FROM THE TORAH
Last week’s Sedra Beha’alot’cha ended with a series of confrontations between God, Moses, Aaron, Miriam, Joshua, and Israel. In this week’s Sedra Shelach-Lecha there is the denouement of these ongoing conflicts. Beginning with God’s plan for tribal leaders to reconnoiter the land of Canaan, opposed reports of the scouts reflect the underlying instability of the people’s will. Following the bitter sentence of forty years’ demise in the wilderness, requirements of the future settlement are summarized with the quantities of accompanying offerings and the consequences of transgressions unwitting and witting. The Sedra ends with the famous explanation of the purpose of the distinctive mitzvah of tzitzit.
Scouts Before the Conquest
ADVANCE SCOUTS DISPATCHED
The Eternal charges Moses: “Send for you” (Shelach-Lecha) men to scout the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Children of Israel, a chieftain from each father’s tribe. Thus Moses sends leaders of the Children of Israel from the wilderness of Paran in accordance with the Eternal’s word, and these are their names:
For the tribe of Reuben, Shamua son of Zakur;
For the tribe of Simeon, Shafat son of Chori;
For the tribe of Judah, Caleb son of Yefunneh;
For the tribe of Issachar, Yigal son of Joseph;
For the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea son of Nun;
For the tribe of Benjamin, Palti son of Rafu;
For the tribe of Zebulun, Gadiel son of Sodi;
For the tribe of Manasseh of Joseph, Gadi son of Susi;
For the tribe of Dan, Ammiel son of Gemali;
For the tribe of Asher, Setur son of Michael;
For the tribe of Naphtali, Nachbi son of Vofsi; and
For the tribe of Gad, Geuel son of Machi.
Moses called Hoshea son of Nun: Joshua (Yehoshua).
In sending them, Moses tells them to go up into the Negev and to ascend the hill country: see what kind of a land it is and whether the people dwelling upon it is strong or weak, few or many. Is the land itself good or bad, the cities open or fortified, the soil rich or poor, are there trees in it? Be sure to bring back some of the fruit of the land—it was the season of the ripening of the grapes.
THE SCOUTS PROCEED
The scouts proceed from the wilderness of Zin to an area at the entrance of Hamath. Going up to the Negev, they come to Hebron. There are the Anakites: Achiman, Sheshai and Talmai. Hebron was built seven years before Zoan of Egypt.
At the wadi of Eshkol they cut down a branch with a single cluster (eshkol) of grapes, which is carried on a pole by two men. Therefor was the place called Eshkol. They also cut down some pomegranates and figs.
THE SCOUTS RETURN AND REPORT
At the end of forty days the scouts return to Moses and Aaron and all the congregation of the Children of Israel, to Kadesh in the wilderness of Paran. There they make their report, displaying the fruit of the land. They tell Moses: The land which you sent us to scout does indeed flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. But the people that dwells in the land is strong, its cities are very large and fortified, and we saw the Anakites there. Amalek dwells in the land of the Negev; the Hittites, the Jebusites and the Amorites dwell in the hill country, and the Canaanites dwell by the sea and along the Jordan.
Caleb attempts to reassure the people before Moses: Let us nonetheless go up and possess it; we shall prevail! But the others who went with him demur: No, we shall not succeed in going up against the people because it is stronger than we are! They declare that the land will consume those who try to settle in it, and that the people whom they observed there were of overwhelming stature, Anakites of the Nephilim, who made the scouts seem in their own eyes as mere grasshoppers before them, “and thus were we in their eyes!”
THE CONGREGATION REACTS
All of the congregation raise their voice and the people weep that night. The Children of Israel complain against Moses and Aaron: Would that we had died in the land of Egypt or in this wilderness! Why is the Eternal bringing us to this land only to fall by the sword, and for our wives and our children to be spoil? One to another they say: Let us return to Egypt!
