Written by Judaic Studies Teacher Jill Mainzer
In this week’s parasha, Shelach, we have the well-known story of the twelve spies. Moshe sent the spies to scout out the land of Canaan. All twelve men saw the same thing - all twelve were part of the same experience. However, Yehoshua and Calev came back with a glowing report about the beauty and bounty of the land. The other ten spies came back with a frightening report bemoaning the giants that occupied the land and the inaccessibility of the fortified cities. The ten spies famously said: “In our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes.” (Bamidbar 13:33)
וַנְּהִ֤י בְעֵינֵ֨ינוּ֙ כַּֽחֲגָבִ֔ים וְכֵ֥ן הָיִ֖ינוּ בְּעֵֽינֵיהֶֽם
How is it possible that all twelve men went to the same place but they came back with such different reports?
Later in the parasha, in Bamidbar 15:18-21, we are given the mitzvah of “taking challah.” We learn that when we come into the land of Canaan, we must take “from the first portion of your dough you shall give a gift to the Lord in [all] your generations.”
מֵֽרֵאשִׁית֙ עֲרִסֹ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם תִּתְּנ֥וּ לַֽיהֹוָ֖ה תְּרוּמָ֑ה לְדֹרֹ֖תֵיכֶֽם:
This is an important mitzvah - one that many of us do each week. But why is it here in this parasha?
At the very end of the parasha, the mitzvah of tzitzit is given. Bamidbar 15:39:
“This shall be fringes for you, and when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the Lord to perform them, and you shall not wander after your hearts and after your eyes after which you are going astray.”
וְהָיָ֣ה לָכֶם֘ לְצִיצִת֒ וּרְאִיתֶ֣ם אֹת֗וֹ וּזְכַרְתֶּם֙ אֶת־כָּל־מִצְוֹ֣ת יְהֹוָ֔ה וַֽעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֹתָ֑ם וְלֹֽא־תָת֜וּרוּ אַֽחֲרֵ֤י לְבַבְכֶם֙ וְאַֽחֲרֵ֣י עֵֽינֵיכֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁר־אַתֶּ֥ם זֹנִ֖ים אַֽחֲרֵיהֶֽם:
Spies, challah, and tzitzit all in one parasha - what is the connection?
The spies saw the land with different frames of mind. Yehoshua and Calev saw the land through a lens of faith and confidence. Calev and Yehoshua were confident in HaShem’s promise to give Bnai Yisrael the land. The size of the inhabitants did not inspire fear as they looked at it through a lens of faith. Through that lens, they were able to see the grapes, pomegranates and figs and to imagine living in this beautiful land. The other ten spies saw the land through a lens of fear and uncertainty. Through this lens they could only see the giants and fortified cities and view themselves as like grasshoppers. Some approached the experience with faith, others with fear. The frame of mind made all the difference.
What is the purpose of taking challah? It is one way to remind us that all of our blessings come from HaShem and we must give back We must acknowledge HaShem’s role in our success. Even when baking bread it is important take a moment to express gratitude and humility. It is at this moment that we set aside some dough to give back. This enables us to get into a certain frame of mind; one that approaches the world through the lens of appreciation and giving.
Why are we given the mitzvah of tzitzit? The stated purpose in the text is to be reminded to keep the mitzvot. We are not to follow our eyes or our hearts, which may lead us astray. Tzitzit are a visual reminder to focus on the mitzvot, on faith, on humility, on gratitude - to approach each day with the right frame of mind.
A common theme in this parasha is having the right frame of mind - of looking through a certain lens. This affects how we see the world and how we interact with HaShem and with others. Like Yehoshua and Calev, we should approach the world with faith. Taking challah teaches us to approach the world with gratitude and humility. Tzittzit teaches us to approach the world with an understanding that we can easily go astray and we need reminders stay on the right path. We decide through which lens we see the world. It’s all in your mind! May we all live our lives with faith, gratitude, humility, and devotion to the mitzvot.