> Weekly Torah Portion > Intermediate > Between the Lines

Of Ants and Grasshoppers


Shlach (Numbers 13-15 )

by Rabbi Abba Wagensberg

Greetings from the holy city of Jerusalem!

In this week's portion, Moses sends spies to scout the Land of Israel, and they return with a negative report about the land. They say, "The people who live in the Land are such giants that we appeared to be like grasshoppers in their eyes!" (Numbers 13:33). Rashi explains that the Spies overheard the giants saying, "There are ants in the vineyard that look like people."

Many commentators grapple with Rashi's inconsistency in quoting the verse. If the Torah explicitly likens the Spies to grasshoppers, then Rashi should have said that the Spies overheard the giants saying, "There are grasshoppers in the vineyard," not ants!

We can offer a novel approach in understanding this apparent inconsistency based on the words of the Tiferet Shmuel (vol. II). In the Book of Proverbs (6:6), King Solomon advises the lazy person to go and observe the ant. The Midrash (Yalkut Shemoni, Proverbs 938) explains that the ant spends the entire summer gathering kernels of wheat, barley, and beans. In one anthill that was once unearthed, 300 kur - a staggering amount - of surplus grain was discovered. Yet the ant only lives for six months, during which time it is only capable of consuming a kernel and a half of wheat! Why does the ant gather vastly more food than it is capable of consuming?

According to the Midrash, the ant says to itself, "Perhaps God will decree long life for me, and I will be prepared." From here we see that the fundamental characteristic of an ant is that of preparation and saving for the future. King Solomon therefore tells the lazy person to observe the ant, so that he too can learn to prepare in this world for the Next World. This teaches us the importance of saving and preparing in this world for our eternity.

The grasshopper, however, is the antithesis of the ant. The grasshopper is related to the locust, which, instead of saving its food for the future, is constantly involved in eating, in the present. Thus, the grasshopper is symbolic of those who think only of the here and now, materialistically. This is why the verse in this week's portion refers to grasshoppers.

The spies called themselves grasshoppers! These spies were the 10 out of 12 whom the Talmud (Sotah 34a) teaches were carrying the physical fruits of the Land of Israel. Like the grasshopper, they were focused on this world - the materialistic qualities of the present.

Based on this understanding, Rashi's comment about ants does not contradict the verse in the Torah; rather, it is referring to the remaining two spies, Joshua and Calev, who the Talmud teaches were not carrying the physical fruits of the Land. Joshua and Calev were interested in how the spiritual properties of the Land of Israel could help facilitate their eternal existence.

May we all be blessed to view the world through the eyes of the ant. This will change the style of our lives into one where every act, word and thought will be performed with a consideration of our spiritual eternity.

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