Moses and Aaron fall upon their faces before the community. Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Yefunneh, two of the scouts, rend their garments and appeal to the congregation of the Children of Israel: The land that we scouted is exceedingly good; if God is pleased with us, He will bring us to this land flowing with milk and honey, and He will give it to us. Only rebel not against the Eternal, He is with us, and fear not the people of the land, as they are our bread, defenseless before us. All of the congregation are ready to pelt them with stones, but the dense presence of the Eternal appears in the Tent of Meeting before all of the Children of Israel.
MOSES APPEALS TO THE ETERNAL
The Eternal says to Moses: How long will this people spurn Me? How long will they not believe in Me considering all of the signs that I have performed in its midst? Let Me strike it down with pestilence and disown it and make you (Moses) into a nation greater and mightier than it! But then, argues Moses to the Eternal, the Egyptians will tell the inhabitants of this land how You brought up this people from its midst, how You now appear in the midst of this people in plain sight, how Your cloud rests upon them, how You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night, yet You would entirely destroy this people, whereupon the nations, having heard Your fame, would think: then the Eternal, after all, was not able to bring this people to the land that He promised to them and instead slaughtered them in the wilderness!
Instead, let the Lord’s power of forbearance be great, as You have declared: “The Eternal, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but without acquitting, visiting the iniquity of fathers upon children to the third generation and to the fourth generation.” (14:18; cf. Exodus 34:6-7) Forgive, I pray, the iniquity of this people in accordance with the greatness of Your lovingkindness, as You have forgiven this people from Egypt until here!
THE ETERNAL FORGIVES
The Eternal responds: I forgive in accordance with your word. However, as I live, and as the presence of the Eternal fills all the earth, none of those who have seen My presence and My signs in Egypt and in the wilderness yet try Me these ten times and not obey Me shall see the land that I promised to their fathers. All of those who spurn Me shall not see it! But My servant Caleb, with whom there is a different spirit and who follows Me, him I shall bring to the land, and his offspring shall inherit it. Now, as the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwell in the valley, tomorrow you turn and proceed to the wilderness by way of the Sea of Reeds.
THE ETERNAL CONDEMNS
Through Moses and Aaron the Eternal excoriates Israel: “How much longer for this evil congregation that murmurs against Me?” (14:27a) I have heard their murmurings. Tell them: I will do to you just what you are asking! Your carcasses will drop in this wilderness: all of you who were listed in enrollments from the age of twenty years and upward, who muttered against Me, shall not enter the land in which I promised to settle you. This means that Caleb son of Yefunneh and Joshua son of Nun will enter the land. Your children, whom you predicted would become spoil, I shall bring to know the land that you have rejected. During the years that your carcasses drop in this wilderness, for forty years, your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness, bearing your faithlessness until the last of your carcasses drops. Forty years correspond with the forty days during which you scouted the land. Thus shall you know the consequences of opposing Me.
Of the scouts themselves, those whose report caused all of the congregation to murmur against Moses—those who spread an evil report about the land die in a plague. But Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Yefunneh live.
THE CONDEMNED BREAK THROUGH
When Moses discloses this sentence to all of the Children of Israel, the people mourn deeply. They arise early the next morning and ascend to the top of the mountain, declaring their presence and an acknowledgement of their having sinned. Moses addresses their presumption: Why are you transgressing the command of the Eternal? It will not succeed! Do not go up, with the Eternal not in your midst, and you will not be overwhelmed before your enemies! The Amalekites and the Canaanites will be there before you, and you will fall by the sword; as you turned away from following the Eternal, the Eternal will not be with you.
Yet they defiantly go up to the top of the mountain, as the Ark of the Covenant of the Eternal and Moses do not move from the camp. The Amalekites and the Canaanites dwelling in that mountain come down and strike them, crushing them, at Chormah.
The Eternal charges Moses to explain to the Children of Israel: When you come to the land which I am giving you for your settlement and you present a fire offering to the Eternal, whether a burnt offering or a sacrifice, whether votive or freewill, or a peace offering, or at your fixed occasions, to produce a pleasing aroma to the Eternal, whether from the herd or from the flock, you shall provide accompanying offerings.
To accompany each sheep, you shall offer a meal offering of a tenth of a measure of fine flour mixed with a quarter of a hin of oil, and a libation of a quarter of a hin of wine.
