16/17 June: Shabbat Shelach Lecha comes in 9.06 pm, goes out 10.27pm
I have a question for God. In Parshat Shelach, God instructs Moses to choose twelve chieftains, one from each tribe, to scout out the Land of Israel. The twelve “spies” are asked to determine what kind of country it is: “Are the people who dwell in it strong or weak, few or many? Is the country in which they dwell good or bad? Are the towns they live in open or fortified? Is the soil rich or poor? Is it wooded or not? And take pains to bring back some of the fruit of the land . . . ” (Numbers 13:18-20)
So they scout about and upon returning from the land of Canaan, the twelve spies presented their reports to the Jewish people concerning all they had seen in their future homeland. The children of Israel chose to accept the negative report of the majority rather than the optimistic minority report.
Now it is clear that God commands Moses to send the spies to check out the land of Canaan. Yet, when this plan backfires, God becomes so angry that He nearly destroys the entire Jewish people. My question is, from the simple reading of the text, why were the Israelites guilty for doing what God had asked them to do? Scout, report, react. That is what God wanted!
In fact, it’s clear that God only wanted the spies to scout and report back good things about the Land. It’s like a colleague who only wants you to read her work and say positive things. Or a child who only wants you to like their drawing, not g ive constructive criticism.
If I cook dinner for my family, I really only want to hear good things, not “nice, but it’s a bit oily*”. So, did I do the wrong thing by asking “How is the dinner?”
We all have to recognize that words only convey half of the meaning behind a question. At this pivotal moment God only wanted to hear good things. God had worked hard to take them out of Egypt and across the desert. God was really just trying to give them some ownership over the decision — which can be a double edged sword.
The answer is we should take the other person’s investment and feelings into consideration; to balance negative and positive in our reports. When asked, we should not just say what’s wrong with the land (scary giants) but to report on the fruits of the Land as well.
Rabbi Paul Arberman