Parshas Shloch: Actions Over Words

I often find myself referencing to this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Shloch. The episode of the deceitful spies is one which I resonate with, and one which, I think, is connected to the greatest fault in Orthodox Jewish society today. But for this interpretation to make sense, we need to dig deeper than the surface, and read some of the commentary on the Sedra. To summarise, the episode of the spies occurs near the beginning of the Parsha, where Moshe Rabbenu sends 12 men to spy on the land of Canaan, and report back on the climate and people there. However, 10 of the spies give a false report, beginning with the truth, then claiming to have seen inhabitants like giants, and dissuading the Israelites from entering- saying they would be destroyed, even with G-d’s help. Only Calev and Yoshua argue against this, and the people believe the wicked spies. G-d wishes to destroy them, but Moshe Rabbenu convinces him to lessen his punishment, instead sentencing them to 40 years of wandering in the desert.

The big question here is; “Why”? Why did the 10 spies give this false report? Didn’t they want to enter the holy land?

To truly understand the reason why, we should look to the explanation provided by a Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the Baal HaTanya and the founder of Chabad Chassidism. He writes, “A great majority of the physical mitzvot can be implemented only in the Land of Israel, especially the agricultural laws and the laws of the offerings brought to the Holy Temple. . . . The spies, who were on a most lofty spiritual level, did not wish to lower themselves to the level of physical action, preferring to remain in the desert, where they received all their needs from above, and related to G‑d by means of the loftier levels of thought and speech (i.e., study of Torah and prayer). They desired to draw down all the divine emanations into the “Land of Israel” that exists in the realm of malchut, the world of divine speech, where there also is a “Jerusalem” and a “Holy Temple.” Regarding the physical Land of Israel, they said: “It is a land that consumes its inhabitants”—if the divine light were to be drawn down into the physical world, our entire existence would be nullified”.

In short, they felt their lives should be about thinking, not doing.

And thinking is great. Learning is great. When a man learns Torah, he protects Eretz Yisroel with his efforts. It’s not just important, but absolutely vital, that we learn and study and daven. We need to read the Torah, understand it, and study different interpretations. We need to learn about halocha. We need to attend shul, and, preferably, shiurim. But we are forsaking the very essence of the Torah, and of this week’s Parsha, when we substitute doing for learning.

So what do we need to do? Physical mitzvos. That means kind acts, acts of chesed and charity. That means donating money and items, helping someone cross the road, inviting someone for Shabbes, Kashering someone’s kitchen with them. It means Ahavos Yisroel. The pillar of Judaism. Learning is amazing. But too often, I come across people who learn Torah, yet ignore its most crucial teachings. They can sit in kollel or yeshiva all day, or write as I do, but if they’re not out there, helping others, spreading light, bringing Holiness into this world, they’ve not learned from the ten spies.

So no matter how spiritually lofty you are, you have a duty. A duty to finish reading this article. Turn off your computer. And change the world with one good deed.

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