Parshat Shelach Summary

Parshat Shelach is the 4th parsha in Sefer Bamidbar (also known as Numbers).

This parsha is verses Numbers 13:1 – 15:41, or a total of 119 verses.

Here is a brief summary for each aliyah.

Aliyah 1: Numbers 13:1 – 13:20, 20 verses

At the end of the previous parsha (Behaalotecha), the Jewish people came to the Wilderness of Paran. They were camping near the border with the Land of Canaan and were poised to enter the land.

God tells Moses to send 12 spies, one from each tribe, to explore the Land of Canaan. In Deuteronomy / Devarim 1:22, Moses tells us that the people requested permission to send spies.

The spies Moses chose were considered leaders of the people.

One of the spies is Hoshea ben Nun, but Moses calls him Joshua. This is name that is commonly used for him throughout the Bible. Joshua will become the leader of the Jewish people after Moses dies.

Moses instructed the spies about where they should go. He also gave them a series of questions to answer about the land and the people.

We’re told that the time of year was when grapes were first starting to ripen.

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Aliyah 2: Numbers 13:21 – 14:7, 20 verses

The 12 spies went into the land of Canaan and explored it for 40 days. They gathered some fruit from the land, including a cluster or grapes.

Parshat Shelach - cluster of grapes

They returned and presented their report to Moses, Aaron, and all of the people.

The spies initially said positive things about the land. They displayed the fruits that they have brought back with them.

But then they hinted that the current people living there were too strong to be conquered.

However, one of the spies, Caleb, assured the people that they were able to conquer the land.

Then the other spies stated explicitly their fear that the Jewish people could not defeat the current inhabitants. Also, they said that the land itself destroys those who dwell in it.

The people accepted as true the report of the spies. They fearfully decided that they must return to Egypt.

Then Joshua and Caleb proclaimed that the Land is “very, very good!” (It’s at this point in the story that we know that 10 spies are responsible for the negative report. Only two spies are urging the people to believe God’s promises.)

Aliyah 3: Numbers 14:8 – 14:25, 18 verses

Joshua and Caleb tell the people that their ability to conquer the Land comes from God.

The people rejected what Joshua and Caleb said and wanted to stone them.

The glory of God appeared to the people. God tells Moses that He will destroy the Jewish people and start again with Moses.

Moses pleads with God to spare the people. He tells God that destroying the people will be interpreted as God not being able to bring them into the Land of Canaan.

God accepts Moses’ prayer. However, He decrees that the current generation of adults will not enter into the Land. Only Caleb and Joshua will be allowed to enter.

God directs Moses to turn the congregation away from the promised Land and return to the wilderness.

Aliyah 4: Numbers 14:26 – 15:7, 27 verses

God explains to Moses and Aaron more details about His decree. Those who were counted in the census from the age of 20 and on up will die in the wilderness. Only Joshua and Caleb will survive to enter the land.

The people will spend 40 years in the wilderness. The punishment is 1 year in the wilderness for each day they spied the land.

The 10 spies who brought the evil report die immediately in a plague.

The next morning some of the people attempted to enter the land. They proclaimed that they had sinned and were now ready to obey God.

Moses urged them not to go. They ignored Moses and instead were defeated by the Amalekites and Canaanites.

Thus ends the narrative of the spies.

In Chapter 15 the Torah conveys some laws that relate to the Land of Israel. It’s as if God is assuring the people that they will eventually enter the Land of Israel.

The first laws are about the meal (wheat) offerings and wine offerings that accompany animal offerings.

For a sheep offering:
the meal offering is 1/10 ephah of flour with 1/4 hin of oil,
the wine offering is 1/4 hin of wine.

For a ram offering:
the meal offering is 2/10 ephah of flour with 1/3 hin of oil,
the wine offering is 1/3 hin of wine.

There are various opinions about the modern equivalents of these measures. A midrange opinion is that an ephah is about 6.5 US gallons and a hin is about 1.1 US gallons.

Aliyah 5: Numbers 15:8 – 15:16, 9 verses

For a young bull offering:
the meal offering is 3/10 ephah of flour with 1/2 hin of oil,
the wine offering is 1/2 hin of wine.

The meal (wheat) offering and wine offering is brought for each animal offering. It doesn’t matter who is bringing the offering, the meal and wine offerings are the same.

Aliyah 6: Numbers 15:17 – 15:26, 10 verses

God commands the Jewish people to separate a portion of a kneaded dough and give it to a priest. This commandment will come into effect once the people enter the Land of Israel. This separated portion is what we today call “challah.”

If the people sin unintentionally, then they must bring a burnt offering and sin offering to God. According to Jewish tradition, the unintentional sin mentioned here is a public act of idolatry.

Aliyah 7: Numbers 15:27 – 15:41, 15 verses

If an individual sins unintentionally, then he brings a female goat as a sin offering.

One Shabbat the Jewish people found a man gathering wood in a manner that violated the sanctity of Shabbat. God told Moses that he should be stoned to death.

This parsha ends with the commandment of tzitzit. Tzitzit are threads placed on the corners of a 4-cornered garment. The Torah tells us that the purpose of tzitzit is so that we will see the threads, remember God’s commandments, and do them.

Haftarah Summary

Joshua 2:1 – 24

Moses sent spies into the Land of Canaan. Their evil report and its acceptance caused the Jewish people to spend 40 years in the wilderness.

Now Joshua is about to lead the people into the land. He also decides to send spies. However, he sends only two. He gives them a very limited mission, just to go to Jericho. Also, when they return, they only report to Joshua, not to the entire people.

Further Reading

Here’s an article that discusses the people’s belated attempt to enter the land: Parshat Devarim 5776.

A Note on the Translations
The translation of Bible verses is based on the Judaica Press Tanach.
The translation of Gemara is based on the Soncino Talmud.
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