Shlach 5763

June 23, 2009

8 min read


Shlach (Numbers 13-15 )

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GOOD MORNING!  Gifts. When I was 5 years old my father let me accompany him to Mr. Allan's Rexall Drug Store where he had Mr. Allan sign the application for life insurance. Either because Mr. Allan was so happy with the policy or he thought I was a cute little kid, he gave me a toy polar bear with a salmon in its mouth. I would wind it up and it would walk across the floor. Two days later the fish fell out of the bear's mouth. When my mother went to shop in the drug store, I took along the bear and the fish; I walked up to Mr. Allan and said, "You gave it to me and it broke. Would you please fix it?" He did. However, for the past 48 years I have regretted my audacity.

In this week's Torah portion the Almighty gives the land of Israel to the Jewish people. Instead of gratefully accepting it and trusting the Almighty to immediately enter the land, the Jewish people beseeched Moshe to send out spies. The result? After listening to the spies' reports we ended up spending 40 years wandering in the desert and fasting every Tisha B'av (the Hebrew anniversary date of the spies' reports.) One needs to be careful how he responds to gifts!

I know a young man who saved his money to buy an expensive gift for his father. He had great anticipation of the joy the gift would bring to his father and of the appreciation his father would have for his thoughtfulness and sacrifice. However, when he gave the gift, his father responded, "You shouldn't have spent so much money. I'll never use it. Take it back and get a refund. You'd want me to honest with you, wouldn't you?"

How did the young man feel? Overjoyed at his father's honesty? Delighted to get his money back? No. He felt rejected, not respected, frustrated, sad and a bit of anger. What he really wanted to answer his father - but didn't - was, "No. I really would have loved to see your face light up, for you to graciously accept the gift as the expression of love in which it was given and then give it away, take it back to the store or toss it in the garbage after I left."

A gift is not just about the person to whom you give it ... and it is not just about you. It is about the relationship. The giver has to be sensitive to the best of his ability to give a gift that the other person would appreciate (not like some people who look at what they want to get rid of and think of upon whom they can unload it). The recipient must accept the gift with appreciation and grace whether or not he likes the gift.

I have a friend from college who always says, "Friends stay friends longer when they give gifts." (Of course, he always meant that I should give him gifts.) In the book of Mishlei (Proverbs) 15:27 King Solomon writes, "He who hates gifts shall live." What does that mean? Certainly, it doesn't mean to reject gifts and make the giver feel like a murderer! It means not to depend on others for gifts, but to seek to be self-supporting and to depend on the Almighty rather than to depend on people.

When one receives a gift, along with a sense of gratitude, there is a sense of obligation. He no longer has the same degree of independence in the relationship. In Jewish law, a judge must recuse himself from a case if he has received something with the value of a pruta, in our terms the value of a penny. Even a gift of minuscule value can compromise us. It is something to keep in mind.

It has been said that the land of Israel is the only land where one can learn to improve his character from just looking at the geography of the land. In the north is the Kinneret, the Sea of Galilee. The Jordan river flows into it at the top and out of it at the bottom. The lake is filled with fish and there is life all around it. The Jordan flows south into the Dead Sea. It does not flow out. The name says it all. There are no fish in the Dead Sea and there is very little life around it. Likewise with us. If we take in and we give out then we are alive and we generate life around us. If we only take, but do not give ... there is not much life in us or around us.

What is the greatest gift you can give someone? It is not just physical life, but the understanding that life is meaningful and that his life is meaningful! In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 3:18, Rabbi Akiva teaches "Beloved is man for he was created in the image of God; a greater love that the Almighty made known to him that he was created in the image of God." Life is meaningful. We have purpose.

Torah Portion of the Week

The Jewish people received the Torah on Mt. Sinai and were ready to enter the land of Israel. There was a consensus of opinion amongst the people that they should send spies to see if it was feasible to conquer the land. Moshe knew that the Almighty's promise to give the land included a guarantee to conquer it. However, one of the principles of life which we learn from this portion is: the Almighty allows each of us the free will to go in the direction he chooses. Even though one man and the Almighty is a majority, Moshe by Divine decree, sent out the princes of the tribes (men of the highest caliber) to spy out the land.

Twelve spies were sent. Ten came back with a report of strong fortifications and giants; they rallied the people against going up to the Land. Joshua ben Nun and Calev ben Yefunah (Moshe's brother-in-law) tried to stem the rebellion, but did not succeed. The Almighty decreed 40 years of wandering in the desert, one year for each day they spied in the land of Israel. This happened on the 9th of Av, a date noted throughout Jewish history for tragedy - the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain amongst them.


Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The ten spies reported back to the Jewish people:

"The people who dwell in the land are extremely fierce and the cities are fortified and very great. We also saw the children of Anak (giants) there. We cannot go up to the people because they are stronger than us."

The spies were sent to reconnoiter the land and bring back the report. What was their mistake?

The report of the spies was appropriate. They observed and they related what they saw. Their mistake was drawing a conclusion and rendering the decision that they should not attempt to enter the Land. They did not take into account that the Almighty has the power to help against all odds.

What is our lesson? We often see situations and come to erroneous conclusions. We must be very careful because oftentimes there are factors of which we are unaware or don't take into consideration. It is incumbent upon us to judge people favorably... unless we're very sure.


"Anyone whose wisdom exceeds his good deeds, to what is he compared? To a tree with many branches and few roots. A wind comes, uproots it and turns it over...

Anyone whose good deeds exceeds his wisdom, to what is he compared? To a tree with many roots and few branches. Even if all the winds in the world blow against it, it won't move."
    --  Rebbi Elazar ben Azariah

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In Loving Memory of
Leonard and Annette Cutler
Together Once Again
--  Alan, MaryBeth and Shelley

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