Enjoy four short thoughts and a video adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Parshat Shelach.

The Spies’ Mistake

The spies dispatched by Moses were no ordinary individuals: “They were all men of distinction, leaders of the children of Israel” (Numbers 13:3). Furthermore, in all of history, it would be difficult to find a generation whose lives were more saturated with miracles than theirs. For these people to doubt G‑d’s ability to conquer the “mighty inhabitants” of Canaan seems nothing less than ludicrous. Yet these were the people whose leaders said, “We cannot go up against these people, for they are mightier than we”—and even “than He”!

Chassidic master Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains that the problem was one of excess spirituality.

The spies and their generation were loath to enter the land. Becoming a people with a land would entail plowing and harvesting; it would mean engaging in commerce and other worldly matters Their underlying problem with the land was, as the spies expressed it, that “it is a land that consumes its inhabitants”—it consumes one’s time and energy with its corporeal demands. They were unwilling to relinquish their spiritual utopia for the entanglements of an earthbound life.

Based on this, the Lubavitcher Rebbe explains the spies’ argument, “We cannot go up against these people, for they are mightier than we”. We cannot have it both ways, argued the spies. Either we are to be a spiritual people engaged exclusively in spiritual pursuits and sustained by supernatural means, or else we are to enter the natural world of the farmer, merchant and soldier, and become subject to its laws.

What the spies and their generation failed to understand is that, indeed, men are not angels. Wholly spirit, the angel dissolves on contact with earth. But the human being, hewn of spirit and matter, is a synthesis of the celestial and the animal. Man is empowered to make heaven on earth, to make “holy” an adjective of “land.”
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Know G‑d in All Your Ways

This week’s Torah reading begins like many others: “And G‑d spoke to Moses.” But then something different happens. Usually, G‑d tells Moses: “Tell the people to perform this or that commandment.” Here, however, as Rashi explains, G‑d tells Moses: “If you want, send spies to find out about the land of Israel.” Moses isn’t commanded to send the spies and he is not prohibited from doing so. He is told to make the decision himself.

This teaches us something very important about Judaism’s approach to personal growth and development. There are mitzvot and there are prohibitions. They are tests, enabling a person to show his will power. No matter how difficult it is for him, he should endeavor to fulfill all the mitzvot, and no matter how great the challenge, he should refrain from doing those things that the Torah prohibits.

When doing a mitzvah we are serving G‑d, and when we are sinning, we are obviously violating His will. But when we are neither doing a mitzvah nor sinning, when we are just living our life — eating, drinking, being involved in our work, or just having a good time — what is our relationship with G‑d then?

There’s a verse in Proverbs: “Know G‑d in all your ways,” about which our Sages comment: “This small verse contains the entire Torah.” For the secret of Judaism is that even when a person is involved in “your ways,” i.e., his own affairs, matters that are not mandated either way by the Torah, he should know G‑d and live his life in awareness of Him.

Good, bad, and neutral are all realms of conduct that are inherently connected with G‑d. This is the lesson that Moses was given in this week’s Torah reading: that G‑d’s commands involve even those things He doesn’t command you about. For even when He does not tell you what to do, your choice should be in accordance with His will.
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G‑d Will Do His Part

Parshat Shelach concludes with the commandment of tzitzit, the tassels worn on the four corners of one’s garments. Although the physical commandments are fulfilled only in our material world, our Sages also speak of how G‑d Himself, so to speak, fulfills His own commandments, as hinted at in the verse, “He tells His words to Yaakov, His statutes and His ordinances to Yisrael.” In the words of the Midrash: “A man of flesh habitually tells others to perform actions, though he himself does not perform them. Not so with the Holy One, blessed be He: the acts that He Himself performs, He commands the Jewish people to perform and to observe.”

Through our fulfillment of the mitzvah of tzitzit, whose four corners we gather together every morning, we hasten the fulfillment of this mitzvah by G‑d Himself — the ingathering of the Jewish people from the four corners of the earth.
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The Paradox of Physicality

Illustration by Sefira Ross.
Illustration by Sefira Ross.

The conflict aroused when trying to express spiritual truths within the context of material existence—which was the crux of the issue wrestled with by the spies—will be resolved in the era of Mashiach. Until then, there will always be a dichotomy between spiritual truths and their expression. For the material nature of the world covers spiritual truth and prevents us from perceiving it. The Kabbalists refer to this process as tzimtzum. What it means is that although G‑dliness is the truth of all existence, it is not overtly apparent.

To illustrate the concept: When a teacher wants to communicate a deep concept, he will often use an analogy. The analogy is a foreign matter; it is not the idea he is trying to communicate. But through it, a student gets an understanding of the idea.

In a similar way, material existence is not spiritual truth; it’s only an analogy that enables us to understand it exists. But like an analogy, it conceals as it reveals, for it shows something else than its inner message.

In the era of Mashiach, that will change. We will see how every element of material existence expresses spiritual truth. Or to refer back to the illustration, it will be clear that the analogy exists only to communicate the analogue.

In such a situation, there will be no conflict between the material and the spiritual. We will have no difficulty expressing our ideas in actual experience.
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The Woman’s Three Special Mitzvot

Separating Challah “from the first of your dough” shows that before benefiting from anything in this world, we “set aside an offering for G‑d.” By knowing that the beginning of everything is for G‑d, the entire home becomes a dwelling place for Him: