Obstacles and goals

When things aren’t going ‘the way they should,’ focus on the reward at the end of the journey.

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

In this week’s Torah portion “Shlach” (Numbers 13:1–15:41), we read about the fiasco of the spies.

Moses sent spies to check out the Land of Israel prior to the Israelites’ arrival. Moses sent 12 individuals, one from each tribe, to spy out and explore the Promised Land.

Joshua and Caleb were the two most notable spies, and the others, as we will see, were just trouble. The spies were to report back to Moses with all the relevant details needed for a military conquest: population, maps, cities, fortifications, produce, and more.

Ten of the 12 spies brought back a scathing report against proceeding into the land of Israel. These spies “warned” the people their lives were in great danger if they tried to conquer the land of Israel and its inhabitants. They said that the Canaanites were strong and well-armed and there was no chance that the Jewish people would be victorious.

Although Caleb and Joshua argued against the report that was all lies and exaggeration, they didn’t succeed in calming the people, who panicked.

Despair reigned everywhere. The people wanted to go back to Egypt. God was furious. The scene was a mess.

As a result of the fiasco, God decreed that the people would wander the desert for 40 years and not enter the Land of Israel immediately, as was the original plan. It would be the children of the wandering generation who entered the land, while most of the wandering generation died in the wilderness during those 40 years.

But now for the bright side and the silver lining in all this.

First of all, the people needed to mature and grow as a nation before settlement of the land could be successful. The people needed time to lose their slave mentality and the next generation was born as free people.

And clearly, the wandering generation’s trust and faith in God was lacking, and let me tell you, you need trust and faith in God to “make it” in Israel.

Nevertheless, the people still wanted some reassurance that they would eventually inherit the land of Israel. They accepted the fate of 40 years, but they wanted some kind of guarantee that everything would eventually work out as it should have.

God understood the people’s concern and insecurity and therefore issued the mitzvah of “challa” at this time.

Challa is the commandment to separate a symbolic piece of dough whenever one bakes bread. In the olden days, this piece of dough would be offered to the Kohanim, the priests, who served in the Temple. Nowadays, the separated dough is burned and then discarded.

How did the mitzvah of challa reassure the people?

The mitzvah of challa only truly applies in the Land of Israel! So, by God telling them that they would one day be fulfilling this mitzvah, they knew that they would one day live in the Promised land!

And so it is with us.

When things aren’t going the way they should, when we feel like we’ve been pushed back a few notches from what we’ve achieved, we need to focus on the reward at the end of the journey.

For the Jewish people, it was the mitzvah of challa. What will it be for you? Think about what keeps you focused on your goals for the next time you experience a setback!