Torah Weekly

For the week ending 20 June 2009 / 27 Sivan 5769

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 reconnoiter 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.


Cognitive Dissonance

“Send forth” (13:2)

Psychology recognizes a syndrome called "cognitive dissonance". CD is a kind of armor that we build up to ward off information that we don't want to hear. According to cognitive dissonance theory we seek consistency among our beliefs. When there is dissonance between belief and behavior we change something to eliminate the dissonance. We could change our behavior to accord with our beliefs, but usually we change our attitude to accommodate our behavior. It's much less work.

For example, you buy an expensive car and take it for a drive up the coast. Even though the car looked great in the showroom and handled well in town you discover that on long drives it's about as comfortable as a wooden bench. Dissonance exists between your beliefs that you have a) bought a good car, and b) that a good car should be comfortable. Dissonance could be eliminated by deciding that it doesn't matter since the car is mainly used for short trips (reducing the importance of the dissonant belief) or focusing on the car's strengths such as safety, appearance, handling (thereby adding more consonant beliefs). Getting rid of the car could also eliminate the dissonance, but that's a lot harder than changing beliefs.

In the second year after the Jewish People left Egypt Moshe sent out spies on a reconnaissance mission to the Land of Canaan. The spies left on the 27th of Sivan and returned on the 9th of Av. When they returned they brought with them a frightening and distorted picture of the Land. This led to a national catastrophe. The Jewish People rejected the Land of Israel. G-d punished them severely, barring them from the Land for forty years until that generation had passed away. Most of the journey of the spies was during the month of Tammuz. What is the link between Tammuz and the spies? Another question is how could these men of great spiritual stature, leaders of the tribes, have made such a mistake?

In the desert the Jewish People lived a miraculous existence. Their food descended from Heaven. Supernatural clouds flattened the terrain and shielded them from the elements. All this would cease with the crossing of the Jordan River.

When the spies looked at the Land of Israel they didn't just see valleys and mountains. They didn't just see a land flowing with milk and honey. They saw a way of life coming to an end. Maybe this new world would need new kinds of leaders. They started to see themselves as the ancien regime. Yesterday's Men. They looked at the Land and saw in it much more than trees and shrubs, sky and lakes.

The beginning of cognitive dissonance stirred within them. On the one hand this was the Land that G-d had promised to their forefathers. And yet the promise of the Land spelled an end to everything that was familiar and comfortable to them. Faced with such a dilemma they had two alternatives: Either to accept a change in their behavior that the new Land might mandate or to remove the dissonance between their fears and the virtues of the Land by minimizing the Land's virtues and fabricating its failings.

The power of habit proved too strong. They preferred to cling to their ingrained behavior patterns, and change instead their opinions about the Land.

The month of Tammuz is connected to the power of sight. Each of the twelve months of the year corresponds to one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Tammuz corresponds to the tribe of Reuven. Reuven comes from the same word in Hebrew as sight.

What is the connection between seeing and Tammuz?

Cancer the Crab symbolizes the month of Tammuz. Crabs have compound eyes consisting of several thousand optical units. The crab perceives reality through thousands of different channels. Reality is fragmented into thousands of individual pictures. The eye of the crab is a symbol of the eye's ability to interpret reality according to the bias of the viewer, where reality can be seen a thousand different ways.

The crab's eyes are on stalks that can be lowered for protection into sockets on the carapace. In other words, the crab can retract its power of sight. It can withdraw from the world of what exists and confine its sight to a dark interior world. A world where it sees only itself locked in blackness.

This is what the spies did. They projected their own fears onto reality and turned it into a nightmare world of their own invention.

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