Here We Go Again, Maybe
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
G-d told Moshe, "Send men to spy out the land of Canaan which I will give
to the Children of Israel. From every paternal tribe send one man; one
prince from among them." (Bamidbar 13:1-2)
Some time ago, I received a not-so-friendly letter (to put it mildly)
insisting that, among other things, "Perceptions" repeats itself. Caught
off guard, I defended myself (to put it mildly), because I do try to
present new material each week and every year.
However, months later, I regret my response. It is true that I always try
to use new material and present fresh ideas, which is not all that hard
given the infiniteness of Torah and the myriad of commentators on the
Chumash. However, Perceptions began around 1994, almost ten years ago, and
for at least half of that time I have been presenting FOUR separate divrei
Torah on a weekly basis. There is bound to be some repetition over time,
but not due to any limitation of Torah, but to my own personal limitation
to recall what I have written previously. One of my biggest regrets now, in
hindsight, is not having indexed the topics I addressed in each weekly
However, sometimes the repetition is intentional. Sometimes I feel ideas
are too important and too central to Torah thought to bring up only one
week in passing. And, sometimes the inter-connectedness of Torah demands
that I cross-reference ideas from one parshah to another, in order to bring
to the reader's attention certain subtle connections that otherwise might
go unnoticed. Nevertheless, even in such cases, I make a point of adding
another layer of meaning that previously I had overlooked or left out.
And then again, there are parshios like this week's that demand that we
re-visit the topic because each year it becomes increasingly relevant.
Often, especially in the case of this week's parshah, I come to better
understand ideas I previously wrote about, and therefore I need to go back
and re-explain them along deeper lines.
So, if you are one of those meticulous readers who find ideas repeated from
the past in this week's parshah, I beg your forgiveness in advance. And, I
ask you to read on until the end, for I believe you will find that, just
like the yearly cycle of Jewish holidays themselves, we will have returned
to the same point once again, but on a completely different and higher plane.
Having said that, you may recall a source that I included in previous
divrei Torah and essays:
When the ten spies went out to spy the land, the souls of the ten
corresponding tribes came into them, the actual sons of Ya'akov. This is
the sod of what Yosef told them (his brothers), "You are spies" (Bereishis
42:9), to allude that in the future their souls would go into the spies... (Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Chapter 36)
What does this mean? First of all, it is important to explain that, not
only does Torah Judaism believe in the concept of reincarnation, but it
explains that there are two types. The first type of reincarnation is the
most commonly known, and that is that souls after death (of the body) can
return in the body of a newly born (actually, conceived) baby. This allows
the soul to complete aspects of its own personal rectification if it failed
to do so in a previous lifetime.
The second type of "gilgul" occurs after the person has already been born
and is alive, already living with his own personal soul. Instead, while
alive, the soul of another person can enter him and join the existing soul,
either to help the person achieve greater perfection, or to help itself to
accomplish more, even after death. Hence, it is called "ibur," from the
word "impregnation," since the "extra" soul joins the already existing soul.
The fundamental difference between the two reincarnation processes is the
following:in a regular gilgul, the soul is attached to the body for the
whole incarnation, the whole physical lifetime; while, in "ibur," there is
a primary soul that is connected at all times to the body, and a secondary
soul that is free to enter and depart from that physical body as is
necessary. Its arrival may increase the spiritual energy of the person, and
its departure may sometimes be a let down, as in the case of the spies in
this week's parshah, who received, as iburim, the souls of the sons of
Ya'akov Avinu to assist them in their holy task of preparing the path to
And, as the Arizal revealed, Yosef alluded to this much earlier in time
when his own brothers stood before him in the Viceroy's palace in Egypt.
When Yosef accused his brothers of being spies, according to Sod, he was
trying to be more than simply antagonistic. Indeed, he was both hinting to
his own presence before them and warning them of the supreme challenge they
then faced, the results of which would affect the Jewish people hundreds of
years in the future, and we'll have to understand how and why.
