Parsha Halacha

Parshat Shelach/Shabbat Mevorchim Tammuz

A Grape Cluster for the Ages

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Tizku lemitzvot

The Torah portion of Shelach begins with the story of the spies that Moshe and the Jewish people sent to the land of Canaan. The Torah writes[1] that they left in the time of the ripening of the grapes.[2] There are various interpretations as to why this is important:
·        No Need to Fear
The Malbim says that Moshe told them not to fear when taking the fruits since it was the harvest season for grapes and it would not be unusual for travelers to be carrying grapes with them.
·        Need to Be Strong
The Kli Yakar says that Moshe was telling them to be strong and take from the fruits despite the difficulty involved since it was the time of the ripening of the grapes when people usually have watchmen in their vineyards.
·        The Time Was Ripe
In addition, the Kli Yakar says that grapes are an allusion to the Jewish people as the verse says,[3] “I found Israel [as pleasing] as grapes in the wilderness…” The ripening of the grapes thus alludes to the fact that the time was ripe for the Jewish people to conquer and occupy the land as it was more than a year since they had received the Torah and lived with it.
·        Fixing the Sin of the Tree of Knowledge
According to the Megaleh Amukuot[4] (by Rabbi Nathan Nata Spira, Poland 1585–1633) the spies were supposed to fix the first sin of mankind – that of eating from the Tree of Knowledge. He explains that the process of fixing this sin was started by Avraham and Sarah who were reincarnations of Adam and Chav respectively.
They did not fully succeed in this mission, however. Evidence to this is brought from the incident when Avraham was serving the angels while Sarah was preparing the food.[5] The Talmud says[6] that although Sarah had prepared the bread, she was unable to serve it because she had become a niddah at that time, rendering the bread ritually impure. (In earlier generations, righteous people would only eat food that was ritually pure, to the extent this was possible.)
The Jerusalem Talmud says that Adam was considered to be G-d’s challah (first dough).[7] As such, the ritual contamination of the batch of dough Sarah was preparing for the angels is seen as a symbol that she (and Avraham) had not fully succeeded in rectifying the sin relating to Adam, the “challah” of G-d.
The spies were supposed to rectify this sin by preparing the way to enter the land of Israel when the world would have gone back to the state of utopia that existed before the first sin. This is symbolized by the fact that Yehoshuah got the letter yud of Sarah’s name added to his name just as he was setting out to fulfill his mission.[8]
This indicates that he and the other spies were supposed to continue the work of Avraham and Sarah. According to one opinion in the Talmud,[9] the Tree of Knowledge was a grapevine. As such, when the verse says that it was the time of the ripening of the grapes, it alludes to the fact that the time was ripe to rectify the sin relating to the grapevine – that of the Tree of Knowledge (which was a grapevine, see above).[10]
Unfortunately, the spies failed in their mission. This is why the Torah portion continues with the mitzvah of Challah,[11] as this mitzvah relates to rectifying the above sin by elevating the dough that alludes to Adam. Thus, until today we continue the work started by Avraham and Sarah, to bring this world back to the state of utopia that existed before the sin of the Tree of Knowledge.

