This week we come to the famous passage that relates the sending of spies into Canaan. The Israelites, poised at Cannan’s borders, send men to scout out the land. All but two, Caleb and Joshua, return with reports of fear. They see giants, they see themselves as grasshoppers (13:33) and so, instead of marching to Canaan, the Israelites were doomed to wander and, as further punishment, have that Exodus generation sentened to die. Replete with more complaining by an anxious people, and spurning the advice of Caleb and Joshua, the wanderinngs continued. Interestingly, the Haftorah for this portion is from Joshua and relates a parallel story of spies. The ending is different!
Sh’lach l’cha begins the portion. Some translations of these words have “send”, some have “send yourself” and another translation says “send forth men”. A Midrash (Numbers Rabbah) reminds us that God gives the command to Moses, as if to say, I have promised you this land, but “if you need human confirmation of that, go ahead and send scouts”. (Etz Hayim. p840). In the opening of this portion we can , perhaps, see a parallel betwen Genesis 12 and here. In Genesis we read lech l’cha. often translated as “go forth”. So here we have a “send forth”. But also we can use the translation of “send yourself”. One meaning of this has been that God really gave Moses permission to “send forth” spies. The interpretation implying that Moses was given permission to use his own judgment. That provoked a thought about who we listen to? We know people whose actions are influenced, perhaps controlled by what others think. Yet, let me suggest that a message from the words sh’lach l’cha (send yourself) may be a message that we need to listen to our own self. I think that as we get older we learn, or come to understand, that we need to listen to our own self first, rather than rely on the thoughts or advice of others. By this stage of life, we know our own self best of all. Our choices may have motivations about which we may be unaware, however, more often than not, the choices will be based on what we feel or know is right.
It is this advice that I often reflect upon when people ask about decisions. I have come to rely on one’s own internal system of checks and balances. Listen to your own soul, heart and, more often than not, I am willing to bet that will yield the correct decision. Listen to our own instincts, our own internal judge that, based on a life of experience, will probably give us the correct answer, even if it is not the majority opinion. Sometimes, like Caleb and Joshua, the less than popular opinion is the one that is correct for us. Send for our own self! Go to our soul. Listen to our own experience.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.