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Parashat Sh’lach L’cha (Numbers 13:1-15:41)

“So Moses, by the Lord’s command, sent them out from the wilderness of Paran,
all the men being leaders of the Israelites.” (Num. 13:3)

Sh’lach l’cha is a fateful parasha (portion). God tells Moses, “Sh’lach l’cha anashim, send for yourself men to scout the land of Canaan…” (Num. 13:1). While they bring back positive reports (“…surely it flows with milk and honey.” (Num. 13:27) only two of the twelve scouts believe the Israelites can conquer the inhabitants. Reporting upon the giants they encountered they declare, “We looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.” (Num. 13:33)

Now, God is willing to accept that’s how the spies see themselves. But God is offended by their chutzpah (arrogance) in presuming to know how the giants see them and asks, “How do you know but in their eyes you were like angels?” (Babylonian Talmud Sotah 35a) Because the spies’ report causes the Israelites to lose faith they can conquer the Canaan, God condemns them to spend the next forty years wandering in the wilderness.

The rabbis’ commentary demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of human nature. Every day, all over the world, people enter into conversations certain they know the other’s intentions and perceptions. The conversations (and sometimes the entire relationship) blow up when the assumptions turn out to be incorrect. Along with the resulting heartache, time, energy, and opportunity is lost. The remedy is to replace certainty with curiosity and to ask rather than to assume.

If the certainty about others (They see us as grasshoppers-small and puny) is rooted in a personal uncertainty about ourselves (I feel like a grasshopper-small and puny) projected outward, Sh’lach l’cha becomes a challenge to “turn the tables:” be clear about who you are and others will follow suit.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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