Parashat Sh’lach L’cha:  Spies Like Us

Parashat Sh’lach L’cha: Spies Like Us

First of all, we need a shehecheyanu blessing in honor of the fact that, as of this Parashat Sh’lach L’cha, we have studied the entire Torah together! Thank you all for such an edifying year of study. I look forward to many more to come!

We are in Parashat Sh’lach L’cha (Numbers 13:1-15:41), the second in our three major rebellions (last week, Aaron and Miriam gossiped about Moses, and we had the people kvetch about the terrible food in the wilderness; next week, we have the Korach rebellion) against Moses and God.

As we examined last year, we are presented with a command to send 12 spies into the Land of Canaan to scope out the territory. In the background of this Divine command is the promise that Israel has been given to the Israelites as a gift from God. Nevertheless, Moses has a whole list of questions that he wants answered:

Are the people who dwell in it strong or weak, few or many? Is the country in which they dwell good or bad? Are the towns they live in open or fortified? Is the soil rich or poor? Is it wooded or not? 

Yes, there is a military aspect to some of these questions, but they are also focused on questions about our long-term prospects in our “Promised” land. He wants the spies to take notes on these items, and then bring back reports of what they find. Despite the fact that God has promised us this land, meaning that it would be safe to assume that we will conquer it successfully, ten come back with terrifying tales about what they found. Only two spies, Joshua and Caleb, come back with more of a hopeful message:

Caleb hushed the people before Moses and said, “Let us by all means go up, and we shall gain possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it.”

Rabbi Laurie Rice asks,

I wonder what courage it must have taken for Caleb and Joshua to stand alone in their convictions. After all, it’s likely that Caleb and Joshua encountered the same landscape as did the other ten scouts. Yet ten scouts reported, “all the people that we saw . . . are of great size; . . . . we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them” (Numbers 13:33). The ten scouts also report that some of the Land is inhabited by the Amalakites (Numbers 13:29), enemies of the Israelites. Joshua and Caleb saw what all the scouts saw, but they reacted differently. Why? What about their character allowed them to respond in another way, to go against the popular grain, and stand for something bigger and more important?

What does it take to be the brave minority? To do the right thing even if you are almost alone in your convictions and faith?

The Haftarah portion (Joshua 2:1-24) presents another tale of spies and bravery. In the Torah portion, Joshua was one of the twelve spies. But in the Haftarah portion, he is now the one in charge, and he sends two spies from east of the Jordan to explore the countryside of Jericho. The spies arrive at the home of a prostitute named Rahab, and she hides them from the King of Jericho. She protects the men and asks that Joshua likewise protect her and her family. Her act of resistance against the King allows the men to survive, and leads eventually to the successful conquest of Jericho in Joshua 6.

Our Sages looked very favorably on Rahab and her legacy, so much so that they decide that she is an ancestor of some of our greatest figures:

Megillah 14b

Rav Nahman said: Huldah was from the descendants of Joshua... Rav Ena the Elder disagreed with Rav Nahman from the following text: “Eight prophets who are priests come out from Rahab the harlot, and they are: Neriyah, Baruch, and Serayah; Mahseyah, Jeremiah, Hilkiah, Hanamel, and Shallum. Rabbi Yehudah says: Even Huldah the prophetess was from the descendants of Rahab the harlot…[Rav Nahman] said to him: Ena the Elder! … my word and your word [form] a treasured outcome… That [Rahab] became a convert and she married Joshua.

Together, let’s talk about resistance, rebellion, and bravery. Are there ideas or issues that are easier for us to defend? What influences our willingness to fight for what is important to us?

Shabbat Shalom!

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