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Parashat Shelah- We are Not Grasshoppers!

Parashat Shelah tells the tragic story of "Het Ha’meragelim" – the sin of the spies, who were sent to scout the Land of Israel in advance of Beneh Yisrael’s entry into the land. The spies returned and dissuaded the people from the entering Eretz Yisrael, telling them that the nations living there are too powerful, and that the land in any event is not worth the struggle it would take to capture it.

The Torah tells us that Moshe sent the spies into the land, "Ve’ha’yamim Yemeh Bikkureh Anabim" – "and the days were the days of the first ripened grapes" (13:20). The spies embarked on their mission in late spring, at the time when the first grapes ripen in Eretz Yisrael. This detail, which at first seems hardly relevant, might actually hold the key to understanding the fundamental nature of the spies’ mistake.

The word "Anabim" ("grapes") is spelled, "Ayin," "Nun," "Bet," "Mem." The phrase "Bikkureh Anabim" may be read to mean "before ‘Anabim’" – referring to the letters that precede the four letters which comprise the word "Anabim." These letters are "Samech," "Mem," "Alef," "Lamed" – the letters that spell the name of the Satan (which we do not pronounce). The Torah here is indicating to us that the spies’ failure resulted from the fact that "Bikkureh Anabim" – the Satan was right behind the "grapes." What does this mean?

In several contexts throughout Tanach, the Jewish Nation is compared to grapes, to a vineyard, or to wine. Just as wine becomes prohibited for a Jew when it is handled by a non-Jew, likewise, Am Yisrael becomes defiled when it comes under foreign influence, when we imbibe values and follow practices which are foreign to our values and beliefs. This is the concept of a Korban (sacrifice), which involves the sprinkling of blood on the altar in the Bet Ha’mikdash. Wine is compared to blood, and so the sprinkling of blood represents our purification. Our "wine" has been defiled through sin as a result of foreign influence, and so we cleanse ourselves by sprinkling sacrificial blood on the altar.

The way we protect ourselves from a condition of "Bikkureh Anabim," whereby we come under the influence of Satan, is by maintaining clear barriers between us and foreign values and culture. Even as we engage in general society, we must firmly distinguish between the timeless values and traditions of the Torah, and those of society. We cannot let the Satan get too close to us – and so we must have a very clear distinction in our mind between what we know and believe to be true and correct, and what general society believes to be true and correct.

And this was precisely the mistake of the spies.

When they returned to the rest of the nation and described to the people the strength of the nations living in Eretz Yisrael, they said, "There we saw the giants… We were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we were in their eyes" (13:33). The spies were impressed and dazzled by the people of Canaan, and so they felt inferior, and intimidated. In their eyes, the people in Canaan were "giants," and they were but tiny "grasshoppers" in comparison to these great nations.

This is how we end up in a situation of "Bikkureh Anabim," where we come under the sinful influence of the Satan – when we look with admiration and envy at foreign cultures and lifestyles, and feel uncomfortable with our own.

We must never feel like "grasshoppers." We must live with pride and confidence in our Torah beliefs and lifestyle, knowing with absolute certainty that we are following the laws given especially to us by Hashem so that we forge a special bond with Him. If we live with this confidence, instead of looking to foreign culture as an example for us to follow, we will succeed in distancing ourselves from negative influences, and living with genuine, steadfast commitment to G-d and His Torah.


Sefer/Parasha:
The Great Joy of Tu B’Ab
Debarim: The Proper Response to Crisis
Parashat Matot Masei- We Never Lose by Doing the Right Thing
Parashat Pinhas: We are All Messengers
Parashat Balak: Foiling Bilam’s Plan
Parashat Hukat: Singing for the Torah
Parashat Korah: Aharon’s Respect for His Fellow Jews
Parashat Shelah: Shabbat – Our Collective Obligation
Parsahat Behaalotecha: Attitude is Altitude
Parashat Naso: Our Collective Responsibility
Shabuot and the Exodus From Egypt
Parashat Behukotai: The Unparalleled Power of a Group
Lag BaOmer: Profit Sharing
Parashat Ahare Mot/Kedoshim: Keeping Hashem’s Presence Among Us
Parashat Tazria-Mesora: Self-Destructive Arrogance
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906 Parashot found