Shlach-Lecha - Weekly Torah Portion

What a difference forty years can make and certainly two different stories of espionage. The first incident we read about in this week’s portion of the Torah, God commands Moses, “Send out for yourself men so that they may spy out the land of Canaan, which I am going to give to the sons of Israel; you shall send a man from each of their fathers’ tribes, every one a leader among them.” The second time, as described in the book of Joshua, things are completely different. “Then Joshua the son of Nun sent two men as spies secretly from Shittim, saying, ‘Go, view the land, especially Jericho.’” The first time around we get a detailed list of everyone sent on the tour of duty, “from the tribe of Reuben, Shammua the son of Zaccur; from the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat the son of Hori; from the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh; from the tribe of Issachar, Igal the son of Joseph; from the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea the son of Nun; from the tribe of Benjamin, Palti the son of Raphu; from the tribe of Zebulun, Gaddiel the son of Sodi; from the tribe of Joseph, from the tribe of Manasseh, Gaddi the son of Susi; from the tribe of Dan, Ammiel the son of Gemalli; from the tribe of Asher, Sethur the son of Michael; from the tribe of Naphtali, Nahbi the son of Vophsi; from the tribe of Gad, Geuel the son of Machi.” In the later story, even once the spies get back from their mission they are still referred to as “the two men”.

There is a certain similarity though between the two stories. In both cases there are two people who provide the leader with the solid information needed to make sound decisions. In the first time these are Caleb and Joshua, who saw exactly the same things that all the other ten persons who toured the land saw too. They were just able to see beyond the difficulties and challenges viewed by the others. The others describe vividly what they have experienced, “we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.” They describe not only how they felt when they saw the giants but also what the giants felt when they looked down at them. It is therefore clear that their point-of-view is not exactly objective. Caleb, seeing the exact same thing, argues passionately, “We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it.” They do agree that the land “does flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless, the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large”. Where they see “flight” Caleb sees fight. The findings of the two spies that Joshua sent are similar to those of Joshua and Caleb forty years before, “Surely the Lord has given all the land into our hands; moreover, all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before us.” Two cases, two witnesses, and we accept the witnesses of two as valid.

Facts and evaluations are two completely different issues but nevertheless have been in conflict forever. The facts are usually laid before us, or at least before our leaders, but both them and we pick and choose which of them we prefer to use, determining which carry more weight, and certainly which of them we simply ignore. It is the duty of the leader to weigh the facts carefully, wisely and open-heartedly, so as not to fall into the pitfall where ideology takes precedence over common sense, sound moral values, and that which is right to do. Many times, these conflict with each other in ways that overwhelm the decision maker. Often enough, because of circumstance, pressure or immediacy, the wrong decisions are made.

It the earlier story we find the conflict between the past and the future. The people, listening to the difficulties do not see them as challenges to be overcome, but rather an opportunity to fall back into the past, “‘Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?’ So they said to one another, ‘Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.’” This is almost a natural tendency to describe the past as being better and more desirable than the tough present on the uncertain future. The past is the only thing that seems as if it is a known. Joshua, being a different leader from Moses, does not wait to get orders and sends the spies on his own initiative. In this respect the end result of his action as a leader is better than that of Moses, with the help of God. Maybe it is a way for the scripture to deliver a message to us about leaders. They come and go, they are replaceable, and the next leader, regardless of how great and successful the current one is, may be able to do a much better job for us in the new circumstance. They just need to get their opportunity.

Shabbat Shalom and wishes for good health to all.

Reuven Marko, 12 June 2020, 21 Sivan, 5780

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