Shelakh-lecha (Numbers 13:1 – 15:41)

This week: disaster.

At the Lord’s command, Moses sends out twelve highly-regarded men, a chieftain of each tribe, to scout (or spy) out the land of Canaan. They are just supposed to answer several specific questions (13:18-20) : “Are the people who dwell in it strong or weak, few or many? Is the country in which they dwell good or bad? Are the towns they live in open or fortified? Is the soil rich or poor? Is it wooded or not? And take pains to bring back some of the fruit of the land.” After 40 days, they come back, and ten report their answers to the whole people: Strong. Many. Good, flowing with milk and honey. Fortified. Rich. No answer about woodlands. Here are some giant grapes (the iconic image of one bunch on a pole carried by two men) and figs and pomegranates. And: The people are like giants, we felt like grasshoppers, we felt they saw us as grasshoppers, and there is no way we can conquer the land. All that stuff about giants, grasshoppers, and inevitable failure was out of the blue. This wasn’t simply a matter of individual low self-esteem, but a collective low opinion of the capabilities of the people and, most important, a lack of faith in the Lord. There wasn’t even supposed to be a question of feasibility – it had to be feasible, or the Lord wouldn’t have brought them out from Egypt to do it. Only two of the scouts, Caleb and Joshua, understand this, but they are unable to convince the other Israelites. The people panic and think of returning to Egypt.

Not surprisingly, the Lord is angry, totally fed up, and wants to destroy the people and start over again with Moses. Moses manages to persuade the Lord otherwise, not by saying that would be cruel, or that would be killing innocents along with the guilty, or how could you expect slaves to turn into commandos so quickly, but by saying the Lord’s reputation would be damaged: “If then You slay this people to a man, the nations who have heard Your fame will say, ‘It must be because the Lord was powerless to bring that people into the land He had promised them on oath that He slaughtered them in the wilderness.” (14:15-16) And Moses reminds the Lord (14:17-18): “let my Lord’s forbearance be great, as You have declared, saying, ‘The Lord! slow to anger and abounding in kindness; forgiving iniquity and transgression”. The Lord relents. But the people are still punished severely. The 10 naysayers die of plague. All Israelites aged 20 and up are condemned to wander in the wilderness for a total of 40 years and die there. At this, a small band declares that they now believe they can conquer Canaan and mount an attack, but it’s too late. Their fate has been decreed. Accompanied by neither Moses nor the Ark, they are crushed.

The haftarah provides an instructive counterpoint. Taken from the book of Joshua (2:1-24), it recounts how Joshua gathered intelligence before attacking Jericho. Moses had sent, by the Lord’s command, 12 chieftains, probably too many and not necessarily the ones for the job. And their mission was highly public, so there was no way to do any damage control if their report was negative. Now Joshua quietly sends only two reasonably nondescript men on a well-defined military mission: “Go, reconnoiter the region of Jericho.” (2:1) They bring critical intelligence from the harlot (or innkeeper?) Rahab back to Joshua. Unlike the previous generation of Israelites, this one will not need any convincing of the goodness of the land and their ability to take it.

Shabbat shalom,

“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”  Abraham Lincoln

“I wrote the story myself. It’s about a girl who lost her reputation and never missed it.” Mae West
It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”Warren Buffett

Silence and reserve will give anyone a reputation for wisdom.” Myrtle Reed

Reputation is character minus what you’ve been caught doing.” Michael Iapoce

You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” Henry Ford
Light bulbs…
How many consultants does it take to change a light bulb?
We don’t know. They never seem to get past the feasibility study

Two Iraqi spies met in a busy restaurant after they had successfully slipped into the U.S.
The first spy starts speaking in Arabic.
The second spy shushes him quickly and whispers: “Don’t blow our cover. You’re in America now. Speak Spanish.
West German spies collected jokes from behind the Berlin Wall [abridged]
West Germany’s intelligence service collected and filed jokes told on the other side of the Berlin Wall to gauge the level of discontent, documents have shown.
By Allan Hall in Berlin
Published: 5:07PM BST 15 Oct 2009
Files released this week revealed the jokes were collected from letters steamed open by agents, from spies on the ground and wiretapped phone calls.
The gags were scrupulously collected and filed and dispatched to Bonn, much to the delight of civil servants.
“It was our biggest hit among our superiors,” said one unnamed BND [Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst] spy.
BND officials said the jokes gave valuable insights into the way East Germans were thinking about their government. One report read: “The GDR leadership believes the population is resilient and ready to make sacrifices but it is prepared to take tough action if necessary to prevent ‘Polish conditions’.”
Among the jokes recorded in the files were:

Did East Germans originate from apes?
Impossible. Apes could never have survived on just two bananas a year.

What would happen if the desert became communist?
Nothing for a while – and then there would be a sand shortage!

Why can’t you get any pins in East Germany anymore?
Because they are being sold to Poland as kebab skewers
Low self-esteem

A guy had been feeling down for so long that he finally decided to seek the aid of a psychiatrist. He went there, lay on the couch, spilled his guts then waited for the profound wisdom of the psychiatrist to make him feel better. The psychiatrist asked a few questions, took some notes then sat thinking in silence for a few minutes with a puzzled look on his face. Suddenly, he looked up with an expression of delight and said, “Um, I think your problem is low self-esteem. It is very common among losers.”
Jeff Stilson on low self-esteem
I don’t have any sympathy for people who suffer from low self-esteem. You don’t need to love yourself. You just need to hate a lot of other people, then grade yourself on the curve. Hey, I might suck, but I don’t suck as bad as Hitler.
UFO April Fool’s joke sparks public panic
April 6, 2010
The mayor of a town in Jordan says a local newspaper’s April Fool’s Day report chronicling a late-night visit by three-metre-tall aliens in flying saucers sparked public panic and almost led to the town’s emergency evacuation.
The Al Ghad newspaper published a front-page article on April 1 about a UFO landing near the desert town of Jafr, about 300 kilometres from the capital, Amman. The fake report said the UFOs lit up the whole town, interrupted communications and sent fearful residents streaming into the streets.
Jafr’s mayor, Mohammed Mleihan, got caught up in the prank and said he sent security authorities in search of the aliens. “Students didn’t go to school, their parents were frightened and I almost evacuated the town’s 13,000 residents,” Mleihan said. “People were scared that aliens would attack them.”
A Jordanian security official said an emergency plan was almost enacted in Jafr.
Mleihan said he might sue the daily for its “big lie” but added the paper had called to apologise for the inconvenience caused.
Al Ghad’s managing editor, Moussa Barhoumeh, said the report had been “blown out of proportion”.
“We meant to entertain, not scare people,” he said.
Jordan’s newspapers rarely publish April Fool’s jokes. [Now we know why. IGP]

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