To accompany a ram, you shall offer a meal offering of two-tenths of a measure of fine flour mixed with a third of a hin of oil, and a libation of a third of a hin of wine.
To accompany an animal from the herd, you shall offer a meal offering of three-tenths of a measure of fine flour mixed with half of a hin of oil, and a libation of half of a hin of wine.
Thus shall be done for each ox, ram, sheep, or goat, that you as a native offer or that a non-native may offer, however many animals there may be, as an eternal law throughout your generations.
When you eat from the bread of the land to which I am bringing you, you shall offer, as first yield of your baking, a loaf (challah) (15:20) as a sacred gift to the Eternal, throughout your generations, like the gift from your threshing floor.
Transgressions: Repair and Prevention
If you fail unintentionally to fulfill any of these commandments which the Eternal has communicated to Moses, from the day that the Eternal commanded them throughout your generations—in the case of the entire community, the error being unwittingly hidden from the oversight of the congregation, then the entire community shall provide one bull of the herd for a burnt offering, for a pleasant aroma to the Eternal, accompanied by its prescribed meal offering and libation, and a male goat for a sin offering. The priest shall seek atonement for all of the congregation of the Children of Israel and for the non-native who sojourns in their midst, that they may be forgiven, as it was an error of all the people for which they have brought their offering before the Eternal.
If the error is the sin of an individual, then that person shall provide a female goat for a sin offering, and the priest shall seek atonement for that person, who sinned unwittingly, before the Eternal, that through such atonement he may be forgiven. The same law in this regard shall apply to the native of the Children of Israel and to the non-native who sojourns among them.
A native or a sojourner who intentionally violates His commandment, thereby reviling the Eternal, shall be cut off from among his people and shall bear his iniquity.
GATHERER OF WOOD ON THE SABBATH
As the Children of Israel are in the wilderness, they find a man gathering wood on the Sabbath. They bring him before Moses, Aaron and all the congregation. They put him in custody because it had not been explained what should be done to him. The Eternal then says to Moses that the man should be put to death: all of the congregation should pelt him with stones outside of the camp. Thus, all of the congregation remove him from the camp and stone him to death, as the Eternal commanded Moses.
TZITZIT: REMINDER OF GOD’S COMMANDMENTS
The Eternal bids Moses speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: “Let them make for themselves fringes (tzitzit) on the corners of their garments throughout their generations and include on the corner fringe a thread of techeylet (a particular color such as violet). That shall be your tzitzit, such that when you see it, you shall remember all of the commandments of the Eternal and do them, and that you fall not into the habit of going astray after your own heart and your own eyes, so that you may remember and do all of My commandments and be holy to your God. I am the Eternal your God, who have taken you out from the land of Egypt to be your God. I am the Eternal your God.”
FROM THE PROPHETS
Haftarah for Shabbat Shelach-Lecha
Scouts at the Conquest
Joshua son of Nun secretly dispatches two men from Shittim to scout the land and Jericho. They come to the house of a harlot named Rachav and lie down there. The king of Jericho receives word that men of the Children of Israel have come in to search out the land and sends word to Rachav to surrender the men. But Rachav hides the men, saying that she did not know whence they came and that, in any case, they have departed her house in the cover of night. Quickly pursue and apprehend them, she says.
In the meantime, she hides the scouts under stalks of flax on her roof. The pursuers look for them outside, by way of the Jordan, over the fords, and they shut the gate as they leave. Rahav then takes the opportunity to acknowledge to the scouts that she knows that the Eternal has given them the land and that her own people are in dread before them, having heard how the Eternal dried up the water of the Red Sea for them when they went out from Egypt (cf. Exodus 14:15-31), and how they had utterly defeated the Amorite kings, Sichon and Og, across the Jordan (cf. Numbers 21:21-35). “For the Eternal your God is God in the heavens above and on the earth below!” (2:11)
She asks them to promise her by the Eternal that as she has shown them consideration, they will show the same to her father’s house and demonstrate as much by sparing her parents and her siblings and their families from death. The men promise their lives for hers as long as she does not betray them, and that when the Eternal gives them the land, they will show her the mercy and fairness that she seeks.
