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Beit Midrash Series Ein Ayah

condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 11:6

A More Palatable Sin

7
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Gemara: The mekoshesh (the man who desecrated Shabbat in the desert) was Tzelufchad, as it says … – these are the words of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Yehuda ben Beteira said to him: "Akiva, this way or that way, you are destined to receive judgment. If it is as you have said, the Torah covered it up and you are uncovering it; and if not, you are spreading slanderous reports about that righteous person." So [what was his sin]? He was one of the ma’apilim (those who went up toward the Land unauthorized after the sin of the spies).

Ein Ayah: It is true that Rabbi Yehuda ben Beteira was against publicizing the personal sin of a righteous person [mentioned in the Torah] if it did not impact on his whole personality. It would run counter to the proper path of the Torah. Even if the person has sin attributed to him [as Tzelufchad did – see Bamidbar 27:3], we are not allowed to take it from a general statement of sin to specifying the sin that he committed.

However, the ma’apilim were a whole group of people and the individual participant is swallowed up in their midst. Associating Tzelufchad with that group is not like giving his personality a specific imprint of a sin, when his sin should have been left as an unsolved mystery.

There is another advantage of his sin being that of the ma’apilim. Despite the fact that they sinned, they at least raised their spirits with that of the greatness of the nation. They were moved to go up toward the Land out of a holy connection that impacted upon them. It is true that they acted upon it in a sinful and rebellious way, which is why it did not succeed. However, the general content behind the action, after you remove the impurities from it, is something that remains as a sign of extreme bravery, stemming from a connection to the desired Land deep in the natural Jewish spirit. This is an eternal love that is not extinguished by much water and not washed away by rivers (see Shir Hashirim 8:7).

Since the imprint of the sin is relatively modest, it is better to attach Tzelufchad to the enterprise of the ma’apilim, who sinned a temporary sin but were attached to greatness and a holy and internal flame, which is hidden in the Jewish people’s soul. Even when they are in a difficult time, they view their ability to be provided for as in the Hands of Hashem, to Whom Israel sets its hopes. It is an imprint that includes elements of positive power, and in which the element of sin is not as blatant, as it is included in a stature of almost ideal bravery, as the ma’apilim demonstrated.
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