All of them were heads of the Children of Israel. (Bamidbar 13:3)
To support his explanation, the Arizal added:
This is also the sod of what it says, "All of them were heads of the
Children of Israel" (Bamidbar 13:3), because they were actually the
original ancestors of the Children of Israel. Therefore, it does not call
them "heads of thousands of Israel," but rather, "heads of the Children of
In other words, normally when the Torah speaks about the leaders of the
Jewish people in the desert, it refers to them as heads of certain amounts
of Jews. However, in this case it calls them "heads of the Children of
Israel," as to say, from them came all of the Jewish people. Being the
fathers of the 12 Tribes, these extra souls were indeed that.
The Arizal continued:
After they decided to speak evil about the land and wanted to tell Moshe it
was a mistake to go there, the souls of the tribes left them. As it is
known, an ibur can leave from within the person whenever it wishes, unlike
actual gilgulim. (Ibid.)
This is because an ibur comes to benefit either the host soul, or itself.
However, if the person sins, it ceases to have a person to remain together
with the other soul. Therefore, it moves on as easily as it arrived,
unaffected by the sins of the person it has left behind.
One of the beautiful aspects of this pshat is that it also provides an
alternative for the following posuk:
"They went and they came to Moshe and Aharon." (Ibid. 26)
As Rashi points out, the Torah only had to inform us of their return, since
we were already told of their departure just a posuk before:
"They returned from spying the land at the end of forty days." (Bamidbar 13:25)
Explains the Arizal:
... It should only have mentioned that they came. Though Chazal explain
according to pshat that "their going" was similar to their "coming" (Sotah
35a), according to Sod the "going" refers to the souls of the tribes that
left them when the returned from spying the land with an evil report. Thus,
the word "coming" refers only to the spies themselves, who came without the
ibur of the souls of the tribes. However, Caleiv and Yehoshua retained
their ibur: Ephraim ben Yosef was in Yehoshua and Yehudah was in Caleiv,
since they did not sin. This is what it says, "Yehoshua bin Nun and Caleiv
ben Yefuneh survived from these men who went" (Bamidbar 14:38), that is:
these remained alive from the level of the souls of the tribes of their
fathers who were in them; they did not leave them after they returned.
Hence, just as they were with them when they had gone, so too were they
with them upon returning. This is what "survived from the men who went"
means. Therefore, "these men" refers to Ephraim and Yehudah who were with
them in their going, as it says, "who went," to indicate that these
survived from those who went, unlike those whose coming was not like their
There you have it, "Pardes" all in one story.
PSHAT: The spies left as "kosher" Jews, but somehow became corrupted along
the way and came back with an evil report.
REMEZ: Why does it mention that they left? To hint to us that, just as the
spies returned with bad advice, so too had they left with bad advice.
DRUSH: At what point, therefore, did they change their status? The moment
they turned their backs on Moshe Rabbeinu to spy the land, which proved how
dependent they had been at that time on Moshe to maintain their high level
of spirituality. That's why they had not been commanded to spy the land at
that time, but had demanded it on their own.
SOD: There is a soul connection between the spies of Moshe's time, and
Yosef's brothers whom he accused of being spies.
And, as if that isn't amazing enough, it turns out that, encoded in the
Torah across the very possukim about the spies to which the Arizal
referred, are the words "Shevatim heimah"-"they were the tribes" (+441)-a
Torah code confirming the very sod the Arizal revealed!
Yosef remem-bered his dreams concerning them, and said to them, "Spies! You
have come to see where the land is vulnerable!" (Bereishis 42:9)
In other words, the posuk is telling us, had Yosef not remembered his
dreams, he would not have come up with the idea of accusing his brothers of
being spies. What would have been the point? Just to aggravate his
desperate brothers and take revenge? That wasn't Yosef HaTzaddik's nature.
No, whatever Yosef had set in motion by making his accusation, it had been
for the benefit of his brothers, and not to his own.