So she lets the men down by a rope through a window, as her house was built into a wall. She advises them to hide in the mountain for three days, until the pursuers return home, and then the men can go on their way. The men, for their part, agree to the promise of immunity for her family, when they return to the land, if she binds a scarlet thread that they give her in the window through which she let them down. As long as her family is together with her in her house, they shall be safe. But as for any of them who leaves—his blood is upon his head. As before, they shall honor their promise as long as she does not betray them.
Rachav agrees to their conditions and sends them off. She attaches the scarlet thread to the window, the men go to the mountain, where they stay for three days until the pursuers give up their search after failing to find them. The men return to Joshua son of Nun and relate to him all that has happened. They tell him: The Eternal has given all of the land into our hand; all of its inhabitants melt away before us!
FROM TALMUD AND MIDRASH
Numbers Rabbah 16:2,5
Liability for the Choice of Scouts
“The valiant of heart
have been despoiled;
they have gone into a stupor.”
Those words apply to Moses and Aaron, who dispatched the scouts: when the scouts came back with slander, Moses and Aaron did not know what to do. They were rendered powerless under the influence of the scouts’ slanderous words.
Whereupon Caleb gets up and silences the congregation, as was said, “Caleb hushed the people before Moses.” (Numbers 13:30) He got up on a stool to quiet them, and they became quiet in order to hear him reassure them, “The Land that we reconnoitered is very very good!” (Ibid. 14:7)
For this the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses: I count what he did as a great favor, as He said, “None of those men of that evil generation shall see the good Land that I promised your fathers except My Caleb…” (Deuteronomy 1:35-36)! Why “My Caleb?” Because Caleb was with Me more than all 600,000 of you, including Moses and Aaron, you who failed because the scouts that you sent were fools. Accordingly, said Solomon, “One who entrusts matters into the hand of fools wears out legs and sucks up trouble.” (Proverbs 26:6)
But how can you say that the scouts were fools? “Send for you men…” (Numbers 13:2a)! “One man from each ancestral tribe…” (ibid. 2b)! “And Moses sent them…all of them were men…” (ibid. 3)! Wherever else Scripture mentions “men,” they are righteous men! “Moses said to Joshua: Choose for us men” (Exodus 17:9) who vanquished Amalek! David’s father Jesse was described as “one who excelled among men” (I Samuel 17:12)! Hannah prayed to the Eternal for “offspring who would be counted among men” (I Samuel 1:11), and that was the prophet Samuel! These “men” were hardly fools! The only reason why the scouts are called fools is that they slandered the Land, as was said, “The one who speaks slander is a fool.” (Proverbs 10:18) Nonetheless, they started out as great men even though later they made themselves fools.
It was about them that Moses said, “They are a capricious generation, children who lack stability!” (Deuteronomy 32:20) For they were chosen from among all in Israel with the approval of the Holy One, blessed be He, and of Moses, who said, “I approved of the plan, and I took from among you twelve men.” (Deuteronomy 1:23) This proves that the men were considered righteous in the view of Israel and in the view of Moses. But Moses did not even want to dispatch them on his own judgment without consulting with the Holy One, blessed be He, regarding each and every one of the tribal representatives: “Moses sent them from the wilderness of Paran in accordance with the word of the Eternal” (Numbers 13:3), indicating that the Eternal found them suitable for the task at that time.
It was only after the period of forty days that they flipped and committed the catastrophe that caused that generation to suffer the disaster of dying in the wilderness. As Moses said, “They are a capricious generation” (Deuteronomy 32:20): At the beginning they were confirmed righteous men, as was said, “Send for you men” (Numbers 13:2) and “These are the names of the men whom Moses sent to reconnoiter the Land” (ibid. 16), then they flipped.
Numbers Rabbah 16:3
If not for you, then for your offspring
The elder Rabbi Acha opened his discourse
with the following words:
“The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God endures forever!”
