Shelakh-lecha (Numbers 13:1 – 15:41)

With few exceptions, like John Le Carre novels, popular culture doesn’t take spying very seriously. Either portrayals are comic (e.g., Mad Magazine’s “Spy vs. Spy,” “Get Smart” on TV) or overly glamorous (James Bond). “Covert Affairs,” a TV show now in its second season, purports to show a junior operative dealing with grubby internal operations at Langley (CIA headquarters), but she’s still gorgeous and usually gets to dress glamorously at least some of the time on assignment (like Paris this week). (By the way, two episodes to date included a roguish Mossad agent played by a genuine Israeli actor, Oded Fehr) Then again, real-life former CIA agent Valerie Plame actually is gorgeous.

Anyhow, this week, we read about scouts who overstep their assignment with disastrous results and, in the contrasting Haftarah (Joshua 2:1-24), carefully coached, astute spies who, in TV CIA lingo, “cultivate an asset” (i.e., Rahab) and thereby gain protection and valuable intelligence. The scouts, sent by Moses at the Lord’s command, are respected men from each of the twelve tribes, Their assignment (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.” Fact finding. They are not asked to judge if the Israelites can conquer it; that’s a given. But they come back after 40 days and 10 of the 12 report that the land is great, unconquerable and full of giants. (Actually, there is a lot of discussion about just who and what “nephilim, sons of Anak” means here and where it occurs in Genesis. Next year.). “(W)e looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.” (13:33) Only 2 of the scouts, Caleb and Joshua, believe they can succeed.

All hell breaks loose among the populace. Even the Lord loses patience and is about to wipe them out, but Moses points out how that would damage the Divine reputation. The people are saved but severely punished: The 10 naysayers die of a plague, and Israel will now wander in the wilderness for 40 years (including the approximately 2 years already put in since the Exodus) until everyone aged 20+ has died, except for Caleb and Joshua. Only then will they conquer the Promised Land. A small contingent tries to attack the Canaanites then and there, but it’s too little and too late and they are crushed. What immediately follows this text? Instructions concerning sacrifices, resident aliens, witting and unwitting commandment breaking, and prayer shawls, tasks to be carried out “When you enter the land,” “when” not “if” . A reassuring note, even though it is only their youngsters, not they themselves, who will grow up to enter Canaan.

Shabbat shalom, and Happy Father’s Day,




Is There a Spy Among Us?




Spy Jokes

Why do mummies make good spies? They always keep things under wraps!

What did the spy name her dog? Snoopy, of course!

What do you call a spy who works underwater? James Pond!

What do spies do when they get hungry? They order s-takeout

How did Viking spies send secret messages? They used Norse code!




I Spy

The CIA loses track of one of its operatives, and so calls in one of their top spy hunters.

The CIA boss says, “All I can tell you is that his name is Murphy and that he’s somewhere in Ireland. If you think you’ve located him, tell him the code words, ‘The weather forecast calls for mist in the morning.’ If it’s really him, he’ll answer, ‘Yes, and for mist at noon as well.’”

So the spy hunter goes to Ireland and stops in a bar in one of the small towns. He says to the bartender, “Maybe you can help me. I’m looking for a guy named Murphy.”

The bartender replies, “You’re going to have to be more specific because, around here, there are lots of guys named Murphy. There’s Murphy the Baker, who runs the pastry shop on the next block. There’s Murphy the Banker, who’s president of our local savings bank. There’s Murphy the Blacksmith, who works at the stables. And, as a matter of fact, my name is Murphy, too.”

Hearing this, the spy hunter figures he might as well try the code words on the bartender, so he says, “The weather forecast calls for mist in the morning.”

The bartender replies, “Oh, you’re looking for Murphy the Spy. He lives right down the street.”




Big thinkers – Infants use size to predict social dominance [excerpt]

Psychologists at Harvard University have found that infants younger than a year old understand social dominance and use relative size to predict who will prevail when two individuals’ goals conflict. The finding is presented this week in the journal Science. (Science 28 January 2011: 477-480. [DOI:10.1126/science.1199198] )

(Lotte) Thomsen and colleagues at Harvard and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), studied the reactions of infants ranging from 8 to 16 months old. The researchers showed infants videos depicting a large and a small block with eyes and mouth bouncing across a stage in opposite directions. Next, infants watched the two blocks meet in the middle, impeding one another’s progress. They then saw either the large or the small block bow and step aside, deferring to the other.

“As predicted by our theory, the infants watched much longer when a large agent yielded to a smaller one,” Thomsen says. In a follow-up experiment, Thomsen and her co-authors found that 8-month-old infants failed to grasp the significance of the larger block deferring to the smaller one. But those who were 10 to 16 months old consistently demonstrated surprise at depictions of a larger individual yielding to a smaller one, suggesting that this conceptual understanding develops between 8 and 10 months of age.

[In short (ha ha), size matters. IGP]





If you are obsessive-compulsive, press 1 repeatedly.

If you are co-dependant, ask someone to press 2 for you.

If you have multiple personalities, press 3,4,5 & 6.

If you are paranoid, we know who you are and what you want. Stay on the line so we can trace your call.

If you are delusional, press 7, and your call will be transferred to the mother ship.

If you are schizophrenic, listen carefully and a small voice will tell you which number to press.

If you have low self-esteem, please hang up. All of our operators are far too busy to talk to you.



Self-Esteem Quotes

Having a low opinion of yourself is not “modesty”. It’s self-destruction. Holding your uniqueness in high regard is not “egotism”. It’s a necessary precondition to happiness and success. ~Bobbe Sommer

Most of the shadows of this life are caused by standing in one’s own sunshine. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Of all the judgments we pass in life, none is more important than the judgment we pass on ourselves. ~Nathaniel Branden


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