naani and the Chiti and the Emori and the Prizi and the Chivi and the Yevusi.”

Before B’nai Yisrael went to inherit the land, they wanted to send spies to check it out. Ahead of the scouts going in, Moshe asked them the following questions (Bamidbar 13:18-20):

“See what the land is; and the people living on it; are they strong or weak, if they are few or many; and how is the land in which they live, is it good, or bad? And how are the cities in which you reside; are they open or are they fortified? How is the land (soil) is it fat (rich) or lean (poor), does it have trees or not?

When the spies returned, they answered (Bamidbar 13:27-29) “We came into the land into which you sent us, and it indeed flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the nation is mighty (those who inhabit the land) and the cities are greatly fortified to the utmost, and we also saw the offspring of the giant there. Amalek dwells in the Negev (southern part of the land) and the Chiti, Yevusi and Emori dwell in the mountain and the C’naani dwell by the sea and next to the Yarden.”

Due to the report of the spies, B’nai Yisrael were destined to wander in the desert for forty years and only the next generation would be permitted to enter the land.

After forty years in the desert, when B’nai Yisrael were finally ready to enter the land, Moshe was very open about who was living in the land (Dvarim 9:1-2):

“Listen, Israel! You are crossing the Yarden to come inherit nations greater and more powerful than you; cities great and fortified to the sky. A great and powerful people, descendents of the Anakim (giants) about whom you know and heard, ‘Who can stand up to the descendents of Anak?’”

Why did the spies get in trouble the first time around for saying the same thing that Moshe ended up saying the second time around?

The reason that the spies got into trouble is found in Bamidbar 13:31-33:

“‘We are not able to go up against the nation, for they are more powerful than we.’ They spread slander about the land that they had scouted, to B’nai Yisrael, saying: ‘The land which we have passed to scout it, is a land which consumes its inhabitants; and every one of the people we saw in it, are men of dimensions. There we saw the giants, the sons of the giant, of the Nephilim, and we were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we appeared in their eyes.’”

The downfall of the spies (aside from Yehoshua and Calev) is that they did not have enough faith in God to believe that He would save them from their enemies.

In Dvarim 9:3, Moshe made it very clear that despite the strong people who were already living there, God will protect B’nai Yisrael and help them fight their wars:

“You may know today that HaShem, your God, is the One crossing before you, a consuming fire, He will destroy them and He will subdue them before you; you will expel them and destroy them quickly, as God promised you.”  

Ramban points out that God’s promise came true in the Book of Yehoshua (10:14) where it says: “…for God did battle for Israel.” In addition, God conquered the fortified city of Yericho (Yehoshua 6:20) “The people cried out and (the Kohanim) blew with the shofars. And when the people heard the sound of the shofar that the people cried out with a great shout: The wall fell in its place and the people went up to the city- each man straight ahead- and they conquered the city.” As well, in Yehoshua 11:21 we read “At that time, Yehoshua came and cut down the Anakim (giants) from the mountain, from Hevron, from Dvir, from Anav and from the Mountains of Yehuda and from all of Mount Yisrael; Yehoshua destroyed them with their cities.”

Yehoshua, who had faith in God, was able to go into battle and miraculously fight the strong enemies.

The same is true today. Israel still has many issues including enemies on all sides but we see miracles every day where God together with a strong IDF helps us fight our battles. We must continue to have confidence in God the way that Moshe, Calev and Yehoshua did and not give up like the other ten spies.

The anniversary of the scouts’ journey begins on Tuesday Print E-mail
Friday, 08 June 2018

In Parhsat Shlach, Bamidbar 13:25 we read: “They (the scouts) returned from searching the land, at the end of forty days.”

Rashi asks:

But is not the land 400x400 parsaot (a parsa is about 2.2 miles) and the average person’s traveling distance is ten parsaot a day and there was a traveling distance of 40 days from east to west, and they traversed its length and breadth (Then the total, including the return trip should have been several times forty days). However since God knew that he would sentence them with a year in the desert for every day that they searched the land (as it says in Bamidbar 14:34 “According to the number of days which you scouted the land; forty days, a day for a year you will bear the burden of your iniquity forty years, and you will know My displeasure”) he shortened the way before them.

Chizkuni points out that the scouts began their journey on the 29th of Sivan (on this year’s calendar that will be this coming Tuesday) and they returned on the 8th of Av (Erev Tisha B’Av).

