Shelach 5780 – No Good Deed Goes Unchallanged

By: Larry Tobin

Parshat Shelach. The story of the 12 spies. An oft told tale. Two good spies rewarded. Ten bad spies punished. Simple, right?

Let’s take a closer look at this intriguing story. What was the terrible wrong committed by ten of the spies? Didn’t they report what they saw? Maybe they exaggerated a little, but fear can do that to you. Their punishment was to die in the wilderness and never enter the Promised Land. Did the punishment really fit the crime?

Let’s examine the facts. When the 10 spies returned from Canaan, they addressed Moses and the entire community. They said that the land was indeed flowing in milk and honey. They continued to say, however, that the residents were too strong and the cities too fortified for the Children of Israel. This riled the people. Caleb quickly stepped in and assured the people that they were capable of taking possession of the land. The ten spies didn’t back off. Calamity awaits us, they warned. We saw giants. We looked like grasshoppers to them. The distraught B’nai Yisroel wept all night and started murmuring against Moses and Aaron. Why did G-d bring us here to die? Let’s appoint a new leader and go back to Egypt. Enter Caleb and Joshua. Do not rebel against G-d, they warned. Reaction of the people? Let’s stone Caleb and Joshua. Enter G-d. Time, Moshe, for Me to wipe out the B’nai Yisroel. So, Moshe prayed for the B’nai Yisroel and saved them, but the 10 spies were punished for what they wrought.

Did the punishment fit the crime? Certainly yes! The 10 spies who nearly convinced the B’nai Yisroel not to proceed to Canaan were clearly unworthy to enter the land themselves. Midah k’neged midah. Measure for measure. I can’t think of a more fitting punishment.

Isn’t there another important lesson to be learned from this Parsha? How outrageous of the people to turn on Moses and Aaron based upon a report of 10 spies, especially given the contra-reporting of Caleb and Joshua. Especially after Moses and Aaron led them out of slavery. And especially after personally witnessing a slew of miracles. What we see here, good people, is human nature. People are all too ready to accept gossip as truth. They are willing to turn on others at the drop of a hat. And unfortunately, they are willing to turn their backs on Hashem at the blink of an eye. But we also see greatness. Moshe did not respond with anger, although his deeds were being overlooked and challenged. Instead, he prayed on their behalf to an angry G-d to forgive them. Forgiveness and calmness. What wonderful attributes.

I’ll close with a quick personal story. Many years ago, Terry and I attended a Temple Banquet. Each table displayed a beautiful centerpiece consisting of a floral arrangement with a candle in the middle. I noticed that at the table next to ours, the floral arrangement had caught fire. I grabbed the pitcher of water on my table and doused the fire at the neighboring table. An angry woman sitting at the table asked me “what exactly did I think I was doing?” I responded, “Just watering the plants ma’am”.

Shabbat Shalom

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