Sh’lach 5779 – Believe It or Not

By: Michael Carr

In this weeks parasha Shelach (which means to send, send to you, send for yourself)  God commands Moses to send 12 men (SPIES) – to check out the promised land before the Israelites enter the land.As explained in the parasha the results of this expedition were less than remarkable for at least 10 of the ‘SPIES’ – in fact one might say it was not only a lack of belief and inspired leadership, but also perhaps for our purposes here today,  a lack of faith.  The Torah explains that a plague kills 10 of the spies with the exception of Caleb and Joshua two of the twelve spies that had faith and perhaps a vision of what God had laid out before the Israelites. Ultimately as we are told in the Parasha – God selects Caleb to replace Moses to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land along with Joshua.

Because of the 10 spies transgressions when they described their fear and supposed risks they described which were associated with entering the promised land God commanded an entire generation of Israelites to wander for 40 years and all men who were 20 years and older would die in the desert  until the new Generation of men younger than 20 years of age were ready to enter the promised land.

There are many interpretations of why the spy activity was a failed project, the consequences of what failure meant to the spies and Israelites and what and why Moses said that God commanded the spies to do.  It was as if God was resetting or renewing expectations for the Israelites by assuring theirs would be a land flowing with milk and honey.  However this idea of a land flowing  may have been hard to conceive for the Israelites after so many centuries of mental and physical oppressive slavery.

It’s hard to imagine that 10 spies did not understand the ‘long game’ with purpose, cause or belief on their mission to evaluate the promised land.

For me this parasha has much to do with internal belief leading to confident, deliberate and strategic decision making related to the risk/reward of entering the Promised Land.

And where was Dwight Eisenhower to offer his insight? Eisenhower famously said,  “In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”  The Israelites never got to the planning stages. Sometimes simply asking a question amongst a group of people with the same purpose, cause or beliefs is all that one needs to start a positive movement.

Like – How can we make this land of milk and honey OUR society?

A society that is a safe and healthy, where our people will be treated not as slaves but instead with humanity, dignity and respect.  A society without petulant, autocratic and demigod rulers and instead with laws that are fairly administered to all.

Rather than having an inspired vision from God for creating a just and verdant society, one with social, economic, education and welfare based systems, 10 of the spies had a fearful vision of the risks associated with taking over the Canaanite land. Some of the spies stated that the Israelites were like grasshoppers next to the large overwhelming Canaanite community.Does anyone else see a paradox with 10 of the spies who were fearful of the Canaanite Nation  when the ‘WORD ON THE STREET’ was out that all nations should fear the Israelites – God’s people who were able to flee and out run the powerful nation of Egypt?

In the big picture the entire spy situation appears to be a test or validation of the Israelites fidelity to God. For IF the Israelites had truly believed that God could help them they would have trusted Gods request to check out the promised land in the first place.  Right?  You know the God who cast plagues upon Egypt and helped Moses negotiate the exit plan and ultimate emancipation from Egypt.

For me this parasha is about a lack of thoughtful and abject POSITIVE AND INSPIRED leadership. Also it’s about the negative beliefs of the 10 spies who ultimately influence the Israelites into believing that the risks of entering the promised land out-weighed the benefits.Would the risks of entering the Promised Land have been ameliorated had the spies beliefs, cause or purpose been bigger than the commandment that  they the spies were to ‘scout-out’ the land?

For example – perhaps God or Moses being the visionary he was could have framed an INSPIRED vision that this Promised Land is actually safe and would bring laughter, hope, health, happiness AND that this Israelite society was one they could create and develop by and for the Israelite Community, the Chosen People so the Community could continue to learn Torah, pray to one God, create an economy, raise families, livestock and crops,  build homes live in peace and expand the surviving generation of people who had been through so many life changing experiences in such a short  period of time.

OH Yes and by the way there is this community of Canaanites and we can figure out a strategy to extricate them since their beliefs are antithetical to ours.With a little inspired leadership would or could that vision have changed perspectives, attitudes, fear and uncertainty for the Israelites?

Caleb from the tribe of Judah  and Joshua from the tribe of Ephraim were the optimists who believed a story like or similar to this.

They had vision, belief, cause and purpose perhaps because they held personal beliefs and hope for future generations of Israelites and they remembered clearly what God had done for the Israelites by bringing the Chosen People out of oppression.

Perhaps Caleb and Joshua also believed that because the Israelite people successfully made it out of oppressive Egyptian captivity with the help of God and the leadership of Moses the Israelites could successfully move into the land they had been promised by God. Sure it would be risky though Caleb and Joshua must have found the faith, confidence and belief within themselves to know that it was possible.

The strength in their minds and hearts for God, for a better life that did not initially include wandering the desert. Caleb and Joshua  saw a glass that was not only half-full but perhaps they thought it was important to have a larger glass for a vast society inspired and envisioned by God for the Israelites. For Caleb and Joshua moving into the Promised Land was the best option for the Israelites.

Here are four take away’s to consider from today’s Parasha when it comes to making important decisions:

1) be vulnerable enough to share what is known and what is not known and ask WHY- for example – Why are we going into the promised land? Why is this important and why should anyone care?2) ask questions of ourselves and others like: How can we better care for ourselves and others in our community so we know where we are going and what our purpose, cause and beliefs are about?

3) listen closely and humbly to questions others ask  and listen carefully for  answers that make sense to our hearts and minds and are consistent with our personal values and beliefs

4) share knowledge to discover new questions/answers that will inspire us to move forward

A favorite TED Talk of mine is Simon Sinek’s How Great Leader’s Inspire Action. Sinek states that ‘Leaders hold positions of  power or authority. HOWEVER we all have a choice to seek out inspired leaders or organizations that cause us to follow not because we have to butbecause we want to.  We follow inspired leaders not for them – but for ourselves.