Shelach 5781 – Fear of the Unknown

By: Larry Tobin

What an amazing opportunity. I had previously given a D’var to the Kehilla on Parshat Shelach where, among other things, I explored the sin of the ten spies who warned against entering Israel. I noted that they not only had sinned, but that the punishments handed out were Midah K’neged Midah (measure for measure). In other words, the punishments fit the crime. Today I want to explore Parsha Shelach a step further.

Please understand that the twelve spies were not ordinary men. They were the best of the best. The best man from each tribe or half-tribe was selected by Moses to be sent into the neighboring territory. All twelve spies acknowledged that the land flowed with milk and honey. Ten spies reported seeing giants and noted that in comparison they felt like grasshoppers. Joshua and Caleb, however, adamantly denied being grasshoppers and assured everyone that it was safe to proceed. But the B’nai Yisroel followed the advice of the ten spies. My questions today are what motivated the ten spies to report as they did and what lessons can be learned from this Parsha?

Allow me to add a third question. Didn’t Joshua and Caleb also see giants and recognize that to proceed forward would be dangerous?  Ten spies were pessimistic. They focused on the dangers that lie ahead. Two spies were optimistic. They focused on a land flowing with milk and honey, i.e., a good future. The difference between the two spy groups, however, went far beyond this and provides the key to understanding the main thrust of this Parsha. A review of the Parsha makes it clear that G-d was very unhappy with the B’nai Yisroel.  Chapter 14, sentences 26 through 38, reflect that G-d expressed his anger to Moses and Aaron. When would the murmuring of the B’nai Yisroel against Him stop? The punishments that followed were harsh. The ten spies died immediately. The B’nai Yisroel would spend the next forty years wandering in the wilderness. This allowed sufficient time for all males aged twenty to sixty who opposed G-d’s plan to die. One year of wandering was given for each of the forty days the spies searched out the land. Joshua and Caleb would survive to later lead the B’nai Yisroel into the promised land.

The main gist of the Parsha should now be clear. Ten spies had lacked faith in G-d. Their fear of the unknown had overwhelmed them. This fear and their lack of faith was readily absorbed by the B’nai Yisroel. Joshua’s and Caleb’s faith, on the other hand, did not waiver. A lesson to be drawn from this is to not allow fear of the unknown to diminish one’s faith in G-d. Query: What about fear of covid?

My eldest son, David, has another interesting take on this Parsha.  What the ten spies and the B’nai Yisroel lacked, he suggests, is adherence to the Dayeinu Principle. Think of the song we sing at the Passover seder. G-d had already done so much for the B’nai Yisroel. How did they respond? Complaint after complaint after complaint. If they only had shown some recognition to G-d for what He had already given them, then the punishments that followed may have been lessened. Certainly, this provides another good lesson. Be satisfied with what we have and with all G-d has given us rather than complain about that which we lack.

Putting everything together results in one mighty powerful lesson. Recognize all the good G-d has done for you. Show some appreciation.  Voice some gratitude. And never allow fear of the unknown to diminish your faith in G-d. He will continue to do well by you now and in the future. He will protect you from that which you fear. And remember that G-d has given you free will. Recognize that the choice is always yours to make: wander forty more years in the wilderness or enter the promised land.

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