1. This is the final Shabbos of the month of Sivan, the third month, the month associated with the giving of the Torah. (Although the following Shabbos is the 30th day of Sivan, it is Rosh Chodesh Tammuz which indicates that it is associated with a different quality.) The Shaloh explains that the festivals share an intrinsic connection to the Torah portions read during that time of year. Thus, it follows that there is a link between Parshas Shelach and “the season of the giving of our Torah.” On the surface, however, the association of the two is difficult to comprehend.

Firstly, as Rashi comments, the words Shelach lecha indicate that G‑d did not command Moshe to send spies. Rather, He left the choice to Moshe’s discretion. This appears to run contrary to the giving of the Torah which involves the communication of the mitzvos — “commandments” — which G‑d requires us to fulfill.

Secondly, Parshas Shelach relates the narrative of the spies and their transgression of G‑d’s will which ultimately resulted in the Jews being forced to remain in the desert for forty years. These concepts of sin and exile run contrary to the giving of the Torah. At that time, the impurity associated with the sin of the Tree of Knowledge departed from the Jews. They had the opportunity for the ultimate of freedom as our Sages declared, “Had the first tablets not been broken,... no country or tongue could have had dominion over [the Jews.]” Exile and sin are connected with the sin of the Golden Calf which took place in the month of Tammuz. The month of Sivan, in contrast, is associated with positive qualities, the giving of the Torah.

These difficulties can be resolved based on the explanation of the application of the concepts taught by Parshas Shelach in our service of G‑d. To explain: In principle, the sending of the spies was surely desirable for it was decided upon by Moshe, himself. Similarly, the individuals Moshe chose were leaders of the people, capable of carrying out the mission on which they had been sent. The positive nature of such a mission is further emphasized by the Haftorah which describes Yehoshua’s sending of spies and the favorable results brought about by their mission.

These positive factors exist because the mission associated with Shelach is symbolic of the soul’s descent into this material world. Each Jewish soul is “a part of G‑d from above.” It descends to this material world and enclothes itself in a body to carry out the mission of creating a dwelling for G‑d in the lower worlds.1

To carry out this mission, it is necessary to “explore the land,” to survey the nature of the service which must be carried out, discovering what conflicts and difficulties will arise and what is the best possible way to transform the land into a dwelling for G‑d.2

This mission — as was the sending of the spies — is left to man’s discretion. Indeed, as Rashi emphasizes in his commentary on the opening verse of the parshah, G‑d allows the possibility of an error, because to create a dwelling for G‑d in the lower worlds, man must act on his own initiative, based on his own choice and decision.3

This intent is associated with the giving of the Torah. Our Sages explain that the giving of the Torah represented the nullification of the decree separating the physical from the spiritual. In particular, there were two dimensions to that decree: that the spiritual descend to the physical as it is written, “and G‑d descended upon Mount Sinai,” and that the physical be elevated to the spiritual as it is written, “and Moshe ascended to G‑d.”

Though the giving of the Torah is connected with both these aspects, of the two, the elevation of the physical, the transformation of the material aspects of the world into a dwelling for G‑d, is the ultimate purpose (the descent of the spiritual being necessary, however, to make this elevation possible). This is reflected in the service of a person on his own initiative, or to use a Kabbalistic phrase, “an arousal from below.”4

This concept, the importance of service on one’s own initiative as expressed through a person’s positive choice despite the possibility for error, is also reflected in the events connected with the giving of the Torah: After the revelation of Mount Sinai, Moshe ascended the mountain for forty days to receive the Torah.5 At the conclusion of these forty days, however, G‑d allowed the possibility for error — as the Torah relates, “And the people saw that Moshe delayed in descending from the mountain” — a possibility which ultimately resulted in the sin of the Golden Calf and the destruction of the tablets.

Why did G‑d allow for such a possibility? Because this is the ultimate purpose of man’s service, to exist in an environment where there is a possibility for error and, nevertheless, to rise above that possibility and, through one’s own choice and initiative serve G‑d.

Although this intent was not realized immediately and instead, the Jews sinned, that error was corrected through the Jews’ service of teshuvah. Accordingly, they merited the second tablets whose level surpassed that of the first. Nevertheless, there was no need for this process of descent and ascent. On the contrary, had the Jews overcome the possibility for error and not sinned, they would have received the first tablets which then, would have included the dimension of teshuvah as well.6 The very fact that they had the possibility to sin — although they actually would not have sinned — would have enabled them to attain the advantage of the service of teshuvah. Had they overcome this challenge, all the peaks reached in the entire 120 day7 cycle, would have been realized within the initial forty days.

The advantage that can be attained through service within the lower levels of existence is also expressed in the narrative of the revelation of Mount Sinai. Our Sages explain that after hearing each of the Ten Commandments, the souls of the Jewish people expired. Their existence was maintained because G‑d revived them, using the dew with which He will resurrect the dead in the Messianic age.

Why did their souls expire? Because their bodies could not contain the immensity of the sweetness and pleasure experienced when hearing G‑d’s word. When G‑d returned their souls after each commandment, the same process was repeated at the revelation of the following commandment. Each time, the Jews experienced a deeper and more encompassing revelation causing their souls to expire again.

This explanation, however, is somewhat problematic. Why after hearing the first commandment, “I am the L‑rd, your G‑d...” did the Jews experience such powerful feelings after the second commandment, “You shall have no other gods”? Seemingly, it is merely a restatement — in negative terms — of the first commandment. Similarly, in regard to the final commandments. They are basic human rules of behavior. Why did their revelation cause the Jews’ souls to expire?