These words of the prophet elucidate the beginning of our Sedra,
the charge of the Eternal to Moses,
“Send for you (Shelach-Lecha) men….”
For it may be likened to a king who promised his loyal subject: Come with me, and I will give you a gift. His subject obeyed, but then he died before the king could fulfill his promise and give him the gift. The king, however, assured the son of his loyal subject: Even though your father has died, I shall not renege on the gift that I promised him; come and receive the gift yourself!
So it is with the King of the kings of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, who called Abraham, “My loyal subject” (Isaiah 41:8), and bid him, “Go forth for you (lecha) from your native land, from your father’s house” (Genesis 12:1), promising him, “Walk about through the land, through its length and its breadth, as I shall give it to you (lecha)!” (Genesis 13:17) The Holy One, blessed be He, then tells Moses: Although I promised your fathers to give them the land, and then they died, I shall not be untrue to My word to Abraham, “All the land that you see—I shall give it to you (lecha) and to your offspring forever!” (Genesis 13:15) “Send for you (lecha) men…,” as I promised Abraham, “for you (lecha) and for your offspring!” (Genesis 13:15) Yes, “…the word of our God endures forever!”
Numbers Rabbah 16:6
“They lack knowledge and understanding;
their eyes are besmeared,
they take it not to heart.”
They refused to learn from the juxtaposition of Miriam’s punishment for slandering her brother Moses at the end of last week’s Sedra Beha’alot’cha (Numbers 12) with the beginning of this week’s Sedra Shelach-Lecha (Numbers 13) to dispatch the scouts. As it was foreseen by the Holy One, blessed be He, that the scouts would return slandering the Land, He provided them ahead of time an example of the punishment for slander: that Miriam was stricken with tzara’at! Nonetheless they ignored His warning, they took it not to heart, in accordance with the prophet’s sad reflection.
Numbers Rabbah 16:7
Who wanted to dispatch scouts?
“The Eternal says to Moses the following:
‘Send for you men
to reconnoiter the land of Canaan,
which I am giving to the Children of Israel…’”
Even though the Holy One, blessed be He, issued the command to Moses to send men to reconnoiter the land of Canaan, and Moses charged them to see if the land “is good or bad” (ibid. 19) and if the land is fertile or not (ibid. 20), the idea that they should go did not come from the Holy One, blessed be He. This is implied by His assurance of the excellence of the Land of Israel:
“For the Eternal your God is bringing you to a good land…”
“For the land which you are entering to possess is not like the land of Egypt…
but…it is a land which the Eternal your God looks after continually…”
Even while they were still in Egypt:
“I am coming down to rescue it (‘My people’) from the power of Egypt
and to bring it up from that land to a good and spacious land,
to a land flowing with milk and honey…”
Even on the journey He protected them:
“The Eternal went before them by day in a pillar of cloud
to guide them along the way…”
“And the Ark of the Covenant of the Eternal traveled before them…
to find for them a safe refuge.”
Why then did God speak to Moses those words, “’Send for you men…?’” Those words were requested by Israel. When they reached the borders of the land and the Holy One, blessed be He, said to them, “See, the Eternal your God has placed the land before you: go up, take possession, as the Eternal, God of your fathers, promised you; fear not and be not dismayed” (Deuteronomy 1:21), then all of you drew near to Moses and pleaded, “Let us send men ahead of us to investigate the land for us…” (ibid. 22)!
Ezra the Scribe explained it as follows:
“You led them by day in a pillar of cloud…,
You came down upon Mount Sinai to speak with them…
You announced to them Your holy Sabbath day…
and You gave them commandments
through the hand of Moses Your servant,
You provided them with bread from heaven to satisfy their hunger
and water from a rock to quench their thirst,
And You invited them to take possession of the land
which You solemnly promised to give them…
But they stiffened their necks and did not heed Your commandments,
they refused to listen and remembered not
the miracles which You performed for them!”
Thus said David:
“For they had no faith in God…
and they refused to follow His Torah.”
