I discovered that Wisdom is superior to folly as light is superior to darkness; “The wise man has his eyes in his head, while the fool walks in darkness.” Koheleth 2:13-14

This week’s parashah, Shelach Lecha שְׁלַח-לְך (Send for you), expounds upon the twelve explorers of the land, their report, and its consequences, resulting in their wandering for 40 years in the desert and the death sentence for those under 40 years of age, except for Joshua and Caleb. It ends with the instructions for the Minchot (the offerings of flour, wine and oil) and the precept of consecrating part of the dough (חַלָּ֖ה challah) to GOD when the bread is baked. It also tells the story of a man who is put to death for violating the Shabbat by carrying some wood and ends with the instruction to place the tzitzit on men’s clothing to remember the commandments.

We could delve into each topic, but as I stepped back and studied the portion, I discovered a treasure I’d like to share. In the so-called gospels, it is written that, at various times, Yeshua said: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (as in Matthew 11:13 and Luke 8). But who was he referring to and why was he speaking about something so basic? Does the person to whom GOD has given the five senses, not hear? Does he not see? Moreover, isn’t his message redundant?

Today, psychology and neurological studies of the senses have introduced a concept called: “Perception and Interpretation” unique to each human brain. For example, there is a famous Gestalt drawing that depicts a figure of a young woman and an old woman in the same drawing. When asked, who they see first, many people only see a part of the drawing, and their answer is correct, even if it is only partial truth. The same thing can happen with color, light, sound, and anything. This is neither good nor bad. In reality, we can all interpret these things and as our RANEBI used to say, “Two Jews, three opinions”.

Following this thought pattern, let’s move on to Mishlei (Proverbs) 26:4-5, which says: “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest even you become like him. This is immediately followed by, “Answer a fool according to his folly, so that, in his opinion, he does not consider himself wise.” Isn’t this a contradiction? On the one hand, it says: “Don’t answer him”, and immediately it says the opposite, “Answer him”! Did Shlomo not see this contradiction? In the Babylonian tractate, Shabbat 30b, our sages discussed these apparent contradictions and even wanted to eliminate this book from the Tanach. I quote: “This is not difficult, since when one must respond to a fool, it refers to a case in which the fool is making statements about matters of the Torah; while when it is not to be answered, it is referring to a case in which the fool is making statements about worldly matters.”

What are the consequences if we don’t speak out when a fool is teaching others something wrong from the Torah? For example, I heard some people discussing sexual inclusion within communities, saying that it’s fine to accept homosexual marriage, yet this goes against the Torah and the design of the Eternal. I am not homophobic, nor do I promote hatred toward others because that would be going against the Torah, but is it God’s original design for two people of the same sex to come together? Can they reproduce? Can they be fruitful and multiply? In these cases, it is important to speak out and not remain silent. We must at least, bring light as we learned last week with the Menorah, we must illuminate.

Rabbi Avi Olitzky mentions three principles to know when we should speak: first, to instruct the fool; second, not to lead others into error; third, to clarify things in the universe of the Torah.

On the other hand, it also tells us that there are issues that do not deserve our attention and we shouldn’t waste our energy and strength on these issues, for example, “I am for Bibi and another person says, I am for Gantz” or “I am for the Lakers over the Celtics”, or “to make money, the best thing is to do this or that.” It’s pointless to start arguments over political parties, sports teams, and other topics that are not worth the effort.

However, we have still not arrived at the central issue – who is wise and who is foolish? The Tanach distinguishes between one and the other while excluding the images and concepts of the other. To expand on this topic, here are examples which are worthy of our attention:

Psalms 14:1 and 53:1: “The fool has said in his heart: There is no GOD. They have become corrupt, they have committed abominable injustices; There is no one who does good“.

Jeremiah 4:22: “For my people are fools, they do not know me; they are foolish children, they are not intelligent. They are clever in doing evil, but they do not know how to do good.”

Jeremiah 5:4: “Then I said, surely, they are only ignorant people; they are fools because they do not know the way of GOD, the ordinances of their GOD.”

Psalms 92:7: “A stupid man does not know and a fool cannot understand this…”

Jeremiah 10:8: “But they are both dull and foolish; their teachings are but delusion; it is a log.”

Jeremiah 10:14 and 51:17: “All mankind is foolish, lacking knowledge;”

Isaiah 32:6: “For a fool speaks foolishly, and his heart inclines toward evil, to practice ungodliness and to speak falsehood against GOD, to keep the hungry unsatisfied and to deprive the thirsty of drink.”

Proverbs 10:23: “It is like sport for a fool to do evil.”

Proverbs 29:11: “A fool vents all his rage.”

1 Samuel 13:13: “Samuel answered Saul, You have acted foolishly in not keeping the commandments that the LORD your God commanded you…”

Proverbs 10:8: “The wise in heart accept commands, but the foolish are cast down.”

