Parshas Shelach - Unfinished Business

By Rabbi Zvi Teichman

Posted on 06/27/19

Parshas HaShavua Divrei Torah sponsored by
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Although we know much about the two heroes, Yehoshua and Calev, in the episode of the spies, about all we know about the rest of the cast of spies is just their names.

Yet, the Talmud states that we have a tradition that ‘their names accord with their deeds’, their subsequent flaws were indicated already within their names.

The Talmud goes on to say that they retained only two of the expositions from among these ten individuals.

Firstly, סְתוּר בן מִיכָאֵל, סתר meaning to ‘contradict’, one who denied the deeds of the Holy One, Blessed be He, the son of מיכאל, rooted in the word מך which means ‘feeble’, depicting himself (perhaps a euphemism for the Almighty) as a weakling.

Secondly, נַחבִּי בן וָפְסִי, נחבי based on the word החביא, to conceal, as he concealed the true words of the Holy One, Blessed be He, the son of ופסי, contracting the word פסע, to ‘step’, as he tread on the attributes of G-d.

Certainly these ‘defects’ weren’t intended by their parents who bestowed these names upon them innocently. Possibly this was a divine infiltration into their minds of the parents when naming the child that was prophetic of their future follies.  

But then the question begs as to why the father’s names are associated with these blemishes? Were they too guilty of their children’s poor choices?

The Holy Kohen of Tzefas, the Sifsei Kohen, observes that after the Torah points out how initially all the spies were righteous, by referring to all of them as אנשים, a term reserved to denote distinguished men, the Torah states ואלה שמותם..., and these were their names, seemingly linking their names to their elevated stature. He explains that these names indeed can alternately be interpreted in a most positive vein.

סתור, refers to an ability to ‘deny’ and deflect insult, and מיכאל indicating personal humility.

נחבי, also intimates the trait of ‘hiding’ modestly one’s qualities, and ופסי, a condensing of the word אפס, meaning ‘nothing’, alluding to his admirable self-effacement.

Perhaps these families embodied the sterling qualities of genuine and healthy humility and they sought to implant within their children the Jewish trait of modesty by expressing those hopes in the very names they conferred on their children.

The challenge though is not to allow that senses of humbleness before G-d to transform into self-doubt of our personal worthiness.

The spies out of genuine fear of the great responsibilities placed upon them in the new arena of life in the Holy Land and all its expectations of greatness from them, began to permit self-doubt to penetrate their minds, questioning whether they were indeed worthy of such nobility. With time that vacillation metamorphosed into a denial of G-d’s ability and allegiance, leading them to retreat and rebel.

We are invested with talents, but they can be a double-edged sword that needs to be skillfully wielded lest we harm ourselves.

Perhaps that is the deeper meaning behind the Targum Yehonoson’s suggestion that it was Moshe observing Yehoshua’s humility that compelled him to pray on his behalf and alter his name. It wasn’t necessarily the fear Yehoshua would cower before them, as much as it was the concern that he too might lapse into dangerous self-recrimination and doubt.

Perhaps the seeds of this precarious walk on the tightrope of humility/unworthiness was already apparent in their parents lives that found expression in their progeny and therefore noted in their names as well.

The Torah mentions the relationship of of Gadi ben Susi from the tribe of Menashe as descending from Yosef, but omits Yosef’s association with Yehoshua, of the tribe of Efrayim, despite his being equally descended from Yosef.

The Daas Zekeinim of the Baalei Tosefos, remarks that this emphasis indicates that the flaw of Yosef in speaking slanderously against his brothers so many years earlier was still percolating, finding its expression in his seed.

The famed Mashgiach  of Mir in Poland, Reb Yeruchem, notes that despite the fact that Yosef’s sin was only measurable as such by the  high standards of the homes of the Patriarchs, and he endured much suffering on account of that ‘miniscule’ error, which we might have assumed cleansed that germ from his system, nevertheless it continued to fester in the body of Gadi ben Susi. We must marvel and tremble, he says, at the eternal imprint each of our choices make in life.

We each have unfinished business in bringing about the perfection of character that is incumbent upon us until such time as we reach our goal.

My beloved older brother, Dovid, shared with me a very touching tale he recently heard while paying a shiva call.

A woman retold how for many years she happily volunteered for the local Bikur Cholim in providing warm and delicious meals for families enduring the difficulties of dealing with the disruption of the normality of life that comes when facing illness within the family,

Though she invested much time and effort in shopping, cooking and packaging the fare, she plainly couldn’t also deliver it and therefore partnered with other kind souls in getting it to the appropriate destination.

Recently though, for the very first time, a situation arose where there was simply no one available to transport the food. Despite the difficulty she pushed herself for the first time to go the extra mile and personally deliver the goods.

She arrived at the address, knocked on the door and an elderly woman opened it and stared at her for a long few seconds. The lady finally spoke, asking her if she might be the daughter of so and so. She responded that indeed she was. She inquired of her mother’s present whereabouts and was sadly informed by her daughter that she passed away just a short while ago.

The woman thanked her profusely for her kindness and asked if she wouldn’t mind indulging her by coming in for a few minutes as she wanted to share something with her. Ever more intrigued, the younger woman eagerly agreed. She sat down and began to listen to a story that would inspire her for eternity.

The older woman was a survivor who endured all the tortures of that harrowing experience. The woman revealed that the younger woman’s mother was her barrack mate who once took very ill in the course of the internment. Illness was a death sentence, since the enemy had no use or interest for those who couldn’t contribute. Somehow this noble woman managed to cover for her mother by fulfilling the daily quotas for the both of them. She also gave up from her meager ration of food to her sick friend so that she would regain the strength to recover. Obviously, they both survived miraculously to raise beautiful families. She recalled, though, how after her mother recuperated, she promised her heroic friend with overwhelming gratitude, that if she ever would need to be provided for in any way she would be there for her forever.

With tears streaming down their faces they embraced, finally bringing to fruition the promise of her mom, and completing a circle that was drawn by the Divine a lifetime ago.

We each make choices that impact our families and beyond, till eternity.

We all have unfinished business to complete.

We are still rectifying the stain that was placed upon our nation as a result of the choices the spies made.

It is incumbent upon each one of us to to be conscious of that mission and assure that we choose wisely for the sake of those in our circle.

If we acknowledge this privilege that was entrusted to us, realizing that G-d is counting on us and believes in us so lovingly, we will succeed in finally returning to where we truly belong.


צבי יהודה טייכמאן