These difficulties can be resolved within the context of the concepts explained above. Since the second commandment applies in a place where the possibility for error exists, it represents a greater expression of G‑d’s oneness than the first. Similarly, the latter five commandments, represent an even further descent, extending into the realm of interpersonal relations. This implies an even higher and greater revelation.

Based on the above, we can appreciate why Parshas Shelach is read on the last Shabbos in the month associated with the giving of the Torah. As mentioned, the giving of the Torah emphasizes service within a realm where the possibility for error exists, the same theme as Parshas Shelach, which centers upon the importance of service on one’s own initiative.8 In this manner, when despite the possibility for error, one perseveres and remains steadfast in one’s commitment to G‑d, one reaches the highest levels.9

The above is relevant at present, when we are in the midst of the forty days after the giving of the Torah. This is an opportunity to reach the highest peaks, to combine the great spiritual peaks that accompanied the first tablets with the advantage of service on one’s own initiative.

These concepts are also reflected in the Torah portion we begin to read at Minchah, Parshas Korach. When noting that the Torah does not mention Korach’s descent from Yaakov, Rashi states that this came as a direct result of Yaakov’s prayer, “Let my honor not be associated with their community,” but he was associated with Yaakov in the Book of Chronicles as it states, “the son of Aviasef, the son of Korach, the son of Yitzhar, the son of Kehos, the son of Levi, the son of Yisrael.” Korach had a great potential. He was “the son of Yisrael” and a clever man. Furthermore, his desire — to be the High Priest — was fundamentally spiritual in nature.10

To express these qualities in the fullest degree possible, however, there had to be a possibility for error and challenge. The intent was not for Korach to err, but to feel a challenge and overcome it. Unfortunately, Korach was not able to overcome this challenge and therefore, entered into a dispute with Moshe. His error was corrected by his sons, who repented and merited to recite songs of praise to G‑d.

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2. This week’s chapter of Pirkei Avos contains the teaching (3:14): “He [Rabbi Akiva] would say: Beloved is man, for he was created in G‑d’s image... Beloved are the people Israel, for they are called children of G‑d... Beloved are the people Israel, because they were given a precious article...”

The first clause refers to the gift of knowledge which was granted to all mankind, even gentiles; the second, to the unique potential possessed by the Jewish people, and the third, to the peaks which a Jew can reach through Torah study.

These three clauses reflect three phases in Rabbi Akiva’s own life. His parents were converts and “for several generations, the descendents of converts are considered as converts.” Also, for the first forty years of his life, he was unlearned. Even then, he was “modest and productive” as obvious by the fact that Kalba Savua’s daughter desired to marry him. Afterwards, when he saw how drops of water could make a hole in stone, he dedicated himself to Torah study, and reached the third level, to the point that “Everything (the entire Torah) is taught according to Rabbi Akiva.”

The teachings which follow in Pirkei Avos relate to the concepts explained above. The following Mishnah states: “Everything is foreseen, yet freedom of choice is granted.” This relates to the conversion where, in the most complete sense, “freedom of choice is granted.” There is no command to convert and thus, conversion represents an expression of service on one’s own initiative.

Rabbi Akiva teaches that this quality of service can also be experienced by a native-born Jew because “freedom of choice is granted.” Though “everything is foreseen,” within the context of a person’s activities in this world, he is given free choice — and thus, the possibility to err — regarding his behavior.

Rabbi Akiva concludes these teachings with the statement, “Everything is prepared for the feast,” emphasizing that whether one overcomes the challenge of the possibility of error or not, ultimately, one can merit “the feast” by correcting one’s error through teshuvah. Furthermore, this statement can be interpreted, “Everything” — even the challenge that presents the possibility for sin — is “prepared for the feast.” The negative and challenging factors were created only to bring about the ultimate reward received through service on one’s own initiative.

3. The above concepts must affect our behavior, bringing about an increase of positive activity. In general, the mission of each Jew is connected with the Torah.11 Every time, a Jew studies Torah, the words he recites are the words of G‑d as the verse relates, “My tongue will repeat Your statements.” The “statements,” the words of Torah, are G‑d’s, and the person is merely repeating them.

Furthermore, each Jew has the potential to bring about the giving of the Torah anew. This is reflected in the verse which precedes the Ten Commandments: “And G‑d spoke these words, saying...” Generally, the word “saying” (לאמר) implies that the words spoken should be related to others. This was, however, unnecessary at the giving of the Torah since every Jew (including the souls of the future generations) were present. Accordingly, in this context, the world laimor means that, by giving the Torah, G‑d granted the potential that whenever a Jew studies Torah, G‑d will join him and relate again the words of Torah which the Jew is studying.

In this context, it is worthy to mention the campaign which is a matter of immediate necessity, the establishment of public Torah shiurim (study sessions) and for each man, woman, and child to play a contributory role, heading a shiur himself. These shiurim should preferably include ten students or at the very least three.12

Each Jew’s involvement in his personal shlichus will hasten the coming of Mashiach. Adding the number ten (symbolic of the ten powers of the soul) to the numerical equivalent of the Hebrew word shliach (שליח) produces the numerical equivalent of Mashiach (משיח). May we not have to wait any longer for Mashiach’s coming, but rather see how he comes immediately, not in forty days, nor even forty minutes. Rather, may this very moment be the last moment of exile and the first moment of redemption.13