Parashat Shlach Lecha – Erev Shabbat 4 June 2021
Week of 30 May – 5 June 2021
Torah portion: Numbers 13:1 – 15:41 Haftarah: Joshua 2:1 – 24
Theme: Fatal fake news against God
This Torah portion is crucial as we learn that the faithlessness of the ten scouts is one of the flagrant two sins during the wilderness period that made God threaten to annihilate Israel. (The other egregious sin is the apostasy of the golden calf). It is also important because we learn why the Israelites, although already very near the Promised Land, wandered into the wilderness for 40 years. In all, we learn a valuable lesson in this time of fake news abounding in social media: Fake news can be fatal…
The reading tells us that the 12 men sent by Moses to scout the Land of Canaan came back 40 days after with a report describing the land promised by the Lord to them in glowing terms as “flowing with milk and honey”, the traditional phrase for the fruitfulness of the Promised Land.
But they differed in their conclusion. Ten of them warned: “We are not able to go up against this people, for they are stronger than we” (Exod 13: 31) and added we must have looked “like grasshoppers to them.” The grasshoppers are the smallest edible creature (Lev 11:22) hinting that the land they had also described as one that “devours its settlers” would easily devour the Israelites. Fear gripped the Israelites. The exaggerated report made them break into loud cries, weep through the night, oppose Moses (Exod 14:1-3) and threaten to return to Egypt under a new leader (14:4-10).
The other two scouts, Caleb and Joshua, had a different conclusion. Caleb told the people not to fear “for they are our prey; their protection has departed from them, but the Lord is with us.” But the people did not believe them, and their refusal to go into the promised land is a serious failure to trust in God’s promise to give them the land.
God’s initial reaction to destroy them was virtually the same at the apostasy of the Golden Calf (32:10). He asked, “How long will this people spurn me and how long will they have no faith in me despite all the signs that I have performed in their midst?” (14:11) and he also lamented their continued muttering against him. But upon Moses’ intercession, even citing the LORD’s self-description, “The Lord is slow to anger and rich in kindness.” (Exod 34: 6-7; Num 14:18). The LORD’s ultimate response is both forgiveness (Num 14:20) and punishment. Except for Joshua and Caleb, the generation of the Exodus must die in the wilderness and they were to wander for 40 years, one year each day of the scouting or for a generation to die out.
The reading ends with a collection of laws for various offerings and concludes with the command to wear fringes (tzitzit) on the ends of their clothing. Because the commands begin with the phrase “When you enter the land that I am giving you . . .” Sages find a connection between this command and the story of the scouts and take it to mean that God has not written off his people permanently. Among the big lessons for us is to be discerning and be wary of false news and conclusions – especially of news that will make us doubt, spurn or murmur against God and lose faith in him…
For Reflection and Discussion: 1). Have you received news that has flustered you as a believer? How did you react? 2). What can we do to protect ourselves from fake news?
Bibliography: ETZ Hayim: Torah and Commentary (New York, 2001);https://www.myjewishlearning.com/torah-portions/parashat-shlach
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Minerva Generalao, Philippines, Bat Kol Alumna 2014