Monday, June 11, 2012

The Mistake of the Spies

Parshat Shelach
Bamidbar 13:1 – 15:41
16 Sivan 5772 / June 15 – 16, 2012

The Mistake of the Spies
by Joshua Avraham Einstein, MH (Greater) Hoboken (Area)
Parshat Shelach is the story of how our people’s pro-longed sojourn in the desert came to be. Moses is told by god to send spies from all the tribes to Canaan to find out the strength and numbers of the peoples, the size and fortifications of their cities, and the types of crops grown there. Though the spies are sent to scout the land, it is tactical information they are after - where and how to conquer not whether they can, for God has guaranteed them victory. Yet, despite God’s statement that “I got this”, when the spies returned, all but two (Joshua and Caleb), convince the Israelites that Canaan is too strong to conquer. God is convinced by Mosses not to kill the Israelites but does kill the spies (save for Joshua and Caleb) and makes the Israelites wander in the desert until that generation dies off (again except for Josh and Cal).

The lesson of the parsha seems to be one of blind faith. Believe that god will give you the land - have faith - or else. Whether in the professional world or our social circles we’ve all been in situations where we have been asked to “tow the party line” or been asked to say something we didn’t really agree with “for the team”. Sometimes we put our moral reservations aside, chalking them up to over cautiousness and other times our conscience prevents us. The spies paid with their lives but even if the stakes are lower we know that in every case actions have consequences. Considering the spies went through the Ten Plagues, splitting of the sea, and through the infamous golden calf incident/receiving of the Torah, they were well aware that their god was sometimes a vengeful one. While there is no doubt they died with the courage of their convictions the question remains over whether they were right in their actions.

The parsha says in two places that the spies gave a report. The first report was given to Moses and the entire people, it included their positive evaluation of the crops and the negative evaluation they had being able to conquer the land. The second report wasn’t given as much as it was “spread”. Moreover the report was more of an attempt to convince the people that they should not go into Canaan:

"The land we passed through to explore is a land that consumes its inhabitants, and all the people we saw in it are men of stature.”

Clearly the spies, after fulfilling their duties of reporting back to the people were trying to influence their decision. God, understandably annoyed, tells Moses he is thinking of killing all of the Israelites because they do not trust him. But putting aside the fact that the spies should have known God had no problems killing people (as he would do to them), were the spies right to do try to persuade the people not to invade the land of Canaan?

The answer is a resounding no. The spies were commissioned as an agent of the government, God and Moses, to ferret out and gather information. They did that job and did so well, but by attempting to influence the people they were trying to change government policy. This is analogous to the civilian military relationship in our country. The military higher ups exist to give advice to and follow the orders of the President, not to attempt to influence political decisions. When they do so, we get rid of them so did God with the spies. Shabbat Shalom! 


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