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The Name of the Parsha

Parshas Shelach is divided, generally speaking, into twosections. The first, which spans chapters 13 and 14, is a detailed narrative of the sin of the spies. In the following section, chapter 15, the subject matter changes completely, as the Torah turns to discuss a number of different mitzvos – meal offerings and libations, challah, atonement sacrifices, Shabbos and tzitzis. Nevertheless, the entire Parsha is known simply as “Shelach, which means “send,” referring to the sending of the spies.

This begs the question: The sending of the spies is, at first glance, history, whereas the mitzvos at the end of the Parsha are eternally relevant. So why was the Parsha named after the sin of the spies, which happened in the past, rather than its mitzvos, which are relevant eternally?

Of course, the simple answer to this question is that the Parsha acquired its name from its opening passage. But since an entity’s name is a reflection of its essence, there must be a more meaningful explanation why the entire Parsha, including its important laws, was named Shelach.

The sin of the spies was not, as it my first seem, their report that the Land of Israel harbored a formidable enemy – “the people who live in the Land are (extraordinarily) powerful. The cities are huge and well fortified” (13:28). For they were sent by Moshe to collect information, and what they reported was true. Rather, their sin was the conclusion that they added, that G-d’s command to conquer the Land was, in their opinion, not possible: “We are unable to go up against the people, for they are stronger than us” (v.31).

Clearly, G-d’s promise to enter the Land was going to come true, regardless of whether the Jewish people were going to enjoy a natural or supernatural victory. The command “not to rely on a miracle” (Pesachim 64b) means that the Jewish people were required to make logistical and tactical plans for their war, in case G-d wished to send them a victory garbed in nature. And this necessitated the sending of spies, to gather information.

The spies’ mistake was that the fulfillment of G-d’s command is not dependent on finding a practical solution. We must “not rely on a miracle” to exempt us from making the effort to find a natural means through which G-d might send salvation. But if no such means can be found then we must indeed rely on a miracle, because the alternative is that G-d’s command will not be carried out, and that is unacceptable.

This is a fundamental premise upon which our approach to observing all the mitzvos should be based: That G-d’s command to a person logically includes a promise that it will be possible for the person to carry out the command. Thus, the whole Parsha (including its eternal mitzvos) is named after the incident of the spies, to remind us that G-d gives us the ability to fulfill all His mitzvos – something we should bear in mind constantly.

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 13, p. 39ff.)



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