Rashi’s Chiddush About Yerushalayim

Ha’aretz asher avarnu bah lasur osah eretz ocheles yoshvehah hi (Bamidbar 13:32)

Parashas Shelach revolves around the sin of the spies who were sent by Moshe to scout out the land of Israel. They returned with a negative report about their findings, which discouraged the rest of the Jewish people from wanting to enter and conquer the land.

The Gemara in Taanis (29a) teaches that the spies returned from their mission on the night of Tishah B’Av, and as a result of their negative report and the response of the Jewish people, who accepted their scurrilous account and cried needlessly (14:1), Hashem decreed that future generations would be required to mourn and cry on the night of Tishah B’Av.

As we prepare to begin the three-week mourning period over the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and our exile from the land, we should also work to rectify the sin of the spies by appreciating the unique spiritual qualities that can only be found in Eretz Yisrael.

Dovid Hamelech writes in Tehillim (84:11) that “one day in Your courtyards is preferable to 1,000 (anyplace else).” However, Dovid doesn’t specify the subject of 1,000; to what unit of time is he referring? The simple and straightforward understanding of the verse based on rules of grammar is that one day in Hashem’s courtyards in Yerushalayim is better than 1,000 days lived anywhere else.

However, in Rashi’s commentary on this verse, he renders Dovid’s words as expressing that one day in Yerushalayim is superior to 1,000 years spent in any other place. Where did Rashi see this unexpected interpretation alluded to in the verse?

Harav Moshe Wolfson is the Mashgiach of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath and Rav of the Emunas Yisrael shul. Among his many unique qualities, he is known for his tremendous love of Eretz Yisrael, where he spends each summer in the Old City of Yerushalayim. When asked where he lives, he answers, “I live in Yerushalayim, but my job obligations require me to spend most of the year in Brooklyn.”

With such passion and appreciation for the greatness of Eretz Yisrael, Rav Wolfson explains that Rashi recognized that Dovid was a very wise individual, who authored the book of Tehillim with Divine inspiration. Rashi understood that it is self-evident that one day in Hashem’s courtyard is better than 1,000 days spent anywhere else, and there would be no chiddush for Dovid to make that point.

Therefore, Rashi deduced that Dovid was coming to tell us a true chiddush: that Yerushalayim is so great that one day there is superior even to 1,000 years lived anywhere else, an appreciation we should work on inculcating within ourselves as we mourn the loss of the Beis Hamikdash and the exile of our nation

Q:      The spies representing the various tribes aren’t listed (13:4–15) in order of the birth of the tribes. On what basis are they listed in this order? (Ramban, Seforno, Emes L’Yaakov)

Q:       Is the separation of challah a mitzvah (15:19) if the bread isn’t going to be eaten? (Magen Avraham 8:2 with Biur HaGra, Taz Yoreh Deah 1:17 with Hagahos Harav Akiva Eiger, Mishnah Rav Aharon Zera’im 13:2 and 18:4, Ayeles HaShachar, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

A:       The Ramban writes that the spies, who were all leaders of their respective tribes, are in descending order of their personal greatness. However, Harav Yaakov Kamenetsky points out that this would mean that the spies sent on behalf of the tribes of Reuven and Shimon were greater than Calev and Yehoshua, since they are listed first, which is difficult to understand.

He suggests that this difficulty is the reason that the Seforno suggests that the spies are written in chronological order of the individual spies from oldest to youngest. Rav Yaakov notes that this explanation is also difficult, as Calev is listed before Yehoshua, yet the Seder HaDoros records that Yehoshua was either four or 14 years older than Calev. Instead, Rav Yaakov cites Rashi (Devarim 1:22), who writes that when the Jewish people approached Moshe to request the sending of the spies, they sinned by approaching without proper respect for one another, with the young pushing the old.

For this reason, Rav Yaakov suggests that the spies acting as their agents are also listed without any clear order. However, he notes that the tribes of Reuven, Shimon, Yehudah, and Yissachar are listed in the proper chronological order. Only at that point is Hoshea, the representative of the tribe of Ephraim, mentioned out of order, and when Moshe saw this lack of order and respect, he specifically blessed Hoshea that he should be spared from the evil plot of the spies.

Rav Yaakov answers his questions on the Ramban and Seforno by suggesting that they were only concerned with the lack of order of the final eight spies, and their explanations were only given with respect to them.

A:       Magen Avraham quotes the Mishnah in Challah (2:3) that rules that the blessing over the mitzvah of separating challah may be recited when sitting down. He questions this in light of the general principle that all blessings said when performing mitzvos must be said when standing, and he answers that the separation of challah is not a complete and intrinsic mitzvah, as it is only performed in order to render food permissible if one wants to eat, similar to the mitzvah of shechitah.

However, in his commentary there, the Vilna Gaon disagrees. Similarly, the Taz writes that there is a mitzvah to separate terumah and maaser (tithes) even if one has no intention of eating the food.

Harav Akiva Eiger cites Magen Avraham and disagrees. Harav Aharon Kotler, Zt”l, notes that the wording of this verse — “and when you eat from the bread of the land, you shall set aside a portion (challah) for Hashem” seems to support the position of Magen Avraham and Harav Akiva Eiger.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.