Parsha Nugget Shelach – Numbers 13:1-15:41 A few weeks ago I started a minor firestorm by suggesting that the Scriptural interpretations by someone with little or no knowledge of the Bible should be discounted. Even some experts render perverse explanations when they seek fame or have an underlying motive such as denigrating religion. Whether done out of ignorance, animus, arrogance, or fear don't be misled by baseless exposition. This week’s parsha, Shelach, shows the results of such a case:
. . . and let them spy out the Land of Canaan . . . (Numbers/Bamidbar 13:2)
Along with the story of the infamous twelve spies that led to G-d’s decree that the Israelites wander in the wilderness for 40 years, this week’s parsha details the meal and libation offerings that are brought with animal sacrifices. Nex,t it covers the penalty for desecrating the Sabbath, then the commandment to wear tzitzis, fringes, on the corners of a garment. The command G-d gives Moses to send the representatives of the tribes into the Land is usually translated as you see it above. But a more accurate translation is, “. . . and they will tour the Land of Canaan . . .”
Tourist or Spy: What Is the Difference?
A tourist is sightseeing, getting an idea of a place and its people. Residents of the host country expect the tourist to be well mannered and respectful of their culture and practices. A spy is seeking intelligence, usually information that the country being spied on does not want revealed. A spy hides his identity and purpose. Usually, he is an expert, highly trained to fit into the culture of the country on which he is spying and give his assessment.
The leaders of the Tribes openly toured the land and made observations about its people and produce. Upon their return, they gave an accurate report to Moses as long as they stuck to that which Moses had asked them to do: tour.
The residents were formidable. The produce was huge. They brought some back to prove it. Had they completed their report at this point they would have saved the Children of Israel from 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. But ten of them decided to cross over into the spy realm, saying, “we cannot ascend to that people for it is too strong for us!”
This was not what Moses asked them to do. He already knew the Children of Israel would conquer the land. G-d had promised to give it to them and would lead the conquest. What Moses wanted was information so as to evaluate the best invasion approach.
Tourist = Benign - Spy = Hostile
Had the tourists stuck to their touring all would have been well. But being overawed by the residents of the Land led ten of them try to bolster their self-esteem by insisting their sightseeing gave them an intelligence assessment capability superior to G-d! Even worse, they broadcast their opinion rather than speaking with Moses privately. Frightened by their leaders’ fervor, the Israelites did not comprehend this expression of inferiority nor listen to Caleb and Joshua who disputed the negative evaluation. Disaster resulted.
People will challenge your faith in G-d. You must not let it fracture. While what they say may ring true at first, don't be misled when they move out of their level of expertise or have ulterior motives. Like the ten spies, even those who believe in the Almighty can steer you away from G-d’s plan out of fear or a mistake as to their mission.
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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.
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