Shelach Lecha – on spies, on surveying the land, and on sympathy

In this parshah, the Israelites once again doubt that they will see the Promised Land. A team (often called spies, but this isn’t quite accurate) is sent to survey the land and to report back as to any challenges or dangers. Most return saying that conquering the land will be impossible. Caleb and Joshua, however, feel differently and think they should proceed. Some of the people complain that it would be better to have stayed in Egypt, even to die in the wilderness, than to face what they perceive to be certain violent death in battle for the land. 

There are many readings of both the optimism of Caleb and Joshua and the fear of the people. Many liken the former to the Zionists who helped create the modern state of Israel. But it is tough to grapple with the harsh treatment of the people who doubt. Those who do not believe they can defeat their enemies are doomed to die in the desert. Yet I have sympathy for those who have suffered under tyranny and wish to avoid meeting a similar fate. It is possible to both laud Caleb and Joshua as heroes and seek to understand the mentality of those who could not follow them.

 There may be times when we face circumstances that seem daunting or even impossible. Optimism in the face of adversity can be a wonderful tool – not just for oneself but for others. Like the brave and daring Zionists who created the state of Israel, Caleb and Joshua established themselves as leaders who could inspire others to embark on a difficult but wonderful journey. Not all of us are Calebs or Joshuas. Sometimes fear is reasonable and even useful. But the world needs those who can rise up to a challenge and help those less hopeful to join them on the journey. 

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