Parashat Shelach-Lecha: Numbers 13:1 to 15:41

For Shabbat June 16, 2023

The Torah portion provides us with two versions of the story of the “me’ragleem,” the spies or scouts. The description of the spies surveying the land is much more extensive in Numbers than in the Deuteronomic version (Deut. 1:19 to 45). Both versions agree that twelve leaders were sent to scout the land.

The spies return with ripe juicy fruits. Ten of them report that it is a “land flowing with milk and honey,” but it is also a land filled with giants, i.e. “ana’keem.” “We felt like grasshoppers in their sight,” claim the spies. The Israelite leaders claim that the land is filled with Amalakites, the enemies of our people.

Joshua and Caleb disagree, and urge the people to move ahead and go forth to conquer the land. In a panic, the people protest to Moses, “let us go back to Egypt.” Angered by the spies’ report and cowardice of the people, God punishes the community by making them wander in the desert for forty years (thus the old generation from Egypt will die out). Only the children of this new generation, led by Joshua and Caleb, will victoriously enter the land of Israel. 

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