Sedra of the Week: Shelach Lecha

Sedra of the Week: Shelach Lecha

By Rabbi Jonathan Hughes


A pair of tefillin were left on a bus in Israel during the first intafada in the early 1990s. Due to heightened tension, the bomb squad was called to assess the suspicious bag in which the tefillin were harboured.

Using a military robot, they proceeded to blow the bag – and the tefillin – sky high. Their owner was thoroughly spooked when he found out and paid a visit to Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auberbach, who was a leading halachic expert in Jerusalem.

When such a sacred religious article is desecrated, Jewish law dictates that the person responsible must fast. But in this case, who should fast? The one who left the tefillin on the bus, or the soldier who blew them up? Perhaps both ought to? Or maybe neither?

Proof was adduced from a ruling of the Sephardi rabbi, the Ben Ish Chai d.1909.

He dealt with a case in which someone was honoured with opening the ark in Shul. When he did so, the Torah scroll fell straight out onto the floor. It turns out that the last person had not secured it properly.

Who should fast? The Ben Ish Chai ruled that the one who didn’t secure it should. Similarly, Rabbi Auerbach said that the man who had left the tefillin on the bus must fast. The underlying principle was that the person who did not take care of the object must be held responsible for its demise for not sufficiently appreciating them.

The tragic flaw of the spies in this week’s Parsha was that they didn’t appreciate the holiness of the Land of Israel.

They gave up on it so easily because it wasn’t that important to them – they viewed in purely materialistic terms.

Two people can look at one thing and have totally different opinions of it.

A friend once went to a Ferrari show room with his young son and test drove one of their £90,000 cars. The son loved it, but the father didn’t see the appeal. What use did it have for lugging the family about? Sometimes in life we can have the wrong perspective and fail to see the real beauty in the things we have and the people we encounter. The lesson of the spies reminds us to truly appreciate what we have and not to forget how utterly blessed we are.

Jonathan Hughes is Rabbi for Richmond United Synagogue

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