Rabbi Joshua made the following comparison:
The king makes a shidduch for his son the prince, a beautiful girl of good and affluent parentage. He describes all of this to his son, but his son refuses to believe him until he sees her for himself. This grieves the king greatly. He fears that if he refuses to allow the prince to see her, he will think that she is actually unattractive and that is the reason why his father refuses to allow him to see her. Yet he is sorely disappointed that his son cannot accept his assurance. So he says to his son, “You may see her, in order to know that I have not misled you; but because you have failed to trust me, I swear that you will never see her in your own house but that I will give her only to your son!”
Such was the disappointment of the Holy One, blessed be He, with Israel. “The land is good,” He assured them, “it is a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8), yet they did not believe him and said instead, “Let us send men ahead of us to investigate the land for us…” (Deuteronomy 1:22)! So the Holy One, blessed be He, said: If I prevent them from investigating the land, they will think that I did not let them see it because the land is really not good. So I will have to let them see the land, but I swear that not one of them will enter it, as He said, “They shall not see the land which I promised to their fathers, all of those who spurn Me” (Numbers 14:23), and I will give it instead to their children (ibid. 31)!
Numbers Rabbah 16:8
Moses, “Send for you!”
“The Eternal says to Moses the following:
‘Send for you men
to reconnoiter the land of Canaan,
which I am giving to the Children of Israel…’”
Why did He say, “…for you?”
When the Children of Israel said to Moses, “Let us send men ahead of us to investigate the land for us…” (Deuteronomy 1:22), Moses was perplexed and needed to consult first with the Holy One, blessed be He. He said to Him: Your children are requesting at this point that scouts be sent to reconnoiter the land before they enter it to possess it. The Holy One, blessed be He, responded: This is not the first time that they have rejected Me. Even when they were in Egypt, they rejected Me, as the prophet said: “Such was their rejecting in the land of Egypt!” (Hosea 7:16) They are prone to rejecting Me, therefore there is no need for Me to try them, as is written, “He knows what is in the darkness; the light dwells with Him” (Daniel 2:22). Moses, I know what they are, but if you want to, then “Send for you,” that is, for yourself, and this we can infer from what is written: “These are the names of the men whom Moses sent to reconnoiter the land…” (Numbers 13:16), not “according to the word of the Eternal” (cf. 13:3), but Moses for himself!
Numbers Rabbah 16:15
Forty Days Forty Years
The scouts “return from reconnoitering the land
at the end of forty days.”
Could they really have traveled from the south to the north in forty days and observed all that there was to see in that time? It was already known to the Holy One, blessed be He, that they would speak slanderously about the land, so years of suffering were decreed for that generation, a year for each day (cf. 14:33-34), forty years for forty days, and at that point the Holy One, blessed be He, closed off any more of the way that they could have explored!
Numbers Rabbah 16:11
The Assumption of Defeat
The majority of the scouts declare
that the people whom they observed
were of overwhelming stature…:
“We were in our own eyes as mere grasshoppers before them,
and thus were we in their eyes!”
Thus said the Holy One, blessed be He:
I can overlook their words,
“We were in our own eyes as mere grasshoppers before them…,”
but when they say,
“…and thus were we in their eyes!”
How can you know how I made you to appear in their eyes?
Who is to say that you were not in their eyes as angels!
Mishnah Sanhedrin 1:6
The Evil Congregation
“The Eternal speaks
to Moses and to Aaron, saying,
‘How much longer
shall this evil congregation
mutter against Me?’”
Whence do we learn that ten individuals constitute a “congregation?” From God’s excoriation of the scouts: Altogether they were a group of 12, but the “evil congregation” excludes Caleb and Joshua, hence 10!
Sifre Numbers 111
The Severity and Uniqueness of Idolatry
“And if you should err and not perform
all of these commandments
which the Eternal has spoken to Moses,
all that the Eternal has commanded you
by the hand of Moses,
from the day that the Eternal commanded
and onward throughout your generations,
and if it was done away from the eyes of the congregation,
all of the congregation shall produce one bull of the herd
for a burnt offering…
and one male goat for a sin offering.”