Carrying the Cluster
The verse says,[12] “They reached Nachal Eshkol (the valley of the cluster), and they cut down from there a branch with a single cluster of grapes and they carried it with a stick, two of them (וַיִּשָּׂאֻהוּ בַמּוֹט בִּשְׁנָיִם), and from the pomegranates and figs.”
How Many People Carried?
I have found six different opinions as to how many of the spies carried this cluster:
·        Two
The simple reading of the verse is that two of the spies carried the cluster which they draped over a stick. This interpretation is accepted by the Zohar[13] who says that only Yeshoshua and Kalev were able to carry this cluster (see below). The Ha’amek Davarsuggests that at first only two spies carried it as the spies had separated to check out different parts of the land. When they met up however, eight of them carried it as stated in the Talmud (see below).
·        Four
The Midrash[14] cites one opinion that there were two sticks as the verse says, “And they carried it with a stick, with two,” i.e., two sticks. Since each stick was (presumably) held by two people, there were four spies who carried the cluster.
·        Six
Another opinion in the Midrash[15] is that there were three sticks (presumably) carried by six spies. The verse is interpreted as follows, “And they carried it with a stick (i.e., one stick), with two (additional sticks).”
·        Eight
The Talmud says[16] that there were eight spies carrying the cluster. The verse is interpreted as follows: “And they carried it [“they” denotes two people] with a stick [since two people hold one stick, that’s another two for a total four], with two [i.e., twice the previous number, which equals eight].”
·        Ten
Another Midrash says[17] that ten of the spies carried the cluster. It would seem this is based on the presumption that all of the spies must have carried something. So, if one was carrying pomegranates and another was carrying figs, that would leave ten men for the grapes.
·        Sixteen
According to Rabbi Akiva in the Jerusalem Talmud,[18] there were 24 spies (see the footnote for discussion of this opinion) as the verse says אִישׁ אֶחָד אִישׁ אֶחָד לְמַטֵּה אֲבֹתָיו תִּשְׁלָחוּ “one man, one man (for a total of two) you should send from each tribe.”[19]Twelve tribes times two spies each equals 24. Of these spies, sixteen carried the cluster while eight carried the other fruits and their personal items.
Who Carried?
·        Not Yehoshua and Kalev
According to the Babylonian Talmud[20] Yehoshua and Kalev did not carry any fruits because they were the important people or because they didn’t want to participate in the conspiracy of the spies.
·        Only Yehoshua and Kalev
The Zohar says[21] that the other spies were (miraculously) unable to carry the cluster, and only the righteous Yehoshua and Kalev were able to do so. The other spies felt this was a bad omen for them and demanded that they be allowed to carry it. Rather than fight with them, Yehoshua and Kalev prayed that the other spies should be able to carry it, which they then did.

An Average Cluster
Although this cluster was huge (insofar as it needed to be carried by so many people), it was not an unusually large cluster compared to other clusters in Israel at that time. This can be inferred from the fact that the verse says that it was called Nachal Eshkol(the valley of the cluster) “because of the cluster the Jews had cut from it.” This means it was not called that name due to the size of the cluster but simply because that is the valley from which they chose a cluster.[22]

What Did They Do with the Cluster?
·        Made Wine for the Sacrifices
The Targum Yonatan says that there was a stream of wine that came out of this cluster. According to the Midrash,[23] the Jewish people used this wine to pour on the altar while sacrificing (nesachim). This may be a reason why the mitzvah of nesachimfollows the story of the spies.[24]
·        Made Wine for Kiddush
The third Gerer Rebbe suggested[25] that the Jewish people used this wine for making Kiddush while they were in the desert.

May we soon merit to drink the wine in the Messianic Era that G-d has been aging for us![26]

[2] It is noteworthy that, according to the Talmud (Ta’anit 29a), the spies left on the 29th of Sivan which occurs on this coming Tuesday.
[4] Parshat Shelach, Derush 1
[6] Bava Metziah 87a brought in Rashi on ibid
[8] Rashi on Numbers 13:16 based on Sotah 34a
[10] See also Yalkut Reuveni on the verse.
[14] Bamidbar Rabbah 16:14. The Talmud (Sotah 34a) also mentions this opinion.
[15] Bamidbar Rabbah ibid
[16] Sotah ibid as explained by Gur Aryeh on the verse
[19] Numbers 13:2. The commentaries explain that Moshe chose 12 of the spies whose names are listed, and the tribes chose another 12, themselves. The main 12 spies were the ones Moshe chose, which is why the verse (Numbers 14:27 and Brachot 21b) that describes the bad spies as a congregation is used as a source to say that ten men are needed to form a congregation (as Yehoshua and Kalev were not wicked).
It is noteworthy that the Jerusalem Talmud (Megillah 4:4, page 30b) derives the size of a minyan from the brothers of Yosef rather than from the verse about the spies.
[21] Parshat Shelach 160b See Shach al HaTorah.
[22] See Seforno on the verse (Numbers 13:24).
[23] Yalkut Reuveni (This is also quoted from Shir Hashirim Rabbah 4:27, but I have not found it there.)
[25] Likutei Yehudah on the verse citing the Imrei Emet

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach and a Chodesh Tov!

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