The Talmud, Taanit 29a explains that if you add up the days, it seems that their tour only lasted 39 days, not 40 (Rashi calculates: Sivan 29+30=2 days, Tamuz 1-29=29 days, Av 1-8=8 days, total: 39 days).

The Talmud answers, Abaye said: Although Tamuz usually has 29 days, in that particular year, the Beit Din (court) made Tamuz a full month of 30 days (with two days of Rosh Chodesh), as it says in Eicha 1:15 “He proclaimed a set time against me to crush my young men.”

Rashi comments (on Ein Yaakov) that when calculated this way, the return of the scouts fell out on the 8th of Av and the people’s faithless weeping (in Bamidbar 14:1, “The entire community arose and raised their voices; and the people wept that night”) fell out on the eve of the 9th of Av (Erev Tisha B’Av) so that Tisha B’Av would be a time predisposed to misfortune and the Jewish people would be crushed on that day in the massacres that accompanied the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash.

The Talmud continues, Raba said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan, The day that the scouts returned was Erev Tisha B’Av. God said to them: You wept without cause; therefore, I shall establish you a weeping for generations on this day.

There was no reason to weep as God had already promised them Land of Israel. They should have disregarded the discouraging report of the scouts and had faith that God would keep His promise.

We see from here that the decree that the generation of the wilderness would not enter the Land of Israel was issued on Tisha B’Av.

As we enter the week when the scouts began their journey, let’s take some time to appreciate everything that the land has to offer by travelling in Israel or enjoying its beautiful produce. For those who will not be in Israel, this is a great opportunity to purchase products from the Israel and tell the supporters of BDS what Yehoshua and Calev said (Bamidbar 14:7): “The land which we have passed to scout it; that land is very, very good.”

Overcoming the giants Print E-mail
Tuesday, 20 June 2017

In Honor of Dov Halickman’s High School Graduation

In Parshat Shlach, Bamidbar 13:21-22, we read the story of the scouts and the places and people that they encountered when they arrived in the Land of Israel: “They went up and they scouted the land from the desert of Tzin until Rechov at the entrance of Chamat. They went up into the southern part of the land and came to Chevron; and there were Achiman, Sheshai and Talmai, the offspring of HaAnak (the giant).”

The ten scouts who returned with pessimistic news reported in Bamidbar 13:28: “…and we also saw the offspring of HaAnak.”

Ramban explains that HaAnak, the giant was named Arba and he was the father of Achiman, Sheshai and Talmai. He was called Arba (four) because there were altogether four giants (the father and his three sons).

The tens scouts who brought the pessimistic report along with their whole generation were barred from entering the Land of Israel. Only Yehoshua and Calev, who gave an optimistic report, were allowed to enter the land and conquer it.

Right before B’nei Yisrael arrived in the Land of Israel, they were told (Devarim 9:1-3):  “Listen Yisrael, You are today crossing the Jordan to come inherit nations greater and more powerful than you; cities great and fortified to the sky. A great and powerful people, descendents of the Anakim  about whom you have heard, ‘who can stand up to the descendent of Anak?’ You know today that your God is the One crossing before you, a consuming fire, He will destroy them and He will subdue them before you; you will expel them and destroy them quickly as God promised for you.”

All of the facts were put on the table: the offspring of the giant are there but God will help you fight them.

Moshe’s prophecy does in fact come true. The Book of Yehoshua 10:36-37 describes Yehoshua’s victory over the city of Chevron: “Yehoshua and all of Israel went up from Eglon to Chevron and waged war against it. They conquered it and struck it by the edge of the sword- its king and its villages and every soul that was in it; he did not leave a remnant, like all that he had done to Eglon. He destroyed it and every soul that was in it.”

In Yehoshua 14:15, the story continues: “The name of Chevron was formerly Kiryat Arba, who was the biggest man among the Anakim (giants). Then the land had rest from war.”

In Yehoshua 15:13-14 we learn about Calev’s inheritance: “To Calev the son of Yefuneh he gave a portion among the children of Yehuda in accordance with God’s word to Yehoshua- Kiryat Arba, the father of the giants, which is Chevron. Calev drove out the three sons of HaAnak from there- Sheshai, Achiman and Talmai, the offspring of HaAnak.

The Land of Israel has many enemies- yet with God on our side we can and will overcome all obstacles. 

Yom Ha’Aliya (Immigration Day) Print E-mail
Thursday, 23 June 2016

In Parshat Shlach we read Calev ben Yefuneh’s answer to the spies who did not want to enter the Land of Israel: “Aloh Naaleh”, “We can surely go up and inherit the land of Israel.” How fitting that the Knesset passed a law this week that Yom Ha’Aliya (Immigration Day) will be instituted as a national holiday in Israel on the 7th of Cheshvan.


