Shelach 5766

Shelach 5766

by Rebbetzin Malkah Forbes

Beit HaShofar, Seattle WA

Parasha Shelach presents us with a series of unfortunate events that send forth the Children of Israel into a place of no return. The mission to send the spies not only brings about dissension among the leaders, but also brings Israel to a critical junction in her journey.  As their decision ultimately seals their fate and sets them on a path of wandering and regret, the message of this parasha resounds loudly for us today as we too stand at similar crossroads that will determine our own destiny and the destiny of our children – to press forward into a deeper Torah observant walk and reap the fruitful benefits of connecting with our people in the greater community, or to remain isolated and an entity unto ourselves.

In the beginning of this parasha Hashem speaks to Moshe and gives him permission to send forth spies for himself– leaders from each tribe – to enter the land and survey it.

Hashem spoke to Moses, saying, "Send forth men, if you please, and let them spy out the land of Canaan that I give to the Children of Israel; one man each from his father's tribe shall you send, every one a leader among them." Bamidbar 13:1-2

These men were considered righteous, having been given charge over their individual tribes. The responsibility of each of these tzadikkim was to enter the Land and bring forth its fruit to show to the people, to scout out its inhabitants and bring a positive report back to the people. Seeing how we are on the heels of the previous portion regarding Miriam and the punishment she received for speaking lashon hara (evil speech), we are to assume that Moshe expected nothing but a positive report of the land. He assumed that once they had "toured" the land, they would be motivated and inspired to return to the people with renewed strength and emunah (faith).

"Ascend here in the south and climb the mountain. See the Land – how is it? And the people that dwells in it – is it strong or weak? Is it few or numerous? And how is the Land in which it dwells – is it good or is it bad? And how are the cities in which it dwells – are they open or are they fortified? And how is the land – is it fertile or is it lean? Are there trees in it or not? You shall strengthen yourselves and take from the fruit of the land." Bamidbar 13:17-20

Moshe believed that if these leaders assumed the responsibility that they were given, they would be compelled to help the people move into their next phase of growth – reaching the land and cultivating it with the Torah in their midst. Not only would they bring back a bounty proving that all their journeys and challenges were not in vain, but their return would foster greater communal emunah.  The people would go from being sustained by manna and Moshe to being sustained by the land and Torah. This would finally break their slave mentality and they would truly become a nation that would flourish, shining the light of the Torah.

As we look upon this example, we can draw a comparison to our own congregational leaders.  They venture into new, uncharted waters for the sake of the congregation – gleaning and seeing the fruits of others. Our leaders have the obligation to be sent out to survey what is happening in the land and our Jewish "olam" to see what is happening in Hashem's charge. Not only do they need to go forth for the sake of the people, but for the sake of themselves. Not only will their ability to lead the people be more inspired and enhanced, but more informed because of this. They can return bolstered and ready to take their people to new heights and dimensions and lead with confidence. That obligation is incumbent upon them in order to secure the destiny of the people who are in their care.

As the parasha continues, we see the antithesis of all that Moshe had hoped for in this mission that he procured. As expected, the spies returned with a prize of fruit that surpassed anything they had seen in their life. Unfortunately however, ten of the twelve spies also returned with a doubt and fear that overwhelmed them and caused them to sin.

They returned from spying out the Land at the end of forty days….and they showed them the fruit of the Land. They reported to him and said,

"We arrived at the Land to which you sent us, and indeed it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. But – the people that dwells in the Land is powerful, the cities are fortified and very great, and we also saw there the offspring of the giant……..They brought forth to the Children of Israel an evil report on the Land that they had spied out, saying, 'The Land through which we have passes, to spy it out, is a Land that devours its inhabitants.'"  Bamidbar 13:25 – 28, 32

Moshe had hoped for the leaders to be strengthened and thus return to strengthen the people.  Instead, ten of the spies exposed their lack of faith to the people – not actual events or battles. Rather than seeing the inhabitants as a challenge that Hashem would irradicate, they viewed their entrance into the Land as a step they were unable to make.  They were unable to rely on Hashem and live by the Torah. Aware of their own deficiencies and the inability to lead the people with those deficiencies, they protested vehemently and spoke lashon hara against the Land itself.

