Torah Weekly

For the week ending 24 June 2006 / 28 Sivan 5766

Parshat Shlach

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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At the insistence of Bnei Yisrael, and with G-d's permission, Moshe sends 12 scouts, one from each tribe, to investigate Canaan. Anticipating trouble, Moshe changes Hoshea's name to Yehoshua, expressing a prayer that G-d not let him fail in his mission. They return 40 days later, carrying unusually large fruit. When 10 of the 12 state that the people in Canaan are as formidable as the fruit, the men are discouraged. Calev and Yehoshua, the only two scouts still in favor of the invasion, try to bolster the people's spirit. The nation, however, decides that the Land is not worth the potentially fatal risks, and instead demands a return to Egypt. Moshe's fervent prayers save the nation from Heavenly annihilation. However, G-d declares that they must remain in the desert for 40 years until the men who wept at the scouts' false report pass away. A remorseful group rashly begins an invasion of the Land based on G-d's original command. Moshe warns them not to proceed, but they ignore this and are massacred by the Amalekites and Canaanites. G-d instructs Moshe concerning the offerings to be made when Bnei Yisrael will finally enter the Land. The people are commanded to remove challa, a gift for the kohanim, from their dough. The laws for an offering after an inadvertent sin, for an individual or a group, are explained. However, should someone blaspheme against G-d and be unrepentant, he will be cut off spiritually from his people. One man is found gathering wood on public property in violation of the laws of Shabbat and he is executed. The laws of tzitzit are taught. We recite the section about the tzitzit twice a day to remind ourselves of the Exodus.


Tactics and Strategy

“Send out men for you and they will explore the Land.” (13:2)

Think of all the things you do between the moment you wake up in the morning and the time your head hits the pillow at night. Think of how many thousands of actions your hands do, your eyes do, your legs do every day. Think of how many words leave your lips, how many sounds enter your ears. Think of how much physical coordination it takes to make a piece of toast in the morning. Take out the bread from the cupboard, open the package with your fingers, pick up the knife, hold the knife so you can cut the bread, switch on the toaster. (“Okay!” I can hear you say, “I know how to make toast!”)

We are all so busy it’s amazing we have any time at all to live.

Life is so full of wonderful, timesaving inventions that make our lives more frenetic than ever: Mobile phones, computers, cars and planes have all “upped the ante” of the demands that we make on ourselves and that others make on us. The fact that more can be done leads inexorably to more having to be done.

And very often, in the mêlée of this technological magic, we forget our destination.

One of life’s most important distinctions is between tactics and strategy.

Tactics is about how you get there. Strategy is where you’re going.

The “tactics of life” is about maintaining our bodies, eating, washing and exercising. The “strategy” is about what sort of life I want to live, who do I want my children to be, and what will they say at my funeral. Very few eulogies that I have heard focus on the fact that deceased brushed his teeth daily.

“Send out men for you and they will explore the Land.”

The word that the Torah uses here for “to explore” is Vayaturu.

In a very similar context the Torah says, “All of you approached me and said, ‘Let us send men ahead of us and let them explore the Land…” (Devarim 1:22)

In this latter verse, however, the word for “explore” is Vayachparu

Why the difference?

In this latter verse the people were asking permission to explore the Land, in the verse in our Parsha, G-d gave His permission.

The word that the Jewish people used for their request, Vayachparu, is related to chafar, meaning to “dig out”, to “reveal that which is hidden.”

In other words, the people wanted to explore the Land so they could dig out the hidden weakness of the Land the better to capture it.

They were focusing on tactics.

In our Parsha, however, the root of Vayaturu is tor, which connotes joining things together into a row; it is also the root of the verb “to sew”. This word implies seeking out positive aspects for a defined purpose. G-d’s command to the Jewish People was to examine the Land and understand how it was strategically suitable for its task as the homeland of a Holy Nation. The tactical aspect of how to uncover the Land’s weaknesses was a subordinate agenda. Part of the spies’ mistake was that their focus was on the negative and the tactical — finding the weaknesses of the Land. Had they focused on their strategic goal and recognized its unique suitability to their goal, they might not have made such a tragic error.

In life, tactics must always be subordinated to strategy.

  • Based on Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch

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