The idea of Yom Ha’Aliya is not new. In fact, back in 2004 (the year that I made aliya) there was a discussion in the Knesset of celebrating Yom Ha’Aliya on the proposed date of the 21st of Tevet, Eliezer ben Yehuda’s birthday since he was the one who revived the Hebrew language. They felt that his birthday would be the best day to celebrate since Modern Hebrew is the tie that connects all of the immigrants to the State of Israel and gives them a common language.


Somewhere along the way the topic was dropped and a few years ago Jay Shultz, an immigrant from England and his group Tel Aviv Internationals began to celebrate Yom Ha’Aliya on the 10th of Nisan, the date that B’nai Yisrael crossed the Jordan River 3500 years ago when the entire nation made aliya and entered the land with Yehoshua bin Nun.


MK Miki Zohar brought up the bill in the Knesset and many other Knesset Members joined in support including Michael Oren and Hilik Bar. In April 2016, it was decided that the holiday would take place on the 10th of Nisan. However, the date was rejected this week since the 10th of Nisan falls out a few days before Pesach when the students are on vacation and would not be celebrated properly if the students would not be in school.


The final date that was decided on is the 7th of Cheshvan which corresponds to Parshat Lech Lecha where we read about Avraham and Sarah’s aliya to the Land of Israel.


Absorption Minister Sofa Lander who immigrated from the Former Soviet Union in 1979 said that the holiday will be celebrated in the Knesset, in the school system and in the larger community. She hopes that Israeli society will gain a new respect for immigrants when they hear the history of their aliya. She also hopes it will be a day that is celebrated in the Diaspora to encourage aliya.


In contrast to the spies (aside from Yehoshua and Calev) who did not have respect for aliya and who encouraged the nation not to immigrate, in a rare moment, the Knesset members from the different parties were in agreement when it came to the importance of aliya and a holiday to promote it.

This is not the time to abandon Israel Print E-mail
Friday, 12 June 2015

Sponsored by Sharona, Josh, Dov, Moshe and Yehuda Halickman

 in Honor of Chaim Snow’s Birthday


In Parshat Shlach, while twelve men were sent to scout out the Land of Israel, only two found it suitable to live there.


What problem did the ten other scouts find with the land?


While scouting out the land, the scouts encountered a lot of challenges. In Bamidbar 13:30 only Kalev and Yehoshua said that they were up for the challenge, that they were ready to go up: “We can surely go up to the land and we shall possess it for we are surely able to overcome it.”


Living in Israel today also comes with a lot of challenges. Some of the latest issues are from within the chief rabbinate.


While in New York last week I saw a letter in the Jewish Week entitled “Losing Faith in Israel” where the author complained that Israel is not pluralistic enough and he doesn’t know how much longer he will continue to defend her. By making comments like that the author of the letter is behaving like one of the ten scouts.


Those who care about Israel will not abandon her and refuse to visit. Those who care will make a commitment to help resolve some of the problems. They will make an effort to move to Israel and make changes from within like Rabbi Riskin who brought Modern Orthodoxy to Israel or they will stand behind and support those who are courageous enough to work on making a difference.


Only a small portion of Israelis call themselves Modern Orthodox. The only way to get the demographics to change is for more Modern Orthodox teachers and rabbis to make aliya.


We need to stand up for Israel and try to make changes from within as Yehoshua and Kalev did when they merited to enter the Land of Israel rather than abandon her as the other ten scouts did.


The reason that almost the entire generation of the scouts died in the desert was because they followed the ten scouts and agreed with them that they did not want to enter the land.


The more Jews that come to Israel with strong American values, the more of an impact we can have.


This in not the time to abandon Israel, this is the time to stand behind her and work on making changes from within.


Scouts vs. Advisors Print E-mail
Thursday, 12 June 2014

Dedicated to the Memory of Louis Levine z"l, Baruch Aryeh ben Avraham Halevi,

on his Eighth Yahrzeit, 19th of Sivan


When Moshe sends the spies to scout out the Land of Israel, he gives them a list of things to look for (Bamidbar 13: 18-20):


And see the land what it is; and the people that live there, whether they be strong or weak, few or many.

What the land is that they dwell in, whether it be good or bad;

And what cities they dwell in, whether in tents or strongholds;

And what the land is, whether it be fat or lean, whether it be wooded or not.


