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Spying After Our Hearts

Shlach (Numbers 13-15 )

by Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen

"And they will be tzitzit for you, and you shall see it and you shall remember all the commandments of HaShem, and perform them; and you shall not spy (loh taturoo) after your heart and after your eyes after which you stray." (1)

The parsha ends with the third paragraph of the Shema. That paragraph discusses the mitzvah of Tzitzit and continues with another fundamental mitzvah - not to follow our hearts and eyes. The Sifri elaborates on the meaning of these words. It explains that following one's heart refers to heresy, whereas following one's eyes refers to immorality.(2) The simple understanding of the Sifri with regards to following one's heart is that this is the source for the prohibition against espousing beliefs that are antithetical to Torah.

Rav Yitzchak Berkovits points out that there is a great difficulty with this understanding. Without the mitzvah of 'loh taturoo', there are a number of mitzvot in the Torah that prohibit heretical beliefs: In the first of the Ten Commandments, The Torah commands us to believe that God is the only Power, who is all-powerful, created and sustains the whole universe, and has no beginning or end.(3) The next mitzvah exhorts us not to follow any other gods, which means that we cannot attribute any independent power to any force in the world.(4) In the mitzvah of 'Shema', the Torah further commands us to believe in the oneness of God.(5) The attitudes that the Torah forbids in these mitzvot are the main beliefs that represent heresy. Accordingly, it would seem that the Torah has already sufficiently instructed us to avoid heretical beliefs. What is the mitzva of loh taturoo coming to add?

Rav Berkovits answers that the other mitzvot are instructing us to have basic philosophical ideas on an intellectual level; for example, a person must believe intellectually that there is one God who created the world. However, an intellectual realization is not always sufficient to ensure that a person will adhere to the fundamental tenets of Jewish thought. A person may intellectually recognize these truths however, his emotions or his physical desires may cause him to act in conflict with his beliefs. In this vein, The Rabbis tell us that a person only sins when a ruach shtut (spirit of irrationality) enters into him. This means that his actions contradict what he rationally knows to be true. The mitzvah of 'loh taturoo' commands us to avoid this pitfall. By telling us not to go after our hearts, the Torah is instructing us not to allow our emotions to cause us to act against what we intellectually know to be true.

This is not to say that the Torah views emotions in a negative light. This is certainly not the case and there is great room for expression of emotions in Torah. However, when emotions are not channeled through intellect, the consequences can be disastrous. The Torah is the vessel through which we are supposed to mold our intellect and filter our emotions through a prism of the Torah outlook.(6)

The incident of the spies provides us with examples of the correct and incorrect approaches with regard to following one's heart. Here too, the root word, 'latur', (to spy) is utilized by the Torah. God instructed Moses to send people to spy out the land. Moses instructed the spies about which features to look for in the land. Included amongst his instructions he told them to observe the produce of the land, in order to see whether it was fruitful or not.(7) He further instructed them to take note if there was a righteous man in the land, whose merit could protect the people there.(8) With these directives, Moses was alluding to the spies that they should observe the land with a certain disposition, one that was based on Torah outlook. He was telling them to view everything that they saw with spiritual eyes, so that large fruit would be viewed in a positive light, and that the significance of righteous people there was an important factor.

Sadly, the majority of the spies did not heed Moses' instructions. They did indeed see large fruit, however they chose to interpret it in a negative fashion, and conveyed the message that this demonstrated that the land was strange in that it produced oversized fruits.(9) They were guilty of a further misinterpretation when they saw a large number of funerals taking place in the land. They used this to show that the land destroyed its inhabitants, when, in truth God caused large numbers of deaths so that the people would be busy with funerals and not notice the spies.(10) What was the cause of their skewed attitude? They fell prey to the pitfall of following their emotions. They lacked trust in God, and therefore felt fear at the prospect of having to enter the land of Israel. Because of this flawed attitude they viewed everything they saw through a distorted vision.(11) The only spies who overcame this test were Kalev and Joshua. They viewed everything they saw in a positive fashion because they were strong in their trust in God - this prevented them from allowing any fear they may have had, to overcome what they knew to be true.

We have seen how the Torah connects the lesson of the spies to the Mitzvo of 'loh taturoo'. The ten spies who sinned provide us with the example of how going after one's heart leads to sin and ultimately heresy.(12) The Torah imparts a further lesson as to how to avoid the pitfall of interpreting what we see in a detrimental fashion. In the very same verse in which the Torah tells us, 'loh taturoo', it discusses the mitzvah of tzitzit. "And they will be for you tzitzit, and you shall see it and you shall remember all the commandments of God and perform them; and you shall not spy after your heart and after your eyes after which you stray."(13) The verse tells us that tzitzit will somehow remind us of the mitzvot and this in turn will enable us to avoid following our heart and eyes. What is the connection between tzitzit and 'loh taturoo'? Rashi points out that Tzitzit remind us of the 613 mitzvot because the gematria (14) of 'tzitzit' is 600; in addition, there are eight strings and five knots - the total of these three figures is 613. In this way, by looking at tzitzit a person is supposed to go through this sequence of thought that will bring him to connect the tzitzit with the 613 mitzvot. The obvious problem with this is that most people will see tzitzit and fail to make the connection that the Torah seems to expect they should make. It would have seemed to be more effective to command that tzitzit say a big '613' on them, so that everyone will automatically be reminded of the 613 mitzvot when they see it! The answer is that the Torah is teaching us that one must strive to be the kind of person who sees the world in such a way that a mundane item of clothing such as tzitzit will lead him to a sequence of thought that will remind him of the 613 mitzvot. When a person brings himself to this level, then, as a consequence he will be able to observe the mitzvah of 'loh taturoo' because he will not see the world in a skewed manner based on his emotions, rather he will see it with spiritual eyes.

We have seen that a constant theme of the Torah Portion is that the way a person thinks, will play a decisive role in how he interprets what he sees. It is no easy task to become the kind of person who sees everything with spiritual eyes however the first stage is to strive to make one's intellect and emotions in line with the Torah's directives. The more saturated a person is with the Torah's teachings, the more he will be able to emulate Kalev and Joshua.



1. Shelach, 15:38.

2. Sifri, Shelach, 15:38.

3. Yisro, 20:2.

4. Yisro, 20:3.

5. Va'eschanan, 6:4.

6. See 'The Six Constant Mitzvos', Artscroll, Mesora, a sefer based on the shiurim of Rav Berkovits on the Six Constant Mitzvos for more on this topic.

7. Shelach, 13:20.

8. Rashi, Shelach, 13:20.

9. Rashi, Shelach, 13:23.

10. See Birchas Peretz of the Steipler Gaon, zt"l who explains why their interpretation was illogical.

11. This is the simple explanation of the sins of the spies. For deeper explanations, see Ramban, Sfas Emes and Ben Yehoyada (discussed in my other essay on Parshas Shelach).

12. See Rashi, Shelach, 13:31 and 14:4, who demonstrates that the spies espoused heretical views and caused the people to do the same.

13. Shelach, 15:38.


14. Numerical value.

1 2 3 2,900

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