Messianic Education Trust
    Sh'lakh L'cha  
(Num 13:1 - 15:41)

B'Midbar/Numbers 13:20c   And the days were the days of the first ripenings of grapes.

View whole verse and interlinear translation ...

In Shemot 23:19 and 34:26 we find the Hebrew phrase , "the first fruits of your land", meaning "the first fruits produced by your land." But in out text cannot have the parallel meaning, "the first fruits produced by your grapes", for refers to the grapes, the fruit of the vine, not the vine itself. We have to conclude, therefore, that the phrase in our text means "the first ripenings of your grapes." From there, Who Is ...

Rashi: Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105 CE), French rabbi who wrote commentaries on the Torah, the Prophets and the Talmud, lived in Troyes where he founded a yeshiva in 1067; focuses on the plain meaning (p'shat) of the text, although sometimes quite cryptic in his brevity
Rashi tells us that the whole text means "the days in which the grapes mature in their first ripening." At any rate, according to Rabbi Who Is ...

Hirsch: Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888 CE), German rabbi, author and educator; staunch opponent of the Reform movement in Germany and one of the fathers of Orthodox Judaism
Hirsch, this is "not yet the time of the general or grape harvest when taking some of the fruit could be given another interpretation." Later in the year, Who Is ...

Chizkuni: Rabbi Hezekiah ben Manoah (13th century), French rabbi and exegete; his commentary on the Torah was written about 1240 in memory of his father, based principally on Rashi, but using about 20 other sources
Chizkuni suggests, "many watchmen would be standing vigil over the grapes", but now, as Who Is ...

Abravanel: Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508 CE), Statesman and biblical commentator; born in Lisbon, died in Venice; wrote commentaries on the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures
Abravanel points out, "no-one would look twice at people carrying grapes around."

But what time of year is it? Gunther Plaut somewhat tersely says, "at the end of July." Even more briefly, Jacob Milgrom agrees: "July/August." The Qumran Temple scroll (11QTemple 19:10-20:14) documents that the community was to count a second set of seven weeks from the day of Shavuot and then have another day of celebration in which the priests would offer "new wine for a drink-offering, four hins from all the tribes of Israel, on third of a hin for each tribe" (19:14).1 On the Jewish calendar this comes out on the third day of Av, the fifth month, sometime between the second week in July and the first week in August. Two things we can be sure of are that this is definitely not the time of Harvest festival in September/October when the temperatures are starting to fall away a little and, conversely, that this is during the hottest part of the year. In these months, the day-time temperatures in Israel are in the high 80s or low 90s, rising to 110 going south past the Dead Sea and into the desert - the route the spies would follow as they explored from "wilderness of Paran" (B'Midbar 13:3, NJPS). In some senses, the scouting expedition - in Moshe's words, "Go up there into the Negeb and on into the hill country, and see what kind of country it is. Are the people who dwell in it strong or weak, few or many? Is the country in which they dwell good or bad? re the towns they live in open or fortified? Is the soil rich or poor? Is it wooded or not?" (17-20a, NJPS) - would have had a pretty tough time of it, even before Moshe nonchalantly added, "And take pains to bring back some of the fruit of the land" (20b, NJPS).

This last phrase, coming immediately before our text, can also be translated literally as "and strengthen or encourage yourselves by taking from the fruit of the Land." Perhaps as well as telling the scouts to bring some of the fruit back to the Israelite camp at Kadesh Barnea, Moshe is telling the scouts that they need to live off the land themselves. They may fortify their own bodies by gleaning fruit and cereal from the ripening crops and so lift their own spirits and estimation of the Land, as Who Is ...

Sforno: Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno (1470-1550 CE), Italian rabbi, philosopher and physician; born in Cesena, he went to Rome to study medicine; left in 1525 and after some years of travel, settled in Bologna where he founded a yeshiva which he conducted until his death
Sforno explains: "Although the fruit with which the Land was praised was not as yet fully ripened (lit. perfected), nonetheless, Moshe our Teacher was confident that the size and taste of the fruit, even at that time, would suffice to attest to the goodness and praiseworthiness of the Land." The Who Is ...

The Rashbam: Rabbi Samuel ben Asher (1085-1174 CE), a grandson of Rashi; lived in Northern France; worked from the plain meaning of the Hebrew text even when this contradicted established rabbinic interpretaton
Rashbam suggests that "the text is foreshadowing the cluster of grapes they are going to bring back" for the people to see with their own eyes.

Let's examine the frame that the text puts around Moshe's instructions to the spies. It starts with the command , the mp imperative of the root , to go up or ascend. This verb is currently used to describe those Jewish people who return to live in Israel: those who make aliyah. Israel is considered to be holier than any of the other nations in the world, so just as the Israelites physically went up into the Judean mountains when they settled the Land and pilgrims ascend to Jerusalem, so we increase in holiness when we visit or go to live in Israel. "Go up," Moshe tells the spies, "ascend into the Negev and the hill country" (17b, NJPS). His words are concluded by the narrator's side comment that "when they left it was the season for the first grapes to ripen" (v. 20c, CJB). Moshe is sending the spies out, to go up, in the hottest time of the year, when they would have had to find shelter from the sun in the middle of the day, when there hadn't been rain for months - nor would there be for another month or two - and they would have to live off the land, locating and harvesting their food on a meal-by-meal basis and constantly needing to find lots of water to drink to compensate for sweat loss in the heat. This was only the start of the harvest season - the grapes were just starting to ripen - there was still lots of work to be done in the farms, pruning and checking the vines, weeding through the fields, cleaning and clearing the trees, watching over the grain and, of course, the ongoing everyday issue of animal husbandry: finding grazing and water for the cattle and the flocks. The time of , the harvest, the end-of-season harvest when all the grain, fruits and nuts were gathered in and stored for the winter and into next year, was still at least eight weeks away, two months of hard work in the unremitting sun.