When the spies return they answer the questions that they were asked forty days earlier by stating the facts of exactly what they saw (Bamidbar 13:27-28):


We came to the Land that you sent us to and it does flow with milk and honey and this is the fruit of it (they carried some samples of the fruits back with them). Nevertheless, the people are fierce that dwell in the land and the cities are very strongly fortified; also, we saw the children of Anak (giants) there. Amalekites live in the south and the Chiti, Yevusi and Emori dwell in the mountain and the Cnaani dwell by the sea and next to the Yarden.


In Devarim 1:29-32 we see that after the spies gave their account of what they saw in the Land, Moshe said to B’nai Yisrael: “Do not crumble and do not fear them. Hashem your God who goes before you, He will wage war for you as in everything that He did with you in Egypt before your eyes and in the wilderness as you have seen where God carried you as a man carries his son all along the road you went until you arrived at this place. Yet in this matter, you do not trust God.”


According to Chizkuni, as Calev saw that the nation was starting to get worried by the facts that the spies presented, he silenced the nation.


Calev tried to use words of encouragement by saying “we can surely go up to the Land.”


However the other spies that had been with him said “we are not able to go up because they are much stronger than us (or they are stronger than God)”.


According to Nehama Leibowitz at this point the spies don’t just state facts, they actually give their own opinions as well and take on the role of advisor (13:32-33): “The Land through which we have passed to scout it is a land which consumes its inhabitants; and every one of the people we saw in it are men of great stature. There we saw the giants, the sons of the giant, of the Nephilim and we were like grasshoppers in our eyes and so we appeared in their eyes.”


Rabbi Yitzchak Arama (The Akedat Yitzchak) brings a parable:


A man asks an agent to go to a warehouse and look at a tallit that the merchant has in stock. He is instructed to examine it carefully for the quality of the wool and linen, for size, appearance and price. If the agent comes back and says that it is too expensive then he has not fulfilled his mission. The man only asked for the facts, he didn’t ask for advice.


What right did the spies have to say that the people in the Land were stronger than God? How could they possibly even know that? Why were they so sure that they appeared as grasshoppers in the eyes of the inhabitants?


We see from here that there is no problem with finding and presenting facts. The problem is embellishing the facts and giving unsolicited advice.


In 1969, Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet, a brilliant Rabbi from the NY area and his family decided to make Aliya. When Rabbi Rakeffet went to meet with an Aliyah Shaliach, they tried to discourage him, they told him that there are no jobs and that he would probably end up having to sweep the streets. Despite their advice, he made Aliayh anyway and ended up with the prestigious job of working as a staff writer for Encyclopedia Judaica. He also taught is Yeshivot and Midrashot for Overseas students. It would have been a great loss to Israeli society if Rabbi Rakeffet had taken the advice of the Aliyah Shaliach.


Thankfully, today, when a person decides to make Aliyah and move to Israel, they will find a warm and inviting message on the Nefesh B’Nefesh website:


Mazal Tov on your decision to make Aliyah! We wish you much success as you begin this new adventure, and we are thrilled that Nefesh B'Nefesh is able to help you fulfill your Aliyah dreams and assist you in building your future in Israel. After ten years of working with more than 30,000 Olim, Nefesh B'Nefesh has extensive experience, and we are happy to do our part in helping you realize your individual goals and aspirations.

Who Was Rachav? Print E-mail
Friday, 31 May 2013

In the Haftara for Parshat Shlach, Joshua 2:1-24, Joshua sends two spies to see what was happening in Jericho. The spies went straight to the house of Rachav and stayed there.


Who was Rachav?


In sentence 1, Rachav is described as an “isha zona” which literally means a harlot. Radak says that in fact she was a harlot. Targum Yonatan brings the opinion that she was an innkeeper who sold food, “mazon”, from the same root as “zona”.


In any case, she had an inn where most travelers who visited Jericho stayed.


The King of Jericho heard that the two men were at Rachav’s inn and he told her to send them out as they are spies.


Rachav admitted that the men had been there but she then said that they had already left the city (even though she was really hiding them on her roof).


Rachav then told the spies (sentence 9) “I know that God has given you the Land and that your terror has fallen upon us and that all of the inhabitants of the Land have melted because of you. For we have heard how God dried up the water of the Sea of Reeds before you when you came out of Egypt and what you did to the two Amorite kings across the Jordan- to Sichon and to Og- whom you utterly destroyed. When we heard our hearts melted- no spirit is left in man because of you, for God , He is God in the heavens above and on the earth below.”


