Living Torah by Rabbi Ari Enkin
This week’s Torah portion, known as “Shlach” (Numbers 13:1-15:41) deals with the episode of the spies who were sent by Moses to spy out the Land of Israel prior to their arrival.
Twelve individuals, one from each tribe, were sent by Moses to spy out and explore the Promised Land. The two most notable of these spies were Joshua and Caleb. They were to report back to Moses with all the relevant details needed for a military conquest: the population, maps, cities, fortifications, produce, and more.
The spies crossed into Israel from the southern Negev district and traveled the entire length and width of the land. After a forty day mission the spies returned to the Jewish camp in the Sinai desert awaiting word of their return. The spies brought back some of the fruits of the land: grapes, pomegranates, and figs. While the nation quickly understood that the land was fertile and food was in abundance – the romance quickly ended there.
Ten of the twelve spies put on a show and convinced the nation that the land would be too difficult to conquer. They reported back that the cities were too fortified, the people too well armed, and that death was all but certain in any attempt to conquer the land. The remaining two spies, Joshua and Caleb “put their foot down” and distanced themselves from the report of the other spies. They said “Yes we can!” We will surely conquer the land and be victorious!
Sadly, the people fell for the scheme of the other ten spies and God became angry. It is a result of this anger that a journey of no more than two weeks turned into a journey of forty years. That’s right – the forty years of wandering in the desert was a national punishment for having accepted the slanderous report about the land of Israel.
But here’s the question: Why the severe punishment? Ok. They deserved something. BUT FORTY YEARS? Only the worst criminals get sentenced to “forty years” – not those who wrongfully listen to gossip and slander!
There are many, many answers to this question, but here’s one I like best: The report of the spies came on the heels of the Revelation at Mount Sinai. Just a few short months ago the people saw the Hand of God, His miracles, His power. They received the Torah, even crying out “na’aseh v’nishma” – we will observe all that is written in it! The spiritual high just couldn’t be higher. Holiness was their way of life.
That all changed now.
You see, ten individuals, leaders of the tribes, knocked the faith right out of them. “We’re never conquering the land”, “We’re all goners”, “They’re way too powerful”. Imagine if the leader of any nation at war today would come out with such a speech to his people?!?!?!? There is no way to describe how low the morale would fall.
That’s exactly what happened. They saw God destroy and pulverize the strongest army of the day – the Egyptian army. The ancient, primitive Canaanites would have certainly been no match for God Almighty! But that just slipped their mind. Their faith was shaken. The spiritual high was quenched. It was a new era in ‘Israel – God’ relations. A lack of faith. A lack of devotion. A lack of loyalty. All because of 10 men.
That’s why it became forty years. God just couldn’t take them in to the Promised Land, His home. Their relationship was shattered. Healing was needed. In those days, 40 years was the better part of a lifetime. The naysayers and those who fell from the high levels of spirituality would have to disappear. Only the next generation could enter the Land, hopefully on a fully cleansed and renewed slate. A stronger relationship.
The number one lesson from the spies is that we must have faith. We must believe in God’s providence and protection. He didn’t let us down with Pharaoh – he won’t let us down against today’s Pharaohs either. By internalizing this message we will truly elevate our own spiritual levels and rectify the sin of the generation of desert wanderers.
We will then be truly deserving of the return of the entire Jewish Nation to the Land of Israel. May it be speedily in our days!
Shabbat Shalom from Israel!
Rabbi Ari Enkin
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