Proverbs 1:22: “How long will you, simple ones love simplicity, and you scoffers delight in mocking and fools hate knowledge?”

Proverbs 5:23: “He will die for lack of instruction, and for his great foolishness he will perish.”

Proverbs 12:15: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who listens to advice is wise.”

Proverbs 18:6-7: “The lips of a fool provoke strife and his mouth calls for blows. The mouth of a fool is his ruin, and his lips a snare for his soul.”

Proverbs 10:18: “He who hides hatred has lying lips, and he who spreads slander is a fool.”

Proverbs 14:9: “Fools mock sin, but among the upright, there is goodwill.”

Proverbs 23:9: “Do not speak to a fool, for he will despise your sensible words.”

Proverbs 20:3: “It is honorable for a man to avoid strife, but every fool will become entangled in them.”

Proverbs 15:2: “The tongue of the wise produces much knowledge, but the mouth of fools speaks folly.”

Proverbs 14:7: “Keep your distance from a fool, for you will not discern words of knowledge.”

Proverbs 28: 26: “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who lives wisely shall escape.”

Proverbs 14:16: “A wise man fears and turns away from evil, but a fool rushes in confidently.”

Proverbs 14:8: “The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his ways, but the folly of fools is deceit.”

Proverbs 18:6: “The lips of a fool provoke strife and his mouth calls for blows.”

Proverbs 17:25: “A foolish son is a vexation to his father and a heartache to the woman who gave birth to him.”

Proverbs 19:13: “A foolish son is the ruin of his father and a wife’s nagging is like a constant drip of water.”

I think that it’s not enough to read these verses just once; we can learn from each one of them; they have the following themes in common: “The fool does not believe in God, they are corrupt (not necessarily dirty, but their mind is filled with ideas far from the Torah); they are unjust, i.e., they don’t keep the commandments; they don’t practice what is good; they do not know Torah or a personal relationship with the Eternal. They are not intelligent, in the sense that they don’t do the things that bring life; They are cunning in doing evil; they are ignorant; they don’t understand that they are fools; they teach vanities; they speak lashon harah – gossip; they are inclined toward evil; they generate dispute, strife and even come to blows; they are arrogant, since in their opinion, they are right; they spread slander; they mock their sins; they despise wisdom; they like to be involved with lawsuits; they trust themselves; they are careless, they are deceitful, and they bring bitterness to their parents and spouses.

You may well ask, what has all this to do with our parashah? Well, everything. If we read carefully, it describes the lives of two types of men in practical terms, the fools (referring to the ten scouts and the people who listened to them) and the wise (Joshua and Caleb). God had already decreed that the land was theirs. Doubt should never have entered the minds of this generation.  Their thinking that “God said it and He will do it” should have been uppermost in their thoughts, regardless of what they saw. However, they added foolishness to their report by bringing strife and even doubt of GOD’s existence. They were ignorant; they spoke out of their perception of reality; they spread slander, they trusted themselves, and they spoke nonsense (i.e., we are going back to Egypt), and so on. The wise men, Joshua and Caleb had to intervene, to refute their words (as Mishlei says) by speaking out: “If God is on our side, we will prevail” (14:7-9). They refuted the fool, and then remained silent, following the understanding in Mishlei.

I’ll close with the following, Bamidbar 13:2 states, “Shlach-lecha anashim v’yaturu et-eretz Kena’an asher-ani noten livnei Yisra’el… Send for you men to explore (תֻ֙רוּ֙ turu) the land of Canaan which I am giving to the sons of Israel.” The word explore is turu תֻ֨רו from which we derive the modern word “tour” and in verse 15:39, he uses this word again when he says: “V’hayah lachem l’tsitsit ur’item oto uzechartem et-kol-mitzvot Adonai v’asitem otam v’lo-taturu acharei levavchem ve’acharei eineichem asher-atem zonim achareichem. And it will be for you for tzitzit (tassels) and you will see them and remember all the commandments of the Eternal, and you will fulfill them; and you will not go astray by pursuing (i.e. thoroughly exploring – “turu”) the lusts of your hearts and your eyes, after which you wander.”

To put it all together, foolishness is born from pursuing the greed of the heart and the eye.

God allowed them to explore the Promised Land, not to decide whether or not it was feasible to enter it. This is a call that we must continually remind ourselves of, that not everything we perceive and interpret is true, because the heart (the mind) is deceptive, and part of the deception is the illusion of being unable to see clearly in this world (olam).

My prayer is that Isaiah’s prophecy in 32:7-9 will soon be fulfilled, “The eyes of those who see will not be dimmed; the ears of those who hear will pay attention; the impulsive mind will perceive and understand; the stuttering tongue will speak confidently and clearly and the fool will no longer be called noble, nor will the villain be respected.”

Shabbat Shalom

Mauricio Quintero