Shelach (Send Forth) – Numbers 13:1 – 15:41
And the men, whom Moses sent to spy out the land, who returned and made all the congregation murmur against him, by bringing up a slander upon the land. Now those men who brought up the evil report upon the land, died by the plague before the Lord. (Numbers 14:36-37)
Moses sends the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel to check out the land of Israel, to investigate its people and evaluate their strength or weakness, to taste the fruits and crops and determine the fertility of the land. The expectation is high and, indeed, the spies return with a report that the land flows with milk and honey. They bring back the fruit of the land to demonstrate its juiciness and sweetness.
But they also bring back a bitter report, that the land is full of giants and fortified cities. Despite the obvious natural riches that the spies observed, they reach a horrifying conclusion: “We are not able to go up against the people for they are stronger than us. And they spread an evil report of the land…” (Numbers 13:31-32)
Clearly, the spies were lacking in faith. They observed the fortifications, but didn’t take into account the fact that G-d would protect them and would ensure their victory.
Interestingly, though, it is not their lack of faith that G-d refers to when he brings punishment upon them. It is the fact that they have slandered the land, bringing evil words before the people of Israel.
G-d has prepared His people to receive the ultimate gift — a land that He created especially for them, that He designated for them from creation and revealed His purpose to their forefather Abraham. And just as they are about to receive the gift, they reject it. Yes, they are afraid of the enemies that await them in the land, but they go beyond an expression of fear. They turn away G-d’s precious gift.
In 1948 and again in 1967, G-d presented this gift to His people once more. The State of Israel was created and later, the Biblical Heartland was liberated. This was the result of military victory, but the miracle of it all embodied G-d’s gift to His people. But instead of accepting the gift and trusting in Him to assist us to hold on to the gift, there were people within Israel who rejected it. Out of fear, indeed, but they rejected it nonetheless. And as the years progressed, they began to slander the land, calling it a land, “which eats its inhabitants” (Numbers 13:32), a land which will know no peace unless the people of Israel abandon it.
Yes, the land has been slandered and G-d surely trembles at the sound of it. There are a dedicated few that defend the land at every juncture, that cling to it with every fiber of their bodies. But will this be enough to protect us all?
Shabbat Shalom From Samaria,
Sondra Oster Baras
Director, Israel Office