Posted on June 15, 2017
This week we chant the dramatic portion of Shelach Lecha in the book of Numbers, the story of the meraglim, the spies. The Israelites have journeyed to the borders of the Holy Land, just a year and a half after leaving Egyptian exile. Under God’s direction, Moses sends 12 spies, one from every tribe, princes of the people—wealthy men of standing—into the land of Canaan to scout out the land and see if it can be captured.
The spies take a month and they see the whole land—and report back to Moses that the land is very good, flowing with milk and honey. They bring back a huge cluster of grapes, so large it needs to be carried by two men on a pole, now the enduring symbol of Israel’s tourism ministry. Everything’s going to be great—only it’s not. Ten of the twelve spies then report that the people of the land are huge—“we felt like grasshoppers next to them”—and numerous, the cities fortified and unassailable. The Israelites have no chance, in spite of having God’s support.
Two spies, Caleb and Joshua, deliver a minority report, saying that with God’s help the land can be taken. But the people are terrified. Again, they ask Moses and Aaron, “why did you take us from slavery only to kill us here at the hands of our enemies?”
It’s at this point that the decision is made by God: this generation of former slaves will never be able to become a free people in its own land. The psychological shackles of slavery are too strong to overthrow in one generation. And so, after a failed, leaderless attempt to invade the land without God’s approval or Moses’ leadership, the people are condemned to wander the wilderness for 38 more years—a total of 40 since they left Egyptian slavery—until a new, young generation can emerge to take the reigns and enter the land with the mentality of freedom.
It’s a great lesson in the process that is required to cleanse the trauma of failure from the minds of a community. Often, it’s not one single act or great revolution that truly remakes a people or a country—it’s the generational turn that comes from learning that things can be done differently, and that freedom is a birthright.
Please join us for cool and fun Chardonnay Shabbat with Israeli Water Authority speaker Doron Markel this Friday night: 5 PM Wine Cheese and Fruit Pre-Oneg, 5:45 PM Chardonnay Shabbat Services