Numbers chapters 13:1 – 15:41; Haftara: Joshua 2:1-24
by Michael Schneider, Jerusalem
On this Shabbat, we find the story of the 12 spies (Numbers 13:1 – 15:41), the first Mossad. Moses sent the spies to scout the Promised Land.
How many people are there? What are their military capabilities? Is the land fruitful? (13:18-20). Those are legitimate questions that responsible people should and have to know.
Ten spies returned with a negative and frightening report. They confirmed that the land was flowing with milk and honey (13:27), but also warned about the presence of giants (anakim), thus discouraging the people and putting disbelief and fear in their hearts.
Unfortunately, the people in these passages, as most people today do, listened to the majority, the hopeless report of the 10 spies.
The negative report and the people’s acceptance of it brought a harsh punishment: “According to the number of days which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day you shall bear your guilt a year, even forty years, and you will know My opposition.” (14:34)
It was probably a huge shock for the people, who were so desperate to enter the Promised Land. The whole generation of the exodus – except for Joshua and Caleb, the two faithful spies – was to die in the desert.
Because of this tragic turn of events caused by man’s tendency to rely on his own understanding, this week’s Torah portion ends with the commandment to wear tzitzit – tassels on the corners of one’s garments – “to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes.” (15:39)
Our eyes must focus on the Word of God, on Him, and not on what’s going on around us. Today we call this living by faith and not by sight!
The word “scouting” that is used in these passages is from the Hebrew word “tar” or “latur,” from which we get the word for tourist (tayar).
May those who live abroad and the tourists who come today to Israel see the Land as Joshua and Caleb saw it – through the eyes of God, in faith, not to be deterred by reports of danger.