And now, with the help of the Arizal, we can see that Yosef had been
thinking about more than just the present dilemma. In Yosef's harsh words,
he had been hinting to the brothers, and perhaps to the future spies, that,
unless the brothers rectified the problem that had brought about their own
apparent demise, history would be doomed to repeat itself in an even bigger
way in the future.
Indeed, the Midrash states:
All that happened to Yosef happened to Tzion. (Tanchuma, Vayigash 10)
In fact, the gematria of "Yosef" and "Tzion" are equal, both totaling 156.
And, through Yosef's own ancestors in the time of the spies, we learn how
intricately connected Yosef's being was to Eretz Yisroel:
The daughters of Tzelofchad-the son of Cheifer, the son of Gilad, the son
of Machir, the son of Menashe, from the family of Menashe, the son of
Yosef-approached. These are the names of his daughters: Machlah, No'ah,
Chaglah, Milkah, and Tirtzah. (Bamidbar 27:1)
FROM THE FAMILY OF MENASHE, THE SON OF YOSEF: Why did it have to mention
this, since it already said "the son of Menashe"? To tell you that Yosef
loved the Land, as it says, "Bring my bones up" (Bereishis 50:25), and that
his 'daughters' also loved the land, as it says, "Give us our possession"
(Bamidbar 27:4). (Rashi)
And, it turns out that both Yosef and Eretz Yisroel have one other
historical fact in common, to which he alluded when he called his brothers
"spies": both were gravely misjudged. As it says:
They brought back to the Children of Israel an evil report of the land
which they had searched, saying, "The land which we investigated is a land
that eats up its inhabitants." (Bamidbar 13:32)
EATS ITS INHABITANTS: "In every place we passed we found them burying their
dead!" However, the truth was that The Holy One, Blessed is He, did this
for their good, to involve them (the inhabitants of Canaan) in mourning to
distract them from paying attention to the spies." (Rashi)
Hence, the Talmud explains:
Why does the letter ayin come before the letter peh [in the Aleph-Bais]?
Because of the spies, who spoke about that which they did not see.
Just as the brothers had done when justifying their treatment of Yosef:
They saw him off in the distance, and before he approached, they con-spired
to kill him. They said to one another, "The dreamer is coming. Let's kill
him, and throw him into one of the pits." (Bereishis 37:18-20)
That's all Yosef appeared to them, a dreamer, someone lacking in any true
substance, and as such, a danger to the future of the Jewish people. Never
mind the fact that Ya'akov saw tremendous potential in Yosef-had Avraham
not favored Yishmael and Yitzchak, Eisav?
This is what the posuk means, "Yosef remem-bered his dreams concerning them
..."- that is, how great substance had appeared where they had seen none;
how the hand of G-d had been working with them through Yosef's dreams,
while they had only been able to se the imaginings of a young and carefree
lad. If they did not learn to see past the surface of things and into the
essence of matters, then their descendants would fail to see the importance
of Eretz Yisroel on their future mission, and cost the nation not just 40
years in the desert, but thousands of years of harsh and bitter exile.
However, hard as Yosef tried to make right the wrong, history testifies to
his, and his brothers' success: we're still in exile!