Rachav then asked the men to save her and her family. The men made an oath and agreed to save Rachav and her family. Rachav hung a scarlet cord in her window so that they would be able to find her home when they would return to the city with Joshua.


When the men returned to Joshua they said (sentence 24) “For God has given all the Land in our hands; also all of the inhabitants of the Land have melted before us.”


Due to the information that they received from Rachav, B’nai Yisrael knew that it was the right time to conquer Jericho.


Rachav was a woman who was not Jewish, yet she went out of her way to help the Jewish people knowing that if she were caught she would be put to death.


According to Malbim, when Rachav said “For God, He is God in the heavens above and on the earth below” she accepted God’s sovereignty and converted to Judaism.


In Joshua 6:25 we read: “And Joshua saved Rachav the harlot alive and her father’s household and all that she had; and she dwelt in Yisrael to this very day because she hid the messengers, whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.”


According to Kli Yakar, at this point Rachav’s whole family converted to Judaism.


The Gemara in Megila 14b states that we learn from here that Joshua married Rachav.


Rachav was willing to risk her life in order to help the Jewish people. Although she was not born Jewish, she came to recognize God. She changed her lifestyle and was rewarded.


Rachav was a courageous woman who can serve as an inspiration to us all.

Don’t Abuse Your Birthright! Print E-mail
Friday, 15 June 2012

Sposored by Midreshet Devora in Honor of the Upcoming Marriage of Adina Potter Yoe to Daniel Abramson

In Parshat Shalch, God tells Moshe (Bamidbar 13:2): “Send for yourself, men, and have them tour (viyatouru) the Land of C’naan which I am giving to B’nai Yisrael; of every tribe of their fathers shall you send a man, every one a ruler among them.”


Shadal interprets “Vayatouro” to mean that they should tour the land. In other words, the twelve men should go on a free vacation to see how nice the land is.


If you look in Parshat Shlach very carefully you will find that these men are called tourists, they are not called meraglim (spies).


Sadly, ten out of the twelve men did not show appreciation for their free vacation. Instead of looking at all of the positives that Israel has to offer, they chose to dwell on the negative.


The story of these tourists reminds me of the Birthright Israel trips (free ten day trips to Israel for Jewish students between the ages of 18-26). Many students who participate on Birthright are looking for a strong connection to Israel and the Jewish people. These students make the most of their 10 day trip or even extend it for a few more days, weeks or months. When they return to their communities they speak out on behalf of Israel and explain why the media is often distorted and encourage their friends to visit as well. Some of the Birthright participants end up returning to study for a semester or a year. A select few even make Aliya. I would include these students in the category of Yehoshua and Calev who made the most of their trip and came back saying that it was a good land.


Some Birthright students take the free trip to Israel and bring along a negative attitude. They may be looking to take the Arab side in the Arab- Israeli conflict without having all of the facts or they may be on a mission to bash religious Jews. Sometimes this bad attitude changes over the course of the trip as it does in the very well written graphic novel How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden. A lot of the change in attitude has to do with the providers of the trip and the staff that runs it.


Unfortunately, there are some students that for whatever reason have a bad experience on the trip and they will end up giving Israel a bad name when they get home.


How can we make a difference? If you live in Israel you can offer to host birthright students for Shabbat meals or join them for a Shabbaton at their hotel. When you see the participants on the street, be friendly to them. If you have a store or restaurant, don’t overcharge them because you know that they came with plenty of spending money.


 If we make an effort to give the Birthright students a good experience then they will give a good report when they get back home. This can ultimately help bring more students to Israel on a short term program, a long term experience or it may even help them decide to make Aliya as Yehoshua and Calev did.






Better the Second Time Around Print E-mail
Friday, 17 June 2011

 Dedicated to the memory of Louis Levine z"l, Baruch Aryeh ben Avraham Halevi on his fifth Yahrzeit, 19th Sivan

Many similarities and differences can be found in the stories of the spies in Parshat Shlach and the Haftara in Yehoshua 2:1-24.


Parshat Shlach, Bamidbar 13:1-3 begins with the words: “God spoke to Moshe saying: Send forth men , if you please and let them spy out the Land of C’naan that I give to B’nai Yisrael, one man each from his father’s tribe shall you send, every one a leader among them. Moshe sent them forth from the wilderness of Paran at God’s command, they were all distinguished men, heads of B’nai Yisrael.”


