Rabbi Eli Seidman,
Jewish Association on Aging
Shelach, Numbers 13:1-15:41
Anyone with a minimum of knowledge of military tactics can understand that an army would send reconnaissance scouts to sum up the current situation, to evaluate the threat and to help prepare our forces to face the future battle.
However, what complicated the situation in this week’s Torah portion of Shelach was that every episode until that point had been miraculous. G-d had fought for them against the mighty Egyptian army. He split the Red Sea. He protected them and fed them.
If it had all been miraculous, why the necessity to send spies? Even if the report would say that the Canaanite army was more powerful than the Israelite army, they still should have relied on Hashem to help them be victorious.
Why then did the Israelites send these 12 spies into the land? Once we see that the stated reason was not the true reason, their real motives were suspect. Maybe they had doubts that Hashem could defeat the Canaanites. Maybe they were searching for a rationale not to go in and conquer the land.
Unfortunately, 10 of the 12 spies distorted what they saw and injected their own gloomy opinions instead of reporting objectively. Sadly, their report spread fear and panic.
“The spies said: The land through which we passed … is a land that eats up its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it were men of great stature. … We were in our own sight as grasshoppers.” (Numbers 13:32-33)
The Jewish People cried and complained: “We wish we had died in Egypt! Why did G-d bring us to this land, to fall by the sword? Let us make a captain and let us return to Egypt.” (Numbers 14:2-4)
The incident of the spies was one in which we lacked the courage and the faith to live the way G-d said to live. We failed to recognize that we are a holy people, and that Israel is a holy land. Our chief concern ought to be whether we are living up to those high standards.
When we do so, we live with holiness as an essential part of each new day, and are aware of that component in every single encounter. We need not be wary of the unknown. In order to avoid making the mistake the spies made, we need only to believe in G-d’s redemptive power and to follow in His ways.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)