This week’s Torah portion Shelach shows a very recognizable situation. Twelve leaders are being sent out to spy out the land K’na’an (Canaan), representing twelve fathers of Israel. Twelve people see the same thing. But not everybody gives the same report. First conclusion: it is not what they see, but also what they experience which determines their report. And because ten of the twelve not only give a negative report but also succeed in diving the masses, more than only experience is part of this game. Spirits of fear and of distrust and of causing division play their roles in this very particular situation.

It looks like Moshe (Moses) caused part of the ruckus since he asked his spies to “see the land, what it is, and the people who dwell in it, whether they are strong or weak, few or many; and what the land is that they dwell in, whether it is good or bad, and what cities they dwell in are like, whether in tents or in strongholds …” (Bamidbar / Numbers 13:18-19). He sent them not only to find good routes and nice places. He sent them to make an assessment of their strength. As if to open the possibility of finding them too strong.

The recognizable aspect is that people are often afraid of new situations. Either new for everybody or new for them alone, for instance when correction comes unexpected as something new. And instead of talking things out with the leadership they publicize their opinion in order to manipulate. And they make their experience and their feelings the standard by which everybody needs to live. Everybody with the same fear, distrust and inclination to cause division will listen and be open to the lies of the spies.

The good inclination of Joshua and Caleb can be seen in their response to the lies: “The Land which we passed through to search, the Land is exceedingly good” (14:7). They limited their report to the land, and they extended it not to describing and exalting the quality of the inhabitants. Another recognizable aspect is that when people see something wrong they fool themselves by thinking that from that moment they can do anything to fight evil, also by committing the crimes which caused HASHEM to not allowing them to enter the Land. Joshua and Calev however show their trusting faith which many believers fail to exert: “If the LORD delights in us, then He will bring us into this Land and give it to us, a Land flowing with milk and honey” (Eretz zavat chalav udewash, verse 8).

Now if people see their sin and failure they realize their straying away which they might have looked at as having their own (better) insight. The Torah portion goes into this aspect of returning from the wrong way. Jew and Gentile alike – see 15:15, “For the congregation the same decree will be for you and also for the foreigner who sojourns with you” – are enabled to make restitution. Whether someone actually uses this great graceful opportunity HASHEM offers to us is up to us. If we accept this opportunity we do it because we see. If we don’t we have made our experience our new god, in fact we have ourselves as the new god. This what Torah is warning against. See it!

Shabbat shalom,
Lion Erwteman, Rosh Kehilla of Beth Yeshua
Amsterdam, Holland