The Haftara states: “Yehoshua bin Nun dispatched from Shittim two men, spies, secretly saying, go observe the Land and Jericho


Out of the twelve “distinguished men” in Parshat Shlach, only two ended up reporting on the land in a “distinguished manner”, the rest of the men spoke negatively about the Land. Yehoshua who had been one of the “good” spies on the original mission must have learned from experience and only sent two men this time.


The fact that the names of all of the spies are listed in Bamidbar 13:4-16 may have made the whole mission too public and given these men too much honor which they did not end up deserving. In Yehoshua the mission is done secretly and the Navi never even tells us the names of the spies although Rashi suggests that they were Calev (the only spy aside from Yehoshua on the previous mission who brought back a good report) and Pinchas.


Radak explains that Yehoshua did not want to scare B’nai Yirael and therefore the spies were sent secretly as he knew that there was nothing to worry about.


Moshe’s spies were asked to report on the entire Land, their mission took forty days. Yehoshua’s spies were told to observe the Land and Jericho. When they went to Jericho they were able to get a sense of what was going on in the Land and their mission only lasted for a few days.


In Bamidbar Raba 15 we learn that Jericho is the key to the Land of Israel. Once Jericho is captured then the whole land is captured.


When the spies that Moshe sent returned they spoke to all of B’nai Yisrael and started with some positive reports and continued with negative reports. Yehoshua’s spies reported directly to him and explained: (Yehoshua 2:24) “For God has given all the Land into our hands; also, all of the inhabitants of the Land have melted before us.”


 Since Yehoshua had been on the first mission and saw everything that went wrong, he was able to learn from the mistakes of the past and tailor the second mission to his own needs without having to get too many people involved.

Rav Yisachar Yaakovson points out that the results were very different as well. Because of the sin in Parshat Shlach, B’nai Yisrael received the punishment of the entire generation having to die in the wilderness. The success of the mission in Yehoshua opened up the doors to the successful conquest and settlement of the Land of Israel.

The Beauty of The Land of Israel Print E-mail
Friday, 04 June 2010

In Parshat Shlach (Bamidbar 13:22) we read: “V’Chevron sheva shanim nivneta lifnei Tzoan Mitzrayim”, “The city of Chevron was built seven years before the city of Tzoan in Egypt”


Rashi asks: Is it possible that Cham (Noach’s son) built Chevron for his youngest son C’naan before he built Tzoan for his eldest son, Mitzrayim? Rather, the verse should be read as follows: Chevron was built up or fertile with everything good seven times more than Tzoan.


We have seen the root “bana” used in the context of fertility as opposed to building in Breisheet 16:2 where Sara tells Avraham to marry Hagar because “oolai ibaneh mimenah”, “perhaps I will become fruitful through her”.


According to Gur Aryeh, Chevron’s fruit was held in greater esteem than that of Tzoan. The superior quality of Chevron’s fruit was an outer manifestation of the city’s inner spiritual quality.


Rashi adds that we learn from here the praiseworthiness of the Land of Israel. Nothing in Israel is more barren than Chevron- that is why it is set aside as a cemetery. Nothing is as excellent, among all of the countries as Mitzrayim (Egypt) as it is said (Breisheet 13:10) “Like God’s garden, like the land of Mitzrayim.” Tzoan was the most excellent in the land of Mitzrayim, for the seat of royalty was there, yet Chevron was still seven times better.

In God We Trust Print E-mail
Friday, 12 June 2009

Dedicated to the memory of Louis Levine z"l, Baruch Aryeh ben Avraham Halevi,
    on his third Yahrzeit, 19th Sivan


The first chapter of Sefer Devarim teaches us why Moshe allowed the spies to scout out the Land of Israel.


Devarim 1:8 states: “See I have given the Land before you, come and possess the Land that God gave to your forefathers, to Avraham, toYitzchak and to Yaakov, to give them and their children after them.


Rashi, quoting the Sifri comments that at that point, all that B’nai Yisrael had to do was to come to the Land of Israel. If they would have listened, nobody would have opposed them. The Land would have been theirs without a battle. However, this would have only happened if the fiasco with the spies did not occur.


A few psukim later in Devarim 1:21 we can find many similarities: “See, HaShem your God has placed the Land before you, go up and possess, as God of the forefathers has spoken to you. Do not fear and do not resolve.”


Yet in the next pasuk B’nai Yisrael request that men be sent to check out the Land. Moshe then agrees to send them.


Why didn’t Moshe have a problem with sending the spies?