Just as Moshe expected the leaders to journey up to tour the Land and journey within themselves for the sake of others, so too the leaders in our midst have to do the same. Many times, the view on the other side is daunting and filled with many unknowns – or a great deal of work. Our Messianic Jewish movement needs leaders who will establish a firm vision of Jewish life and be willing to market this vision to our people as being life-giving and necessary in the framework of our wider Jewish world.  This will, in turn, strengthen our people and give them the confidence to go on their own Jewish journeys of growth.


{josquote}The question is, how much longer do we let this day resonate through history?  Do we have the power to stop it?{/josquote}But the story doesn't end there. As we know, the story of the ten spies is refuted by the true report of Caleb and Joshua. Caleb and Joshua's assured response to the spies' report that Hashem would take them through is subdued and drowned out by the spies and the fearful cries of the Children of Israel. And therein lies the rest of the story and the lesson we need to seize– how the people responded.  As the people rose up and declared to pelt Caleb and Joshua with stones, Hashem appeared to declare their fate. This moment of the Children of Israel turning on their very own is an incident has woven its way throughout time.  The rabbis declare that this very day, when the report of the spies was given to the people, would be known throughout history as the day of the destruction of both Temples and a day of great calamity. This incident of senseless faithlessness, lack of trust and hatred against two leaders within the nation wrought a national day of tragedy for all time – all because of the inability to trust in Hashem.  The question is, how much longer do we let this day resonate through history?  Do we have the power to stop it?

In our daily strides, we encounter new turns and new changes in direction as we become more Torah observant.  Many times we are confident that these changes or challenges are approachable and manageable. This may be due to an abundance of emunah in our daily lives, or in our leaders' confidence and display of emunah in our congregational lives.

But what about those other times? How do we react when the changes or challenges appear as giants, or nephalim, the impassable obstacles to success?  Do we still forge ahead in faith knowing that they are conquerable and not impossible to manage? Or do we balk at our leaders like the Children of Israel and exclaim that it is too much for us – the demands of Torah are too heavy upon us and we should let others do it.  The word nephalim literally means "fallen ones." This implies that the very nature of the nephalim is godlessness and an overwhelming grossness due their sinfulness. In Bereishis, we are introduced to the concept of the nephalim and they appear again in the spies' report.  Their presence in the lives of others in turn would cause others to "fall." With that, what are the nephalim that we stand up against that keep us from penetrating into a more fulfilling place with Hashem, at home in our daily lives or in our congregational lives? While the Children of Israel knew that entering the Land would be a new step in their growth, what nephalim do we allow to stand before us in order to stunt our growth and maturity? What is important to note is that the points identified as being resistance points in entering the Land were invalid. Because of this, Hashem's anger with regard to their faithlessness resulted in their destiny being severely modified:

In this Wilderness shall your carcasses drop; all of you who were counted in any of your numberings, from twenty years of age and above, whom you provoked against Me; if you shall come to the Land about which I have raised My hand in an oath to settle you there, except for Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun….Like the number of the days that you spied out the Land, forty days, a day for a year, a day for a year, shall you bear your iniquities – forty years – and you shall comprehend straying from me." Bamidbar 14:29-30, 34

{josquote}If we identify our own nephalim and stubbornness, we can prevent ourselves from sharing in the fate of endless wandering and lack of direction in our own days.{/josquote}Because of their stubbornness and unwillingness to spearhead a new epoch in the history of their people, Hashem removed the possession of the land from the older generation. They would have to learn their lessons of Torah in the desert and teach it to the children who would acquire the land.  That last verse of this passage seems the most chilling and should speak loudly to those who spend their life in doubt and stagnation: that "you shall comprehend straying from me." If we identify our own nephalim and stubbornness, we can prevent ourselves from sharing in the fate of endless wandering and lack of direction in our own days. As the Children of Israel who were sentenced to death walked in futility in the end of their days, may we draw from this parasha the need to accept the call that the Torah places before us with the inspiration of our Messiah. May we step out with assurance that not only are the nephalim able to fall again before us if we persevere in His mitzvot and seek growth, but we and our children will experience the benefits of ascending to greater places within ourselves and reaping the bountiful fruit which Hashem has for us in His Land if we heed the call – Shelach..

Stephanie Escalnate