Shelach Lecha

A Drash by Fran Margulies

Rabbi Goldfarb used to say, if you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything. Makes sense. Sometimes, the ground shifts under you; you lose your balance and you can’t steady yourself. I think our world is at such a moment. Covid-19 has shaken our ground. How to keep going? Open your shops for business for income? No! People will spread the virus. Keep them closed? What to do?

Our Parsha occurs in another unstable time. The Hebrews are poised at the base of the mountain range. On the other side is the land that God promised. Almost home! But not quite yet. Still, for weeks now, shvitzing in the desert, their way forward has not been clear, even with God leading them. We even read that Moses begged his father-in-law to camp with them and guide them. Perhaps sensing his uncertainty, God directs Moses to reconnoiter. Shelach Lecha! Send for yourself, scouts to go ahead, see the lay of the land and report back. So Moses does. He sends off a distinguished contingent of tribal leaders with encouraging words: “Vehitchazachtem!” Be strong and of good cheer! Bring us back samples. Maybe some native fruits? The scouts disappear over the mountain and do not reappear for the proverbial forty days. The people wait, worried, on edge. They mill around and fend off wild animals. The scouts return and oh Lordy! Their reports conflict. Yes a good land IS over the mountain. It is rich and fertile, but other tribes have settled in that valley already; those other tribes are dug in and fortified.

Uh Oh! The people look at each other. They shuffle their feet and start murmuring. Caleb, one of the scouts and prince of the tribe of Judah, steps in. “No worries!” he says, “Nothing we can’t handle! We are fighters!” But the other scouts disagree. Could they have been genuinely afraid? Perhaps so. But their motive is unclear to me. Yet the Torah is clear. They were seeing with prejudiced eyes. And reporting with malice. These scouts were spreading “dibat;” slander and deliberate lies. Their rhetoric revved up, it got wilder and more purple. “This land devours its settlers; its people are monsters and giants! Just looking at them made us shrivel. We felt small as grasshoppers-surely we looked like that to them!” Now the people really panic. The ground has shifted beneath them! No way forward! That census was a waste of time! Shall we go back now? What to do? Slavery in Egypt was better than being food for monsters! In their confusion and fear, they forget their covenant. They forget God’s promises to them. They forget their promise to HIM at Sinai. Moses and Aaron have no words to say. They fall on their faces. Joshua and Caleb tear their clothes in mourning. They try and save the mission. “Don’t be afraid God is with us! We will win! Those valley people are toast.”

It doesn’t work. Thoroughly panicked, the people pick up stones to throw at Joshua and Caleb. And the Glory of the Lord appears to stop them. In full sight of all of his people, his luminous cloud descends, and he enters the tabernacle to have a talk with Moses and Aaron. But it is not just talk. “I’ve HAD IT with these people! Forget it! Let’s start over with another people.” “No!” cries Moses, speaking boldly to God, as he had done after the golden calf and, as Abraham had done before Sodom. He appeals to God’s pride. Think of your reputation. What will the Goyim say? That you weren’t strong enough to finish the job, to bring Israel home. You yourself said you were slow to anger and kind and forgiving.

The speech is a rhetorical success. God calms down and says “Salachti!” I forgive. But not completely. He WILL show his stern and punishing side as well. “Those who doubted, those who slandered me and misled my people about the land….they will NEVER get there!” He immediately zaps the slanderous scouts and pronounces sentence on all of the people except Joshua and Caleb. The Hebrews will wander for forty years in the desert before getting another chance at the promised land. And don’t you dare forget what you’ve learned here! The contradictory, inflammatory reports of the scouts! Being led by their lies and fears — and yours! Steady yourselves by thinking of my power and providence. Trust me. Tie fringes, tzitzit on your garments. Let your eyes look at them and you will remember me and follow my mitzvot. It’s a steadying thought for our own, unstable time. True, there is a spreading disease for which we do not yet have a vaccine. But we can trust, as Rabbi Jonathan Sachs remind us, that God who is the author of the disease, is also the author of the cure. We will find it.

So I say to all of you, my fellow Sofers, in the words of Moses “Vehitchazachtem!” Be strong and of good cheer!

Upcoming Events

There are no upcoming events at this time.

Shabbat Times
  • The Royal Road to Relational Spirituality
    This is a 10 session course taught in 2019. Click here to purchase full course recordings. Click here for a free download of first session. Derekh HaMelekh— “The Royal Road”—is a collection of Shabbat and holiday teachings by Reb Kalanymous Kalman Shapira, who was the “Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto” as well as a major […]
  • Rising Above Isolation: The Piaseczner Rebbe’s Shavuot Torah of Connection
    Dates and Times: Tuesdays – May 12, May 19, May 267 – 8 pm EST Cost: Pay-what-you-can  Presenter: Rabbi Dr. Natan Margalit Description: We’ll learn together an amazing Shavuot Torah by Rabbi Kalonymous Kalman Shapiro, the Piaseczner Rebbe, also known for being the Hasidic Rebbe in the Warsaw Ghetto during the horrific years of the Holocaust. In this Torah he explores […]