> Weekly Torah Portion > Intermediate > Parsha Potpourri

One Good Hour

Shlach (Numbers 13-15 )

by Rabbi Ozer Alport

In relating that Moshe sent spies to scout out the land of Israel, the Torah refers to the spies using the expression "anashim" (Numbers 13:3). Rashi notes that this is difficult to understand, as the term "anashim" is normally used to describe important men of stature. Why is this word used in conjunction with the spies, who incited the Jewish people to rebel against the Divine plan for them to enter and conquer the land of Israel?

Rashi explains that this term is used to teach that at the time the spies were sent, they were still righteous and had no plans to sin by speaking negatively about the land of Israel. However, he seems to emphasize that the spies "were righteous for one hour," a claim for which there is no apparent source or proof. Why does Rashi use this peculiar expression?

When Rabbi Eizel Charif was eight years old, he was asked to explain Rashi's intention and responded with a brilliant derivation for this assertion. God later decreed (Numbers 14:34) that as a result of the sin of the spies, the Jewish people would be required to wander in the wilderness for 40 years, corresponding to the 40 days that the spies sinned when scouting out the land. If each day - which contains 24 hours - was punished with an additional year - which is made up of 12 months - of wandering, it comes out that for each hour of the spies' expedition, the Jews were punished with an additional half of a month in the wilderness.

The Jews left Egypt on 15 Nissan, the first day of Pesach. They entered the land of Israel on 10 Nissan (Joshua 4:19), which is five days short of the requisite 40-year decree. Further, Rashi writes (Deut. 1:2) that even had the Jews merited to immediately traverse the desert and enter the land of Israel, the journey would have taken 11 days. This period of time cannot be included in the calculation of the additional time they were forced to wander as a result of the sin of the spies.

In light of these considerations, it comes out that half of a month is missing from the 40-year period to which they were sentenced. In order to resolve this difficulty, Rashi concluded that the spies had proper intentions for the first hour of their mission, and it was therefore fitting that half of a month should be reduced from their punishment.

* * *


Upon their return from examining the land of Israel the spies gave a negative report which was full of details intended to scare the people and incite them to rebel against the idea of entering and conquering the land. One of the facts they related is that the cities were heavily fortified (Numbers 13:28). Rashi curiously explains that their intention was to stress the fact that the walls of the cities were round. This is difficult to understand. Why was the shape of the city walls relevant, and what could have been their negative intention in relating such a seemingly trivial detail?

Rashi writes (Leviticus 14:34) that in warning the people about the possibility of tzara'as (leprosy) striking their homes, God was actually conveying good news. Because the previous Canaanite inhabitants hid their treasures in the walls of their houses, the process of scraping a house with tzara'as would actually reveal to them valuable items. However, Rabbi Moshe Yitzhak Segal notes that the Mishnah (Nega'im 12:1) derives from the twofold repetition (Leviticus 14:37, 39) of the phrase "walls of the house" that the laws of tzara'as in houses are only applicable in homes which have four walls, as each phrase refers to a minimum of two walls and the phrase is repeated twice.

The spies feared that upon hearing their negative report, the Jewish people would respond with inspired faith that although the inhabitants of Israel may be strong and the battle would be difficult, it would be well worth it, as they would subsequently be able to discover the valuable possessions which were left behind in the walls. The spies therefore dashed their hopes by emphasizing that the walls were round and therefore not subject to the laws governing tzara'as in houses, which would mean that the people would never know where to look in order to uncover any hidden treasures.

* * *


Why is Yehoshua referred to (Numbers 13:16) as Bin Nun - the "son of Nun" vowelized with a chirik (one dot) - and not the more standard Ben Nun, vowelized with a segol (three dots).

Nachmanides (Exodus 33:11) suggests that the phrase Bin Nun can be read as one word - "Binun" - which is derived from the word Navon - insightful - indicating that Yehoshua was the wisest and greatest of Moshe's students.

Alternatively, the Chasam Sofer explains that Bin is associated with the word "hit'bonenut" - thinking - and indicates that Yehoshua studied and had some level of insight into Nun, an allusion to the 50th (and highest) level of wisdom.

Tosefes Beracha and Steipler cite the Talmud (Sanhedrin 107a), which teaches that when Sarah's name was changed from Sarai to Sarah, the letter Yud complained about its replacement and was only appeased when it was added to Hoshea's name to become Yehoshua. However, this only provided a source for the extra Yud which was added to his name, but not for the two dots in the vowel which is written under it, as the Yud in Sorah's name had no vowel under it. In order to add these two dots, they were taken away from the three dots in the word Ben, leaving it with only one dot to be read as Bin.

* * *


When else in history did Moshe send Calev as a spy, and where did he send him?

In Numbers 21:32, Targum Yonason ben Uziel writes that Moshe sent Calev and Pinchas to spy out the Amorite city of Yazer, and Rashi adds that not only did they examine the city, but they also conquered it themselves to prevent any risk of a recurrence of the debacle which occurred the first time that spies were sent to the land of Israel.

1 2 3 2,914

🤯 ⇐ That's you after reading our weekly email.

Our weekly email is chock full of interesting and relevant insights into Jewish history, food, philosophy, current events, holidays and more.
Sign up now. Impress your friends with how much you know.
We will never share your email address and you can unsubscribe in a single click.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram