A Future Full of Promises
Haftarah for Shelach L’cha, Joshua 2:1–24
Rabbi David Friedman, Jerusalem
We all are grateful to have second chances.
Twenty-two years ago I was hit from behind by a truck at 100 kilometers an hour; my car was crushed. As the terrible crash began, I thought to myself, “Well, this is it. I’m going to die.” I spun a number of times on the highway from the impact, and stopped only after being hit again by another truck, this time frontally. Only my driver’s seat area remained intact. My car looked like an accordion. The windshield had smashed inward towards me. Yet I was not cut even once, nor did I have a piece of glass on me. I was not even bruised. I knew I had been given a second chance at life.
Our haftarah records a second chance for the people of Israel, after the failure of the first round of exploring the Land, in the previous generation. Joshua instructed his two explorers: “Go and see the Land and Jericho” (Josh 2:1, my translation). Likewise, Moshe had instructed the previous generation of explorers: “You must go up and see the Land, what it is like” (Num 13:18, my translation).
The “seeing” which that first generation of explorers carried out was one that did not “see” the destiny of the people in the Land. Ten of the twelve prominent men who were sent by Moshe “saw” only with their eyes, through fear, and not with their faith. They did not “see” with the memory of the covenant promises of the God of their fathers.
Yet both of Joshua’s explorers gave an optimistic report: “They said to Joshua, ‘Adonai has given the entire land into our hands. As well, the inhabitants of the Land are melting away before us’” (Josh 2:24, my translation).
The previous generation’s report about the Land of Israel hardly matched this one from Joshua’s generation. The explorers who entered the Land on these two different occasions saw things in contrasting ways. Joshua, Calev, and the two unnamed men sent by Joshua saw the nation’s destiny in the Land of Israel. They comprehended that this is where their future lay. Accordingly, the Land did not frighten them.
The other ten men under Moses’ direction were negative in their assessment of the people’s future in the Land of Israel. It is significant that we know the names of the men who failed God on that occasion: Shafat, Shammua, Yigal, Palti, Gadiel, Gadi, Ammiel, Stur, Nachbi and Geuel (Num 13:4–16).
Yet we do not know the names of the two explorers who gave a positive report from Joshua’s generation: “Joshua, the son of Nun, sent two spies in secret, from Shittim” (Josh 2:1a, my translation). They are referred to in a vague way throughout this chapter. Nameless. Faceless. A bit of a mystery to us. They are “some men” (2:2); “the two men (2:4, 8); “the men” (2:3, 5, 7); “them” (2:6).
I cannot shake the feeling that the Torah purposely cloaks the name of the faithful men, yet gives us openly the names of the men of the previously failed venture. Perhaps there is a lesson here: that one does not need to be famous, or from a prominent family, or personally accomplished, in order to influence the fate of our people. Instead, making the right choices is the paramount factor—not one’s name or status in society.
What was this second chance all about?
In the earlier generation, the people’s view of the Land was awry. This generation was given a chance to get it right, and so enter the Land and reap the blessings of being in the right place during a favored time. When we read this narrative, in the back of our minds we remember the report of the previous generation. They brought back with them physical proof of the goodness of our homeland. They could feel it and smell it. And yet their assessment was negative and fear inducing.
Would this happen with Joshua’s two men, too? It did not. Again, the two unnamed men “said to Joshua, ‘Adonai has given the entire land into our hands. As well, the inhabitants of the Land are melting away before us’” (Josh 2:24, my translation). Joshua had come to that same conclusion when he was sent into the Land by Moshe.
Joshua the son of Nun, and Kalev the son of Y’funeh, from the detachment that had reconnoitered the land, tore their clothes and said to the whole community of Israel, “The land we passed through in order to spy it out is an outstandingly good land! If Adonai is pleased with us, then he will bring us into this land and give it to us — a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Num 14:6–8 CJB)
The second chance was a redemptive act by which the previous generation’s failure would no longer impact the destiny of this generation. Through this renewed opportunity God showed himself to be merciful and faithful to his covenants.
I do not think our situation here in Israel is different today. How do we view the Land of Israel today? Do her incredibly deep and long list of difficulties cause us to lose sight of her eternal destiny, as elaborated upon in much of the Torah? We too can be like the ten who saw the Land not in her eternal beauty, but through fear. This resulted in viewing the Land, but not really “seeing” it. It is much harder to be like Joshua, Calev, and the two men sent by Joshua into the Land. But to see the Land like that is our challenge.
Negative reports about Israel fly around the media and public discourse daily—hatred of Israel, complaints about her living conditions, denunciations for her faults, criticism for her lack of spiritual awareness. When we hear these reports and when mortars and rockets are launched against Israel, how do we view her? All of these things occur regularly, but we don’t have to accept such a “seeing” nor should we. We have another chance, another opportunity, to see the Land from God’s perspective.
After 38 years of living here, I love this land with all of my being. Despite her shortcomings. When we see with God’s eyes (that is, his heavenly perspective), Israel is a land of promise, “a land flowing with milk and honey.”
The land you are crossing over to take possession of is a land of hills and valleys, which soaks up water when rain falls from the sky. It is a land Adonai your God cares for. The eyes of Adonai your God are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. (Deut 11:9–11 CJB)
His holy mountain,
beautiful in elevation,
is the joy of all the earth,
Mount Zion, in the far north,
the city of the great King.
Within her citadels God has made himself
known as a fortress. (Ps 48:2 ESV)
You will no longer be spoken of as Abandoned,
or your land be spoken of as Desolate;
rather, you will be called My-Delight-Is-In-Her,
and your land Married.
For Adonai delights in you,
and your land will be married. (Isa 62:4 CJB)
If you have not had the chance to see the Land in such a light, I encourage you to take the opportunity to do so. It is still a good land with a future full of promises. After living my entire adult life here, I can assure you of that.