Parashas Shelach

The last segment of this week’s parashah presents the mitzvah of tzitzis, the fringes we attach to the corners of a four-cornered garment to remind us of the mitzvos. The Torah states (Bamidbar 15:37-40):
Hashem said to Moshe, saying: “Speak to the Children of Yisrael and tell them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations. … And it shall be unto you as a fringe, so that you may look upon it and remember all of Hashem’s commandments and perform them, and so that you will not explore after your heart and after your eyes, that you go astray after them. So that you may remember and perform all My commandments and be holy unto your God.”
Ohel Yaakov, Parashas Shelach presents an explanation of this passage in the name of Rav Moshe Albilada (I have seen several spellings of the name), author of Reishis Daas (a work published about 400 years ago). (In a search, I found this explanation of Rav Albilada also presented, in almost the same words, in a collection of sermons by the American rabbi Rav Zvi Hirsch Arlinsky, known as the Skidler Maggid.) I present this explanation below.
Rav Albilada says that just as the conditions that Hashem arranged for the Jews of the wilderness generation (the clouds of glory, the manna, and so on) went beyond the regular order of nature, so, too, the sins that these Jews committed also went beyond the regular order of nature. Typically, the process leading to sin starts with a person’s physical senses: The observations that a person registers through his senses lead him to develop a desire in his heart for a forbidden activity, and then the person goes on to sin. Thus, expounding on the passage quoted above, Rashi states: “The eyes see, the heart desires, and the body commits the sins.” But with the Jews of the wilderness generation, the process took place in reverse. The Jews of that generation saw with their eyes great miracles that Hashem performed right in front of them. But their hearts raised doubts and put forward specious arguments that caused them to deny the reality of what they had seen, and think that it was an illusion produced by sorcery. Thus, their hearts strayed first, and their senses strayed afterward.
In the passage presenting the mitzvah of tzitzis, the Torah first addresses the Jews of future generations (“throughout your generations”), explaining to them the special power of the mitzvah of tzitzis – how looking at the tzitzis serves to prevent the eyes from leading the heart astray. The Torah then turns to the Jews of the wilderness generation, telling them also to place fringes on the corners of their garments, but now for the purpose of keeping them from falling into the worse trap of allowing their hearts to distort the perception of their senses. The Torah states that the reason for placing the tzitzis is “so that you will not explore after your heart and after your eyes.” Here, the Torah mentions the heart first and afterward the eyes. The Torah reverses the usual order, just as the process leading the Jews of the wilderness generation to sin occurred in the reverse of the usual order. The Torah then adds the phrase “that you go astray after them (אחריכם),” with the word אחריכם being related to the word אחור, which means “backward,” and with the phrase thus alluding to a process where the heart leads the senses to an after-the-fact betrayal.
In his preface to Ohel Yaakov, Sefer Devarim, Rav Flamm (the redactor of Ohel Yaakov) presents a similar idea in the name of Rav Heschel Aschkenazi. Expounding on the Torah passage regarding tzitzis, the Gemara states (Berachos 12b): “‘After your hearts’ – this refers to heresy, as it is written (Tehillim 14:1), ‘The debased one says in his heart, “There is no God!”’” We can explain this teaching as follows. The sins stemming from desire are prompted by the eyes, as in the principle we mentioned previously: “The eyes see, the heart desires, and the body commits the sins.” Accordingly, as suggested above, we would think that the Torah should have written, “… and so that you will not explore after your eyes and after your heart,” mentioning the eyes before the heart. But instead the Torah mentions the heart before the eyes. From this choice of phrasing, the Gemara infers that “after your heart” refers to heresy, for the vice of heresy originates from the heart: Initially, a person’s heart ruminates over false ideas, and afterward the person is led to follow his whim and ultimately becomes enslaved to sin. The verse in Tehillim that the Gemara cites as a proof brings out the point well. The verse starts by saying, “The debased one says in his heart, ‘There is no God!’” The verse then continues by saying, “They have acted corruptly and abominably; there is no one who does good.” We can understand the message of the verse as follows: A debased person broadcasts publicly the perverse notions that he harbors in his heart, and afterward, as the listeners ruminate over what he said, they are all led to adopt corrupt and abominable ways.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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