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

“The whole community broke into loud cries, and the people wept that night.” (Numbers 14:1)

Parashat Sh’lach L’cha continues last week’s breakdown of authority. Moses sends twelve spies to tour the land. When they return, ten spread fear among the Israelites, who then challenge Moses’ authority. Only two spies, Caleb and Joshua, believe the land can be conquered. If perception is reality, Sh’lach L’cha is a reminder leadership is managing and molding perception.

All twelve spies go to the same land and witness the same phenomena. The tangible evidence they bring back (a gigantic grape cluster and pomegranate and figs) attests to the land’s abundance and its ability to sustain life (…”It does indeed flow with milk and honey.” (Num. 13:27)). Yet, the spies pay more attention to something else they witness: “The country that we traversed and scouted is one that devours its settlers…” (Num. 13:32). What did they see that frightened them so?

The Babylonian Talmud explains God sends a plague just as the spies enter the land’s cities. The inhabitants are so busy burying their dead, they don’t see the scouts, who enter and exit safely (Sotah 25a). Unfortunately, the ten scouts misinterpret God’s protective gesture as evidence of the land’s hostility and their fearful perception infects the Israelites.

Caleb advocates for the mission, but says only, “Let us by all means go up…” (Num. 13:30). He doesn’t realize he perceives something the others don’t (even though they see the same thing) and ignores the other spies’ (and the Israelites’) fear. This fear becomes a wall, blocking out the positive information. Caleb believes, but he doesn’t lead, because he fails to convince the Israelites to adopt his vision. And the rest is history.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

David