Torah Weekly

For the week ending 18 June 2011 / 15 Sivan 5771

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.


My Own Space, Man!

“Send forth men, if you please...” (13:2)

If I were to ask you to conjure up in your mind’s eye a picture of the archetypal untrustworthy salesman, you’d probably imagine a greasy-looking character with enough oil on his hair to fry chips. He’d be wearing a Prince-of-Wales check suit loud enough to be heard from the middle of next week. His mouth would be dripping with superlatives. And what would he be selling? Probably a used car. My apologies to the legions of upright used-car salesmen in the world, but gentlemen, your trade has a bad rap.

“No, no, sir, that brown color is not rust. It’s the original paintwork. It’s called French Ochre. No, no, sir, the tires aren’t bald, G-d forbid! These are special treadless treads. They cost a fortune new.” “No sir, 100,000 miles on a jobby like this is practically brand new! They go on forever!”

Nothing goes on forever. We’re in this world for a very short time, and while we’re here we have to make some pretty important decisions. If we’re Jewish, we’re going to have to decide if our Jewishness will define our lives and our relationship with G-d, or if it will be just another cultural affinity on a par with belonging to the Seattle Large Format Camera Club.

One of the clarion calls of the generation in which I grew up was that everyone wanted “their own space (Man).”

This may come as something of a surprise to the “Love” generation (and its current heirs) that, on an ultimate level, G-d created the world for us to have our own space.

In this week’s Torah portion, it seems that G-d lets the Jewish People make a terrible blunder. He tells them “Send forth men, if you please, and let them spy out the Land of Canaan.” The journey of the spies led to the biggest debacle in Jewish history when Israel spurned the Land of Israel and were punished so severely that we feel the repercussions of that blunder to this day.

In fact, G-d never told Israelto send spies. The opening of this week’s parsha is a response to the request of the Jewish People of Moshe at the beginning of the Book of Devarim (1:22). There it clearly shows that the Jewish People instigated the idea. They clamored around Moshe in confusion and concern. He told them that the Land was a good Land, an excellent Land. The Jewish People then treated Moshe like the first used-car salesman in history. Not content with his word, they demanded to send spies to verify his claims. And G-d acquiesced. He didn’t command them to send spies. But He agreed. Why?

Because G-d wants to give us the space to succeed.

But being able to succeed also means that we must have the possibility to fail.

That’s what having “our own space” really means.

  • Sources: Rashi, Ramchal

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