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

“When you enter the land to which I am taking you…” (Numbers 15:18)

Parashat Sh’lach L’cha introduces the expedition of the twelve spies into the land of Canaan.  They report accurately what they see, but ten spies assume the land can’t be conquered and only two are confident that it can.  The Israelites despair and this provokes God to threaten to destroy them completely.  Moses intercedes (again!) and so only the Egyptian-born Israelites are doomed to die in the desert, while their children will enter the land.

The second section of the parasha (portion) begins very abruptly and lists a number of mitzvot (commandments):  sacrifices, tzitzit (ritual fringes), and challah (the portion of bread offered to the priests).  These are introduced by a very simple phrase,”…When you enter the land that I am giving you.” (Numbers 15:2) These words identify the central issues in the parasha: trust and faith.

The Israelites choose to send the spies because they don’t trust God.   Ten spies give a negative report because they don’t trust God.   The Israelites despair because they don’t trust God.  And God is ready to give up on the Jewish people entirely.  So Abraham Ibn Ezra (1089- ~1164; a great medieval Spanish scholar) interprets this short transitional phrase as a reminder: God is giving these commandments, which are to be performed in the land of Canaan, as a way of telling the Israelites not to lose faith.  In the end, the Jewish people will make it to the promised land.  It will take longer than planned, and not everybody will live to see it, but God will maintain the covenant with the people.  If they keep the faith, they will realize the promise.

Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom,

David

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