Torah thought forFriday 20 Sivan 5783 June 9 2023

Parashat Shelach Lecha (outside Israel Parashat Beha’alotcha)

From the teachings of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef ztvk”l
translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK

Explaining Why Hashem Enabled Am Yisrael the Free-Choice to Send the Spies, and the Healing Properties of Miriam’s Well, Especially on Motzei Shabbat

Our Parashah deals with sending the spies to scout out Eretz Yisrael. Then they returned to the wilderness with an evil report. Our Torah relates that due to the event of the spies a tremendous punishment was decreed against Am Yisrael that they would remain in the wilderness for the duration of 40 years and that all that generation, which left Egypt, would die in the wilderness.

Our chachamim explain that every year thereafter from the sin of the spies, 15,000 men from Am Yisrael died in the wilderness. This continued until the final year prior to entering Eretz Yisrael. The final 15,000, which remained from those that left Egypt, were destined to die and they anticipated their death on the night of Tish B’Av. Yet in the morning they saw that they hadn’t died. The following night they again anticipated their demise because they thought that they had made a mistake regarding the date. And so they waited night after night, until the 15th of Av (Tu B’Av), when they saw the full moon and they realised that they hadn’t made a mistake after all with the date, and they understood that Hashem had taken pity on them. This is one of the reasons why Tu B’Av is a joyous day, “those that died in the wilderness, ceased dying”.

It is written in the Parashah, “Send out men for yourself to explore the Canaanite territory” (Bamidbar 13:2). Our chachamim explain that send “for yourself” – “for your benefit”, I am not instructing you to send, if you want to send – then send.

It seems astonishing, for Hashem knows all future events, and He knew that a great calamity would transpire from sending the spies, and that through this 600,000 from Am Yisrael will languish in the wilderness. Hashem also knew that Am Yisrael will cry that night, which was the night of Tisha B’Av, and because of that crying, Hashem said, you cried unnecessarily, I will give you something to cry about for generations. For on that night both Temples were destroyed and many terrifying calamites befall Am Yisrael.

If so, how could Hashem, who loves Am Yisrael and only wants what is best for them, not have prevented them going on this mission? Why did Hashem enable them to rebel in this way?

It may be explained that all that Hashem does, He does for Am Yisrael’s benefit. Am Yisrael struggled to learn Torah from Moshe Rabbeinu, for they received the Torah on the 6th of Sivan and immediately Moshe ascended for 40 days, returning on the 17th of Tammuz, which is when they made the [golden] calf and he smashed the Tablets. He then ascended a second time on the 18th of Tammuz and stayed there another 40 days, praying that Hashem forgive Am Yisrael for their sin. He returned [to Am Yisrael] on the 29th Av, and on Rosh Chodesh Ellul he ascended to receive the second set of Tablets, returning [to Am Yisrael] on Yom Kippur [10th of Tishrei]. Then on the 11th of Tishrei he sat and judged the people. Then they built the Mishkan to atone for the sin of the calf. It thus transpired that instead of Am Yisrael studying Torah they prepared the artefacts for the Mishkan.

On the 25th of Kislev they completed the construction of the Mishkan. However the Mishkan was not erected until the 1st of Nissan [almost a year after having left Egypt]. In reality Moshe Rabbeinu only taught the Torah to the Bnei Yisrael for the months of Shevat and Adar. In Nissan the Mishkan was erected and each day a different prince of the tribes offered a sacrifice. On the 13th Nissan Aron kindled the menorah. Following this they celebrated Pesach and following Pesach Moshe taught them again. On the 29th of Sivan [some 14 months after they left Egypt] Moshe sent the spies to scout out the land.

It is therefore evident that the Bnei Yisrael only learnt a little bit of Torah from Moshe Rabbeinu, and such a small amount wouldn’t have sufficed to know the whole Torah for generations to come. Bearing in mind that Moshe Rabbeinu was unable to enter the Land as stated in the Torah [see Bamidbar 20:12]. If so, when would Am Yisrael learn the Torah? Therefore Hashem did Am Yisrael a favour in that Hashem gave the spies the free-choice, and after they stumbled, Am Yisrael remained in the wilderness under Moshe Rabbeinu’s reign, and they studied Torah from him for a further 40 years [in reality a bit less, a further 39 years, but overall 40 years]. All these years, they lacked nothing, they ate the manna and they drank from Miriam’s well. Even though they had to enter Eretz Yisrael, nevertheless, they still had to study Torah. Therefore Hashem didn’t prevent Moshe from sending the spies. But from Hashem’s mouth no bad shall be stated [see Eichah 3:38], therefore it states, “send for yourself” – “for your benefit”, for in lieu of this bad outcome, Moshe merited “for his benefit” [too], to live and study Torah another 40 years.

Maran the Shulchan Aruch, in his work the Bet Yosef (OH, 299) writes, “On Motzei Shabbat, women have the custom to draw water immediately after they hear ‘Bar’chu [et Hashem ha’m’vorach]’. Because we find in the Aggadah that Miriam’s well is in the Tiberias sea. Every Motzei Shabbat this well follows [and connects with] all the springs and wells, and anyone who is ill who drinks water, even if their entire body is smitten with boils, is healed”. Meaning some are accustomed to draw water or to turn on the tap immediately on Motzei Shabbat, because Miriam’s well rolls within all the reservoirs, and it is conceivable that we will merit to drink water from Miriam’s well.

It is related about Rav Hayyim Vital z”l (1542-1620), who was the Av Bet Din in Damascus, went to study Kabballah with Rabbeinu the Arizal who lived in Tzefat. However, the Arizal taught him secrets of the Torah that no one had ever heard, yet Rav Hayyim Vital was unable to remember the secrets of Kabballah that the Arizal taught him, and he was distressed by this. (The Arizal taught his pupil Rav Hayyim Vital, only for about 18 months, for he began teaching him when he was 36 years old and at age 38 the Arizal had already passed away.) Rav Hayyim Vital approached his Rebbi the Arizal, and said to him that he isn’t capable to remember what they are learning. The Arizal took him to the Kinneret and they went in a boat to a specific location. There the Arizal told him, here is Miriam’s well! He gave him to drink from the water and his mind became enlightened, and thereafter he remembered everything that he learnt.

When Am Yisrael were in the wilderness they drank from Miriam’s well and they studied Torah from Moshe Rabbeinu, they also remembered what they learnt. This is what is stated, “The Torah was only given to those who eat the manna” [Mechilta, Shemot, 16], and likewise, “to those who drink from Miriam’s well”, for they had the ability to remember the whole Torah.

May it be Hashem’s will that we merit to continue in Moshe Rabbeinu’s path, to study and to teach others, to observe and to fulfil. Amen so may Hashem say.

Shabbat Shalom!