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Welcome to Our Shabbos Table

Click here for last year's divrei torah on parshas Shelach
Click here for last year's divrei torah on parshas Shelach

Welcome to our Shabbos Table!
We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.
Please share them at your own Shabbos table, and send us your most interesting responses. A selection of the best will be posted on the website, and eventually, included in a book. To respond, email us at responses@ourtable.org.

Parshas Shelach/ What Was Bugging the Spies?

“There we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, descended from the giants; and in our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes” (Bamidbar 13:33).

Prior to Bnei Yisrael’s entering the land of Israel, twelve spies scouted it out. All but two – Kalev and Yehoshua – returned with a negative report. The local population was inconquerable, they claimed, demoralizing their brethren.

Grasshoppers vs. Ants

Why did the spies compare themselves to grasshoppers? Why not to ants, which are smaller and seem more insignificant?

Ants are associated with stability, focus, motivation, hard work, and teamwork. As we read in Mishlei:

“Go to the ant, you sluggard; see her ways and become wise. For she has no chief, overseer, or ruler. Yet she prepares her bread in the summer; she gathers her food during the harvest.” (6:6–8)

“There are four small creatures on the earth, yet they are exceedingly wise. The ants are not a strong people, yet they prepare their food in the summer.” (30:24–25)

Grasshoppers vs. Locusts

Another of these “small creatures” is the locust. What’s the difference between a locust and a grasshopper?

According to the Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior, all locusts are grasshoppers, but not all grasshoppers are locusts. Of more than 12,000 grasshopper species, only about a dozen are locusts. The act of swarming is the most obvious characteristic that identifies a subspecies of grasshopper as a locust.

Thousands of years ago, the author of Mishlei was already well aware of this trait:

“The locusts have no king, yet they all go forth as a troop.” (30:27)

The Metzudas David comments on this pasuk that locusts have no king to unite them through his leadership, yet they venture out en masse and stick together. For if they separated, they’d be hunted down, but when they swarm, everyone leaves them alone, since it’s impossible to trap them all. We should learn from the locusts, says the Metzudas David: Instead of quarreling with one another, let’s help each other.

In contrast, grasshoppers represent freedom, inability to settle down, disunity, and lack of focus and planning. They jump from place to place, not like the skipping of deer, which diligently move ahead. (Melamed HaTalmidim, parashas Zachor)

Hard Work Pays Off

In “The Ant and the Grasshopper,” one of Aesop’s Fables, the ant works hard all summer, while the grasshopper plays. Come winter, the ant is prepared, but the grasshopper starves. The Canadian philosopher Bernard Suits retells the story with the grasshopper as “the exemplification of the life most worth living.” (Keyser, op cit.)

We now understand why the spies viewed themselves – and were viewed by others – as grasshoppers, not ants. They lacked unity and goals. In fact, some commentators say that the ten spies wanted to stay in the desert rather than enter the land of Israel. In the desert, all their needs – food, clothing, and shelter – were met. They didn’t need to set goals and work toward them, as ants do. Rather, they could meander along, taking the easy way out, like the grasshopper.

Obviously, the Torah is teaching us that the motivation and goal orientation of the ant is the preferred way of life.

Question for Discussion:

Some animals have positive characteristics, and some, negative. What animal would you like to emulate, and why?