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Table Talk: Shelach

The Golden Calf and The Spies: The Midrash implies that there is a very strong connection between the sin of the Golden Calf and that of the spies: “And God said, ‘I have forgiven them as you said.’” (Numbers 14:20) The context of the verse, as part of the story of the spies, certainly implies that God said this in response to Moshe’s prayers that God forgive Israel after the spies. “After the sin of the spies, God acquiesced to Moshe.” (Berachot 32) However, the Midrash (Shemot Rabbah 51: 3, and Chapters of Rabbi Eliezer, Chapter 46) attribute this as the response to Moshe’s prayers after the sin of the Golden Calf. The Daat Zekeinim MiBa’alei Tosafot describes Moshe as praying: “Respond to me as You did after the Golden Calf.” Both sins have an element of corrupted vision: Eigel is understood as “Ayin Gal” – We want to see God. The spies used limited vision in their mission and report. The portion ends with constructive vision: Tzitzit. Can you find more connections between the two sins? How do Tzitzit offer us an opportunity to repair the terrible damage of these rebellions?

Action Torah

The Sefat Emet (5647-8: B’Midrash) explains the secret of Caleb’s success and the failure of the other spies as the difference between those who study Torah, as did the spies, and those who turn their Torah study into action, as did Caleb. See Numbers 14:24. Review the Torah you studied this week and figure out ways to turn it into action.

Shabbat Prison

“The Children of Israel were in the Wilderness and they found a man gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to the entire assembly. They placed him in custody, for it had not been clarified what should be done to him.” (Numbers 15:32-34) It certainly seems that they placed the defendant in prison on Shabbat, much as it implies about the Mekallel. (Leviticus 24:12) The Beit Yosef (Orach Chaim 263) rules that it is prohibited to place someone in prison on Shabbat: They asked Rav Sherira Gaon and he ruled that we may not imprison on Shabbat just as we cannot punish on Shabbat.” (See too Ramah 339:4, Sha’arei Teshuva 339:1, Shevut Yaakov, Volume 1:15) The Ibn Ezra and Rabbeinu Bachya both explain that the man was put in prison after Shabbat. Does this mean that Halacha considers placing someone in custody as a punishment? Do we equate even temporary incarceration with punishment? If yes, why? How would this apply to placing a child in time-out? 

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