June 24, 2016
Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon
The Chabad House at Harvard challenges the Harvard University oarsmen to a rowing contest. but soon discovers that the Harvard crew is recording practice times that are twice as fast as their own. So the Chabad captain sends a spy across to Harvard to find out why and how they row so fast. A few hours later the spy returns.
“Nuh,” says the Chabad captain, “tell us!”
“Well,” says the spy, “They do everything the opposite of us.”
“Explain,” says the captain.
“It's simple,” says the spy, “They've got eight men rowing and one man shouting!”
This little joke has relevance for this week’s Torah portion of Shelach Lecha, for two reasons. For the question of what makes for a good spy, and just where you find the professional qualities necessary for doing espionage work are central to our parshah, and can teach us some important things. And the need for more people to row, and fewer to shout, is always important in the Jewish circles…
I’m sure that there are all kinds of tests available today for determining who makes a good subject for intelligence work and who just can’t pull it off. In spite of the oft-repeated slander that the definition of an oxymoron is military intelligence, no doubt both armed services and civilian agencies have lots of ways of figuring out who is good at this stuff and who isn’t.