The Eyes Of The Heart

Parashat Shelach (Numbers 13:1-15:41)

Humans are unique among all of the animals on earth in that we are the only living creatures that have a soul—the godly part of us that can be enticed through our senses, yet have the will to walk away if we perceive there is something better for us than what our flesh craves. We are a product of both heaven and earth, and each moment of each day we choose which voice we listen to. In this week’s Torah portion, ten out of twelve men chose to listen to fear rather than to the promise given to them by their Creator. How can we avoid the same mistakes they made? To find out, let’s take a look into this week’s 5 Minute Torah.

This week’s Torah reading begins by recounting the spies being sent into the land of Canaan on behalf of the Children of Israel. Joshua, Caleb, and ten other qualified leaders were chosen from each of the twelve tribes and sent into the land of Canaan ahead of the Children of Israel in order to scout out the land and report back their findings. Their job was to spy out the land, as it says in Numbers 13:2, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan.” As we know, ten of these twelve men came back with an evil report that slandered the land God had promised to them. That evil report delayed their entrance into the Land of Promise by forty long years.

At the end of the portion, we read about how the Children of Israel are to make tzitzit—ritual fringes/tassels—on the corners of their garments. Even to this day, religious Jewish men wear a special garment with these tassels attached to it as a normal part of their daily attire. The commandment is as follows:

Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels [tzitzit] on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. (Numbers 15:38–39)

How is the beginning of the portion—the evil report of the spies—connected to this seemingly unrelated topic of wearing tassels? In Hebrew, the word used for “spy” is a form of the word tur (תר). When we read about the tzitzit, this same word is included in the instructions warning about pursuing after the lusts of our hearts, but we smooth it out in our English translations. The passage literally says that the tzitzit are to be a reminder to not “spy (tur) after your own heart and your own eyes.” What does this mean? Rashi, in his commentary on this portion, connects these two passages and explains that the eyes and the heart are types of “spies” that search out sins for the body. The eyes see and the heart desires, but the body commits the sin. This kind of language is reminiscent of a teaching by James, the brother of our Master:

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:14–15)

Remember the children’s song that says, “Be careful little eyes what you see”? It’s true. Our eyes are the gateways to our soul. The temptation for Eve was that she saw that the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was “a delight to the eyes” (Genesis 3:6). The lust of the eyes and the desire of the heart left unchecked will lead us down paths of destruction. The tzitzit are a reminder to guard these gateways and follow the commandments of God. But the tzitzit are not just a reminder to keep the commandments. In a way, they are also a constant reminder to not repeat the same mistake as the spies. Whenever we allow our eyes and our hearts to dictate reality, rather than what God has spoken, we fall prey to the same trap as the ten spies who brought back the evil report. Our reality should be shaped by the Word of God, rather than our own imaginations. The tzitzit are a constant reminder of this.

The Ten Spies couldn’t see what God wanted to do in and through them because they perceived the problem was bigger than they were. Sometimes that’s us as well. How are you guarding both your eyes and your heart? Sometimes we can’t see what God is wanting to do in our lives, because we can only see with our physical eyes. From a worldly perspective, the grass is greener on the other side: If I don’t have enough money, I need to chase the Almighty Dollar, even if it means sacrificing my family or my relationship with God. If things aren’t working out at home, it’s time to leave my spouse and family in order to try and find happiness, rather than trying to bring joy to my family. The perspective the world offers is only a mirage that will ultimately lead to self-destruction. We need reminders in our life to keep us from pursuing what our flesh sees and pursue the things of God that will bring us true peace.

Have you been staring at the Land God has given you, only to flee from the giants within it, rather than engaging the enemy and taking what the Lord has already given you? Have you been believing the Evil Report, rather than the report of Joshua & Kaleb? If that’s you, let me encourage you to stop running because of fear and believe the Good Report. Stand and fight. This is your reminder of Hashem’s goodness. How will you respond?