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Parashat Sh'lach - 5777

Dear friends,

The generation that was liberated from slavery through that miraculous Exodus, the former slaves who (a) witnessed the Revelation at Sinai, (b) were fed Manna on a daily basis, and (c) witnessed many miracles, were very difficult to govern. They worshipped the Golden Calf, they murmured against G-d and Moses, and they even questioned the Exodus itself, regretting leaving Egypt and even considering returning to being slaves. In this week’s Parasha, they commit the most serious and worse transgression of all.

What happened?

Moses sends twelve men, each one of them a recognized leader of his respective tribe, to tour the Land of Israel and report back to the people as to the land and its inhabitants. At the end of forty days, they returned from touring the land. They went straight to Moses and to Aaron and to the entire Israelite community at Kadesh in the wilderness of Paran, made their report and showed them the fruits they had brought back from the land.

"This is what they told him: We came to the land you sent us to. It does indeed flow with milk and honey and this is its fruit. However, the people who inhabit the country are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large; moreover, we saw the Anakites there (legendary giants)." (Numbers 13:27-28)

Ten of the twelve scouts spread slander against the land saying:

". . . The land that we traveled and toured is one that devours its settlers. All the people that we saw there were men of great size (compared to them). . . . we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them." (Numbers 13:32-33)

Their conclusion was that there is no way we can win.

Caleb and Joshua, on the other hand, gave a positive report, praised the land and said that, with G-d's help, Israel can defeat the inhabitants.

The people believed the ten scouts rather than Caleb and Joshua. That night became a night of weeping and crying. They railed against Moses and Aaron and questioned the purpose of leaving Egypt.

"Is G-d bringing us to that land so that we can all be killed there, and our wives and children fall into captivity? We would have been better off in Egypt. They said to one another: Let's appoint a leader and head back to Egypt!" (Numbers 14:3-4)

G-d's punishment was severe. These former slaves will not get to see the Promised Land. They will wander in the wilderness for the next 39 years, until all the adults have died, and only their children, the new generation, will enter and possess the Promised Land.

The ten scouts represented the leadership of the tribes. They failed miserably. Fearing that they might lose their power and leadership authority in the new land, they misled the people by lying and caring only for their personal status. Caleb, Joshua, and even Moses and Aaron, were unable to save the day. The community was persuaded and became frightened by the words of the ten scouts.

An important lesson in this Parasha: It's easy to find what is bad in any situation. Spreading slander - known as Lashon Harah, evil speech - can cause immeasurable damage to others - even to an entire community.

There is much good in the world. We just have to look for it and appreciate it. With hard work and good intentions, we can build on the positive. Remember King David's words: "Who is the man that desires life, and loves days to see goodness? Depart from evil, and do good, seek peace and pursue it."

We could use some of that at every level of life and our society.

Shabbat Shalom,

Avram