Rashi tells the story of a person who asks his friend to sell him his donkey. The buyer asks to take the donkey for a test drive in the hills and in the mountains. When the seller agrees to let him take it on a test drive, the buyer decides to buy it on the spot and says that he no longer needs to take it for a test drive. Since the owner was so confident that the donkey was up to standards, the buyer felt comfortable enough not to have to try it out at that point.


Rashi explains that Moshe sent the spies since he figured that if he agreed to let the spies go to see the Land then the people would see how confident he was and would then say that even though Moshe gave permission, they no longer feel obligated to go.


Moshe was hoping that the B’nai Yisrael would opt out of sending the spies. However, they still wanted to go ahead with it and at that point Moshe had no choice but to send them.


Ramban doesn’t have any problem with the fact that B’nai Yisrael wanted to send spies. Ramban’s view is that they wanted to send people to check out the Land so that they would be familiar with it and would then be able to lead the army and have strategies of how to conquer the Land as quoted in Dvarim 1:22 “And bring us back word of the way by which we must go up and the cities unto which we shall come.” Many other times as well we find in the Tanach that spies were sent (including in the Haftorah of Shlach from the Book of Yehoshua).


So what was the real problem?


When the men came back (Parshat Shlach- Bamidbar13:31) they said “we cannot go up.” According to Rabbi Isaac Arama, “they were implying that they did not desire to scale the heights of spiritual perfection…but preferred to choose a captain and go back to Egypt, descending to an impure land”.


The spies as well B’nai Yisrael did not trust that God would take care of them. They spoke negatively about the Land of Israel and they therefore lost the privilege of inheriting it.


The problem was not in sending spies, the problem was that they did not trust in God.

Strengthening Ourselves Print E-mail
Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Dedicated to the memory of Louis Levine z”l, Baruch Aryeh ben Avraham Halevi, on his second Yahrzeit, 19th Sivan

In Parshat Shlach, Bamidbar 13:20 Moshe instructs the scouts “…Vehitchazaktem, strengthen your selves and take some fruit of the Land (of Israel). Those days were the days of the first ripening of the grapes”.

Why does Moshe tell the scouts to strengthen themselves before taking the fruit of the Land?

Chizkuni (Rabbi Chizkiya Ben Rabbi Manoach) says that they needed “chizuk”, to be strengthened, since it was the days of the first ripening of the grapes and guards would be watching over the vineyards.

In sentence 23, “They came to Nachal Eshkol (the wadi of the grape clusters), they cut off a branch and one cluster of grapes and carried it between two on a pole and they took some pomegranates and figs”.

The Gemara in Sotah 34a explains that the grapes were so large and heavy that eight men had to work together to carry just one cluster (balanced on two poles)!

Sforno comments that the C’naanim were surprised that the men thought that this type of grape cluster was new and miraculous since there were many large clusters of grapes in the Land which the C’naanim took for granted. When the C’naanim saw that this was a novelty, they called the place Nachal Eshkol.

According to Sforno, Moshe was convinced that even though the fruits would not yet be fully ripe, the size and taste of the fruits would attest to how wonderful the Land was.

If they brought back such beautiful fruits and the C’naanim didn’t even bother them (despite the fact that strange men were lugging back a huge cluster of grapes), then why did the scouts give a bad report about the Land of Israel when they returned to Moshe?

It all comes back to the word that Moshe told them before they left: “vehitchazaktem”, strengthen your selves. 

We can all find time to critique and criticize. However, we are better off spending our time on endeavors that will strengthen us. Rashi points out (13:22) that Calev went to Chevron in order to pray at Ma’arat HaMachpela (the cave of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs) that he would not be enticed by his companions to join in their design. When the Land was divided into portions, Calev was rewarded and merited to inherit Chevron.

Let’s focus our energies on strengthening ourselves!

A Tikkun (Correction) for the Sin of the Spies Print E-mail
Thursday, 07 June 2007

In Parshat Shlach (Bamidbar 13:2) God told Moshe “Send, for yourself, men, and have them scout out the Land of C’naan, which I am giving to B’nai Yisrael…”

Why would God send spies to check out the land when He already knew that it was a good land?

The answer can be found in Devarim 1:22 where Moshe recounts what went on behind the scenes: “B’nai Yisrael approached me and said, ‘Let us send men ahead of us to spy out the land for us and let them bring word to us: the route that we are to go up on and the cities we will be coming to’”.