Elsewhere (Leviticus 4:13-21) the Torah requires the bringing of a bull of the herd as a sin offering when the whole community has erred inadvertently, but not a goat. Here in our Sedra (Numbers 15:22-26), the communal error requires a bull of the herd as a burnt offering and additionally the goat as a sin offering. What is the reason for the difference?
The prohibition of idolatry would have been included among all of the commandments for which the community must bring a bull in the event of unwitting violation, but our Sedra excludes idolatry from the general category of commandments and assigns it a unique severity for which the community must bring both a bull and a goat.
But I cannot tell from the actual words of our Sedra that they apply to idolatry, as idolatry is not mentioned! Might they not be referring to all of the commandments mentioned in the Torah? The correct answer is a talmud, an intimation of the text, “…and if it was done away from the eyes of the congregation, inadvertently…” (15:24): by the singular phrase “it was done” the verse has singled out this commandment as one that is commanded uniquely, and what is that? The prominent prohibition of idolatry, “You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image or all likeness…” (Exodus 20:4-6, the Second of the Ten Commandments)!
But how do I know that the commandment that the verse (15:24) has singled out as commanded uniquely is the prohibition of idolatry? Might it not be referring to another commandment that is commanded uniquely? The correct answer is another talmud, from the initial words, “And if you should err and not perform all of these commandments…”: the words “all of these commandments” teach us the identity of the commandment that is commanded uniquely. Just as one who transgresses all of the commandments surely casts off the heavenly yoke, invalidates the covenant and casts shame upon the Torah, so also (the verses 15:22-24 imply) one who transgresses only one albeit unique commandment casts off the heavenly yoke, invalidates the covenant and casts shame upon the Torah, and what is that one unique commandment? The prohibition of idolatry, as was said in reference to an idolator, “to transgress His covenant“ (Deuternomy 17:2), and “covenant” is equivalent to “Torah,” as was said, “These are the words of the covenant which the Eternal commanded Moses…” (Deuteronomy 28:69)!
Rabbi also derives that the unique commandment referred to in our verses is the prohibition of idolatry, but his derivation is based upon the superfluous use of “all” in “If you should err and not perform all of these commandments…” (Numbers 15:22) and in the Ten Commandments, “Do not make for yourself a sculptured image or all likeness…” (Exodus 20:4-6), the commandment against idolatry. Based upon the interpretive method of gezerah shavah, the clear reference to idolatry in the Ten Commandments is thereby applied, through the superfluous word “all” that occurs both there (Exodus 20:4) and here (Numbers 15:22), to the open reference of a unique commandment in our verses : the unique commandment must therefore be idolatry!
Here is another analogy from which we can learn about the severity of idolatry. The Ten Commandments are introduced with the words, “God spoke all of these words…” (Exodus 20:1). The words in our verse, “all of these commandments which the Eternal has spoken to Moses,” are therefore redundant and so may be associated with their duplicate occurrence in the Ten Commandments: Whoever acknowledges idolatry denies the Ten Commandments! This inference is an example of “God has spoken once from which I have learned twice, as God is strong in what He says!” (Psalms 62:12) Also: “Indeed My word is like fire—declares the Eternal—and like a hammer that shatters into pieces on a rock!” (Jeremiah 23:29)
Whoever acknowledges idolatry denies not only the Ten Commandments but also all that Moses was commanded. This is derived from the next part of the verse, “…all that the Eternal has commanded you by the hand of Moses…” (15:23)!
Whoever acknowledges idolatry denies not only the Ten Commandments and all that Moses was commanded but also what the prophets were commanded. This is derived from the next words, “…from the day that the Eternal commanded…” (Ibid.)!
Whoever acknowledges idolatry denies not only the Ten Commandments and all that Moses was commanded and what the prophets were commanded but also what the fathers after them were commanded. This is derived from the next words, “…and onward throughout your generations…” (Ibid.)! But we also have it that the Holy One, blessed be He, began to command the fathers as early as Adam, as was said: “The Eternal God commanded the man…” (Genesis 2:16)!
So, the verse teaches that whoever acknowledges idolatry denies the Ten Commandments, what Moses was commanded, what the prophets were commanded, and what the fathers were commanded; and whoever denies idolatry acknowledges all of the Torah!