Luke tells us that Yeshua went up; He ascended to Jerusalem: "When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem" (Luke 9:15, NRSV). The Galilee was geographically lower than the Judean mountains: Capernaum, at the edge of the Kinneret, where Yeshua had a house, is around 680 feet below sea-level, while Jerusalem is just over 2,500 feet above sea level. The Galilee was considered very spiritually below Jerusalem: Nathaniel, one of the first apostles exclaimed, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46, ESV) and the gathering of priests, elders and scribes who gathered to examine what Peter and John - Galilee fishermen - had been doing and teaching in the Temple after the healing of the lame man, "perceived that they were uneducated, common men" and "were astonished" (Acts 4:13, ESV), probably using the Hebrew phrase , literally "people of the land", a phrase that later in rabbinic Judaism came to refer both to Jews disparaged for not scrupulously observing the commandments and to Jews stigmatized as ignoramii for not having studied the Torah.

Yeshua and the disciples had a long hot walk along the Jordan valley, past Beit She'an and Samaria and then up the Jericho road to Jerusalem. In all likelihood, while they walked, particularly on the last part of the journey climbing from Jericho to Jerusalem, they would have sung the Psalms of Ascent - Psalms 120-134, each having the Hebrew title (using the verb again), a song of the ascents - as pilgrims before and after them have done when going up to visit the L-rd at the three pilgrimage festivals each year. But Yeshua went up in more ways than geographic altitude or holiness of place. Early in His ministry, he told Nicodemus that "As Moshe lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up" (John 3:14, ESV) and in His last days in Jerusalem He told the disciples and the crowds that "when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to Myself" (12:32, ESV). After He had been crucified - lifted up before the people on the Roman execution stake - and risen from the dead, Rav Sha'ul could write that Yeshua had been "raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have died" (1 Corinthians 15:20, CJB). He is not only the beginning of the harvest, but was raised from the dead as a sign that the harvest had begun: , the firstfruits of the dead.

Now we have one more piece of the puzzle to fit into place: ourselves. Where do we stand and what are we doing? We are the ones who have heard "G-d's upward calling in the Messiah Yeshua" (Philippians 3:14, Bible)CJB)); we too have been raised to new life - currently only spiritually in this world, although our physical resurrection is promised because "We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him" (1 John 3:2, NASB). We are not at the end of the harvest - the great ingathering when the angels "will gather together His elect from the four winds" (Matthew 24:31, NASB), we are those have been sent out as "workers into His harvest" (Matthew 9:38, NASB) by the L-rd of the Harvest. The heat of the day is still hot, even though we hope that the daylight is starting to fade, and there are some hours of work to be done before the owner of the vineyard will call His workers together to give them their wages for the day's labour (Matthew 20:8). We too are to strengthen ourselves with the "fruit of the Land", rejoicing when one soul or another comes to faith and completeness in Yeshua, seeing them as a sign not only of the goodness of the kingdom, but also as an harbinger of the final harvest that is to come.

Know then, that we live still in the days of the first ripenings of grapes; that we have Yeshua set before us as our proof and our champion; and that we labour now to gather in the early harvest while preparing for the larger harvest that is to come in those very last days before Yeshua returns.

1. - Geza Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scroll in English Allen Lane 1997, page 195.

Further Study: Micah 7:1-4; John 7:15-17; 1 Peter 5:10

Application: Do you struggle with the heat of the day, wondering what the harvest is all about but wishing it would hurry up and come? Then, like the disciples, recognise that "the fields are white for harvest" (John 4:35, ESV) and "pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest" (Matthew 9:38, ESV). Speak to the Head Foreman and find out where you are assigned to work today.

Comment - 19:07 09Jun18 CONSUELO Vargas: Excellent gives us a very clear teaching, I like it a lot and I want to continue learning. Thank you very much.

Comment - 11:36 16Jun20 Edward Bishop Sr: How can man be so short sighted that he does not see the dead walking aimlessly past him? Why does he hide in a darkened room away from those who are thirsting for the water of Life?
May Hashem forgive the old man who suddenly realizes that the ONLY life is found in His Son, Messiah Yeshua.

Buy your own copy of the Drash Book for Numbers/B'Midbar now at Amazon US or Amazon UK.

© Jonathan Allen, 2018

Messianic Trust Home Page Join Weekly Email More Weekly Drashot
Last Week Support the work of producing this weekly commentary
Next Week
Last Year - 5777 Scripture Index Next Year - 5779

Your turn - what do you think of the ideas in this drash ?

Name Display my name ? Yes No
Email Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comments.
Like most print and online magazines, we reserve the right to edit or publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.