If God didn’t grant their wish, then B’nai Yisrael may have thought that He was hiding something. Moshe knew of all of the beauty of the land so he didn’t have a problem sending them.

When the men returned from the Land of C’naan, ten of the twelve (aside from Yehoshua and Kalev) mainly focused on the negative things that they saw. They scared the rest of B’nai Yisrael so much that B’nai Yisrael complained to Moshe (Bamidbar 14:2-3) “We would have rather died in Egypt or in the wilderness. Why does God bring us into his land to fall by the sword…is it not better for us to return to Egypt?”

Today, unfortunately the media often blows events in Israel out of proportion in the same way that the spies did. The media is often so biased against Israel that it scares off tourists from visiting.

An organization called CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) finds inaccurate and distorted accounts of events in Israel on the radio, TV, newspapers, magazines and the internet. Even fashion magazines, architectural publications, encyclopedias, professional reference works, geography textbooks, travel guides and dictionaries contain misinformation about the Middle East. CAMERA claims that frequently inaccurate and skewed characterizations of Israel and events in the Middle East may fuel anti-Israel and anti-Jewish prejudice.

Many tourists choose to ignore the media and travel to Israel anyway. Once the tourists arrive in Israel, they see what a wonderful land it is and are happy that they came. Even during the height of terrorism in Israel, there have been Jews from all over the world who emulated Kalev and Yehoshua and said “aloh na’aleh” we are moving to Israel despite what everyone else thinks.

How can we make a tikkun (correction) for the damage that the spies caused?

1. Help promote accurate coverage of Israel in the media by responding to inaccurate reports.

2. Visit Israel

3. Make Aliya.

Rabbi Isaac Arama, the Akedat Yitzchak explains: “They rejected the Land of Divine promise. It is the rejection of the land which has been our undoing throughout the ages. On account of it, we were exiled from our country, divorced from our soil. There is no other way of restoring our integrity than by returning to it

The Consequences of Slander Print E-mail
Wednesday, 14 June 2006

At the beginning of Parshat Shlach, Bamidbar 13, God commands Moshe: "Send for yourself men and have them scout out the land of Cana'an (Israel) which I am giving to B'nai Yisrael; one man; one man each for his father's tribe you shall send them, each leader among them."

Rashi asks why the chapter of the spies immediately follows the chapter of Miriam which appears at the end of Parshat Behaalotcha.

Rashi answers that Miriam was punished for speaking Lashon HaRa (slander) about her brother Moshe, yet the spies did not learn their lesson, rather they spoke Lashon HaRa about the Land of Israel.

If we look at the punishments that they received, we actually find that the punishment for the spies and those who participated in their slander was worse than the punishment that Miriam received.

In Bamidbar, 12:1, we read: "Miriam and Aharon spoke against Moshe concerning the Cushite woman that he married". Miriam's punishment was that she was inflicted with tzaraat, a skin disease similar to leprosy for seven days. While she was ill, Moshe prayed for her recovery and B'nai Yisrael did not travel, they waited for her to recover. Once she recovered she rejoined the Jewish people.

In Bamidbar 13:28, 32, we read the slander that the spies spread concerning the Land of Israel, "The nation is mighty, the cities are greatly fortified, we also saw the offspring of the giant".They spread slander about the land that they had scouted, to B'nai Yisrael saying:."It is a land which consumes its inhabitants.We saw the giants.and we were like grasshoppers in their eyes." The punishment of the spies was that they were killed immediately in a plague. The punishment for B'nai Yisrael for participating in the slander was that they would wander in the desert for forty years and would not have the privilege to enter the Land of Israel. Only Yehoshua and Calev, who risked their lives to defend the Land of Israel were allowed to enter the land and inherit it forty years later.

The punishment that the spies received was much worse than Miriam's punishment! Three reasons why jump out at me:

  1. As Rashi stated earlier, the spies saw that God would not tolerate slander, yet they spoke it anyway.
  2. The spies as well as Miriam were all leaders of the Jewish people, yet Miriam had more merits than the spies had. In Bamidbar 12:15, Rashi points out that because Miriam waited to see what would happen to Moshe when he was floating down the river in a basket, God rewarded her and waited until she was fully healed.
  3. The spies received such a severe punishment because they were spreading slander about the Land of Israel. God immediately put the spies to death to show that slander concerning the Land of Israel will not be tolerated.

Today, we see people all over the world, including leaders, spreading hatred and slander about Israel. We must stand up and protest on behalf of Israel, as Yehoshua and Calev did and show that slander concerning Israel will not be tolerated.