Numbers Rabbah 17:5
Torah and Commandments Sown
“That shall be your tzitzit,
such that when you see it,
you shall remember
all of the commandments of the Eternal
and do them…”
The Holy One, blessed be He, sowed Torah and commandments in this world to bequeathe them to Israel for life in the world to come. Thus sang the Psalmist: “Light is sown for the righteous, and radiance for the upright of heart!” (Psalms 97:11) “For the commandment is a lamp, and Torah is a light.” (Proverbs 6:23)
He has not deposited anything in the world that does not provide a commandment for Israel. “The Eternal, desiring to endow His servant with righteousness, increases Torah and magnifies it.” (Isaiah 42:21)
One goes out to plow: “You shall not plow with an ox and an ass together.” (Deuteronomy 22:10)
One goes out to sow: “You may not sow your vineyard with kilayim (mixed seeds)…” (Deuteronomy 22:9)
One goes out to reap: “Do not turn back to gather the forgotten sheaf (shich’cha)…” (Deuteronomy 24:19)
To knead: “You shall offer, as first yield of your baking, a loaf (challah) as a sacred gift…” (Numbers 15:21)
To slaughter: “He shall give to the priest the shoulder, the cheeks and the stomach.” (Deuteronomy 18:3)
If you happen upon the nest of a bird: “Do not take the mother with her young.” (Deuteronomy 22:6)
If you hunt down an animal: “He shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth.” (Leviticus 17:13)
If you plant a tree for food: “You shall regard its fruit as forbidden for three years…” (Leviticus 19:23)
When you bury your dead: “You shall not gash yourselves…” (Deuteronomy 14:1)
When you cut your hair: “Do not round off the side-growth on your head…” (Leviticus 19:27)
When you build a house: “Make a parapet for your roof…” (Deuteronomy 22:8) and “Inscribe them upon the doorposts…” (Deuteronomy 6:9)
One puts on a tallit: “Let them make for themselves tzitzit…” (Numbers 15:38)
Talmud Menachot 44a
Tzitzit as Witnesses
It is taught that Rabbi Nathan said: Not even the lightest commandment in the Torah is without its reward in this world; and as for the world to come, I do not know how much.
You may learn this from the commandment of tzitzit. It happened that a certain man who was diligent in the commandment of tzitzit heard that there was a harlot in one of the coastal towns who charged 400 gold pieces as her price. He made an appointment. At the appointed time he arrived and sat at the door. The harlot’s servant announced the man as the one who had hired her for 400 gold pieces. The harlot bid him enter, and he entered. She had laid out for him seven beds, six of silver and one of gold, and between each of them there were steps of silver but before the highest one steps of gold.
She went up and sat upon the highest one naked. As he also went up to sit naked with her, his four tzitzit slapped him on the face so that he slipped and found himself sitting on the ground. Then she also slipped and was sitting on the ground. She said to him, “By the Capitol of Rome, I implore you to tell me what blemish you have seen in me!” “By the Temple service,” he swore, “I have never seen a woman as beautiful as you! But the Eternal our God commanded us a certain commandment, and tzitzit is its name, and regarding it is written, ‘I am the Eternal your God’ two times: I am He who will in the future exact punishment, and I am He who in the future will give reward. Those four tzitzit seemed to me like four witnesses!” She said to him, “I won’t let you go until you tell me your name, the name of your city, the name of your rabbi, and the name of the school where you learn Torah.” He wrote them down and handed them to her.
She arose and divided her assets into three parts: one-third for the government, one-third for the poor, and one-third she kept in addition to the bedding. When she arrived at the Beth Midrash of Rabbi Chiya, she asked of him, “Allow me to become a convert.” He said to her, “My daughter, have you cast your eyes upon one of the students?” She took out what the student had written for her and gave it to Rabbi Chiya. He said to her, “Take possession of what you have acquired.”
Those beds which she had laid out for him illicitly, she now laid out for him legally. Such is its reward in this world; but as for the world to come, I do not know how great it is.