"The sun rises and the sun sets." (Koheles 1:5)
The Talmud makes an unusual remark:
Rava bar Mechasya said in the name of Rav Chama bar Guria, who said it in
the name of Rav: A person should never treat a child differently than the
rest, for because of the two coins of material that Ya'akov gave to Yosef
over the rest of his sons, they became jealous of him and this triggered
the events that brought our fathers down to Egypt. (Shabbos 10b)
It is unusual because, as Tosfos points out, going down to Egypt was a
prophecy Avraham had received long before Yosef was even born:
[G-d] said to Avram, "Know that your descendants will be strangers in a
land that is not theirs, and [the host nation] will enslave them, and
afflict them for 400 years. (Bereishis 15:13)
Furthermore, the Midrash seems to imply that Ya'akov can't even be faulted
for his actions, having been "forced" into them seemingly specifically to
bring about the fulfillment of the prophecy made to Avraham:
"Go and see the works of G-d, awesome in deed toward mankind." (Tehillim
66:5); Go and see how when The Holy One, Blessed is He, created the world,
from the first day He created the Angel of Death as well . . . Man was made
on the sixth day, yet death was blamed on him . . . It also says the same
thing with respect to Yosef . . . Rav Yudan said, "The Holy One, Blessed is
He, wanted to carry out the decree of 'Know that you shall surely be
strangers' and therefore set it up in such a way that Ya'akov would love
Yosef and that the brothers would hate him and sell him to the Arabs, and
that they would all go down to Egypt." This is what is meant by "awesome in
deed." (Tanchuma, Vayaishev 4)
Awesome, meaning that G-d brings about events that fulfill His master plan
for creation. all the time not interfering with free-will, though it seems
as if just the opposite is true. However, the main point here is that
Yosef's life and its events are directly related to the Egyptian exile, and
therefore the redemption from it. Indeed, it was to rectify the faulty
spiritual vision of his brothers that the Egyptian exile-all 210 years of
it-occurred in the first place, as we see at the end of Sefer Bereishis.
The test of the tikun came shortly after the nation had left Egypt, not at
Mt. Sinai but after they had set foot to their final destination: Eretz
Yisroel. If they had arrived at Eretz Yisroel and entered as planned, not
rejecting it on any level, then history would have testified to the fact
that what the brothers had lacked the Jewish people had rectified after
being in Egypt for 210 years.
However, the story of the spies in this week's parshah instead revealed
that the word of Yosef-and Eretz Yisroel-was not yet complete. As a result,
the Jewish people were forced to wander for 40 years altogether in the
desert, and for that matter, thousands of years since. In fact, we still
have yet to fully enter and attain Eretz Yisroel as a complete nation, and
won't, seemingly, until Moshiach comes.
Thus, all of Jewish history has been about, and is still about, completing
Yosef's task of rectifying the vision of the fathers of the Jewish people,
and Eretz Yisroel obviously plays a major role in this tikun, as does
Moshiach Ben Yosef. In fact, according to the Vilna Gaon, one of MB"Y main
tasks is to ingather the exiles in advance of the Final Redemption, or, as
many will follow him back to the Land.
Now it makes even more sense that the Zohar speaks of Resurrection of the
Dead occurring over a period of 210 years, but only after 40 years of
"Kibbutz Golios"-"Ingathering of the Exiles" (Midrash Ne'elam, 139b-140a).
Like bookends, the 210 years of Egyptian exile began Jewish history, and
was followed by 40 years of wandering the desert, whereas Jewish history
will end with 40 years of ingathering, followed by 210 years of
resurrection and purification. It's always been about finishing what began
in Moshe's days, which is strengthened by the following as well:
In the future Moshe himself will reincarnate and return in the last
generation, as it says, "you will die with your fathers and rise up."
However, in the final generation, the "Dor HaMidbar" will also reincarnate
with the Erev Rav, and this is what the posuk also says, "this people will
rise up." Hence, there is not a single generation in which Moshe Rabbeinu
does not return b'sod, "The sun rises and the sun sets" (Koheles 1:5) and,
"One generation goes and another comes" (Koheles 1:4), in order to rectify
that generation. Thus, the Generation of the Desert along with the Erev Rav
reincarnate in the final generation, "like in the days of leaving Egypt"
(Michah 7:15). As well, Moshe will arise among them since they are all from
the sod of Da'as: Moshe, the Generation of the Desert, and the Erev Rav, as
we have explained in Parashas Shemos. (Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Chapter 20)
Thus, as the sun seems to be setting on this period of history, one can't
help but wonder, are we it? Are we that final generation the Arizal spoke
about? Are we now living during those 40 years of ingathering, and if so,
is Eretz Yisroel once again testing us, to see if we have corrected our
spiritual vision once and for all after so many millennia? Is this week's
parshah and its message becoming increasingly relevant with each passing year?
Have a great Shabbos thinking about that one.