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Parshas Sh'lach

By Rabbi Dr. Meir Tamari

After the incident of the spies, came the injunction regarding the libations, ‘nesachim’, that were to accompany the free will offerings. In order to understand the connection between the two in the text, we need to examine the nature and the role of the libation. Korban has the same root as the word, to draw close, so the purpose of offerings was to enable a person to draw close to HaShem. Animal offerings, which were the Nefesh of the animal, came to enable a person's wisdom that is the human's nefesh, to draw close to G-d. “ Let the nefesh of the animal come to atone for the nefesh of Mankind”(Rashi, 25:5).

The libations came from the vegetable kingdom and so they represent pure physical and natural forces, “My soul yearns after You “. Therefore they come to allow the body and the mind of the human being to draw closer to HaShem

The characteristics of the two components of the sacrifices, is perhaps made clearer when we examine the following passage from the Talmud. "One who read the two paragraphs of the Shema without wearing Tefillin, is like one who offered free will sacrifices without the libations" (Berachot, 14b). These two paragraphs represent wisdom since they express the unity of G-d, acceptance of His rule and of the mitzvot. The Tefillin represent human actions and thought; that of the head comes to subject the mind and the impulses that flow from the brain, while that of the arm represents the actions. Through the Shema without the Tefillin, only human wisdom draws close to HaShem, just as the animal sacrifice only comes to bring the atonement of human wisdom. Together, the Shema and the Tefillin enable the whole human personality to be bound up with G-d, just as the free will sacrifices together with the libations enable the whole human personality to draw close to Him.

In Kohelet (9:7) we read, “ ‘Eat your bread in joy and drink your wine with a good heart’, the bread refers to the mitzvah of challah and the wine to the libations; [the continuation of the verse is] ‘ because HaShem has accepted your actions’- this is the entry of Israel into the Land” (Devarim Rabbah, chapter17). Soforno explains that prior to the sin of the Golden Calf, we do not find libations with the sacrifices; these became necessary only after that sin, to make the communal sacrifice acceptable. This is problematic, since we know that the communal sacrifices are halakhically acceptable even without the libations. However, before the erection of the Mishkan, the world had not reached the spiritual level at which they were able to bring even the body close to HaShem, only the animal nefesh that is wisdom. That explains why we do not find libations in the offerings of Noah or of the Patriachs. The Mishkan, as a meeting place between human beings and G-d, enabled them to rise to a new spiritual level at which even their bodies could draw close to Him. Israel merited the libations, through which this is promoted, when they said, “We will do and hear”, the former an action of the body and the latter of the human mind.

Nevertheless, the free will offerings of individuals still did not require the libations. These were only introduced in our sedra after the sin of the Spies. The Spies had ruptured or rendered defective the unity of the House of Israel, since they had prevented the people entering the Land of Israel. This is the Land that unites and binds together in one corporate body, the whole of the people. It must be remembered that as long as Israel was in the desert, they were separated into their tribes and clans. It was only after they crossed the Jordan into the Land of Israel, that they intermingled and were united together. Since they had destroyed the unity of the people, each individual now had to labor and exert spiritual endeavor to protect themselves from evil and sin. So now they needed the libations that would enable their minds and the actions, the body and the soul, to draw close to HaShem. The libations that enabled them to do this were given to them as a reward for the remorse and teshuvah that they showed when they heard the Divine decree that they would not go into the Land. Their remorse and teshuvah created within them the dedication and ‘mesirat nefesh, which made them go up to attempt to conquer the Land. Despite the warning by Moses that any military endeavor would fail and lead only to bloodshed, they, in an attempt to redeem them selves, went up to do battle to take possession of the land they had refused to enter previously. HaShem in His Mercy gave them the libations to enable them even as individuals, to draw close to Him with their very bodies and brains.

While the sin of the Golden Calf remained with Israel till the destruction of the First Temple, that of the Spies remained till the destruction of the Second Temple. The destruction of the First Temple was due primarily to idolatry, which is a sin of the human wisdom, but the Second Temple was destroyed by gossip, slander and needless hatred. The idolatry does not destroy nor rupture the unity of Israel as was caused by the sin of the Spies. So their sin was reflected in the gossip, slander and needless hatred that caused the destruction of the Temple.

Shem Mi Shmuel, 5670.

Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Meir Tamari and

D r. Tamari is a renowned economist, Jewish scholar, and founder of the Center For Business Ethics ( in Jerusalem.



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