For the week ending 13 June 2020 / 21 Sivan 5780

Parshat Shlach

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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At the insistence of the 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 the Bnei Yisrael will finally enter the Land. The people are commanded to remove challah, 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.


Double Bluff

“Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying, ‘Send forth men, if you please, and let them spy out the Land of Canaan that I give to the Children of Israel.’” (13:1, 2)

Amateur psychologists are a dangerous breed. The intricacies of assessing motive and counter-motive can often lead to completely wrong conclusion.

In this week’s Torah portion, Hashem tells Moshe that despite His previous promises about theLand of Israel, the Jewish People may, if they choose, send spies to assure themselves that it is a wonderful place.

It has always intrigued me why the people’s desire to check out the Land should not have immediately been the cause of Divine displeasure. It’s a bit like saying, “Okay, Hashem, we know that You’re the Creator of the World and all that, but we just want to take a little peek ourselves to make sure that Your standards are as high as ours.” Maybe by letting them send spies, Hashem wanted the people to understand the challenges of the Land and yet still follow Him. In this way, their entry into the Land would have been on a higher level of trust.

But, clearly, Moshe was hoping that they wouldn’t take him up on the offer. Our Rabbis offer a parable to why Moshe let them explore the Land: Someone wants to buy a donkey, but he tells the seller that he has to give it a ‘test drive.’ The seller says, “Sure!” The buyer says, “Okay… Can I take it up the mountain and into the valley as well?” “Sure! You take it up hill and down dale!” The seller is certain that because he shows total confidence in his animal that the buyer will forgo the test. This is where the amateur psychology comes in: Say the Jewish People to themselves” “Aha! He’s only sounding so confident so we won’t check for ourselves. But precisely because he wants us to go, we’re going to go!”

The rabbit warrens of bluff and counter-bluff go very deep. Suspicion never rests from increasingly complex scenarios of betrayal. The only way through life is, “You shall be straight and open with Hashem.” (Devarim 18:13) Follow the way of Hashem whether it leads up the hill or down the dale!

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