The spies! This portion is all about the spies. Two sets of people go into Canaan to scout the land. Two sets of reality return. One group, the larger of the two, says no, the people in the land are huge, we are “like grasshoppers” (13:33). The result of the report was chaos, fear and regression (14:1-4). Then Joshua and Caleb emerged and contradicted the first group. (14:5ff). Have no fear, they said, for this is a land “flowing with milk and honey”. As we know from our Torah, fear won. For a lack of faith, the Exodus generation will not be permitted to live to see the land (14:20-23).
Our generation has lived through so much turmoil and social change. How many times have we, based on what we see or have seen, have made a decision, only to understand later that what we thought was true was, in actuality, not true at all. We may be living through another one of those times now. After all, as someone said, we live in a time of a “promiscuity of information but a lack of knowledge”. The traditional commentaries often point to the punishment of that Exodus generation being based on a lack of faith in God’s promise to deliver the Israelites into Canaan. Maybe, however, what the portion is also speaking to is the fact that so many of us lack a faith in our own judgement, our own instincts. Some commentaries point out that the title of the portion instaed of translating it as “send men forth..” could be read as “send or go to yourself”. Perhaps referencing Genesis 12 (lech l’cha), maybe this portion is reminding us that in moments of crises, when decisions must be made, that the check in we need to do is within our own soul. Maybe it is a reminder that we have a wealth of life experience and that experience does count for something. Maybe the message is that we need to have the faith on our own self, and in having that sense of security and confidence, we can make the best decision.
Of course, in many cases, what we “see” is filtered through our own experience. Those spies who reported that they were as “grasshoppers” never really were able to assimilate the freedom that the Exodus allowed. In that sense, everything they encountered was filtered through a sense of slavery, of being the victim. Yet Joshua and Caleb transcended this. They broke “free” and saw a future, and not a past. Even now, in the midst of so much social and medical challenge, the “call” of Torah is to look to the future in faith and hope, for to dwell in what was, or yearm for what has been, confines us to a perception that can never be.
Rabbi Richard F Address