This week’s portion opens with what appears to be a divine command to Moses to send out 12 men, a leader from each tribe that will be allotted land (thus, not Levi), to spy out the Promised Land and bring back a report on the land (fertility, soil, forests) and its inhabitants (strength, quantity, cities, fortifications) and some fruit samples (13:18-20). The commentators generally regard this as having been prompted by the people’s demands (that’s what Moses says in Deuteronomy) and shows a lack of faith on the part of the Israelites. Hadn’t they already been told how great the Promised Land was? Nachmanides, though, regards this as the Israelites’ reasonable desire to get specifics for military planning. Moses’ presenting this plan could also be thought of as an offer that he didn’t expect to have to carry out (something like a suspect saying, “If you don’t believe me, I’ll take a lie detector test,” and then not having to) i.e., that the Israelites would be mollified enough by the offer to drop the demand. Anyhow, the 12 men return after 40 days and ten report, yes, it’s a wonderful land (when it’s not eating its inhabitants), but we can’t conquer it – we felt like grasshoppers next to the inhabitants. Caleb and Joshua say, yes, we can conquer it. The people lose whatever faith they had left, panic, anger the Lord enough that they are almost destroyed but then sentenced to spend a total of 40 years in the wilderness instead.
The whole disastrous episode raises many questions. When the ten give their report, are they deliberately applying “spin” by presenting good news first, then their negative conclusion? Or are they trying to soften the blow? What do the ten expect will happen once they give such a negative report in public? Instead of conquering the Promised Land, do they seriously want to return to Egypt (14:3-4)? What would await them after over a year’s absence? Are these 10 men basically good men who are simply overwhelmed by what they see as inevitable military disaster, or are they biased from the start? After all, they are just supposed to report the facts, not opinion. But why would they be biased against achieving their goal, the culmination of everything since Moses and Aaron first addressed the elders back in Egypt? Is the Lord’s decision to have the current adult generation wander for a total of 40 years in the wilderness simply a punishment, or is it also (more?) a recognition on the part of the Lord that this generation, except for Joshua and Caleb, will never be capable of taking the Promised Land? If so,why didn’t the Lord understand that from the get-go? Or is the Lord still learning about Israelites the way the Israelites are still learning about the Lord? We see the pitfalls in the process: 12 spies is too many; being a chieftain probably isn’t the best requirement for selection; sending them out publicly sets up expectations that may not be met; and the publicity inevitably leads to a public report of the findings with no chance to defuse it, causing wide-spread panic and dismay. [In the Haftarah, Joshua 2:1-24, Joshua handles his spying outside Jericho much more sensibly.] Why aren’t those pitfalls apparent to both Moses and the Lord? The 10 naysayers die of plague (no surprise). But when a group decides, yes, we were wrong, we can conquer the land, so let’s do it and they try, they are told the Lord has already decided “no” and the battle is a(nother) disaster (14:32-43). But the Lord’s mind has already been changed (not only about taking them to the Promised Land, but every time the Lord threatens to destroy the people and Moses steps in), so why not now? But it is too late.
Then we seem to get back to “normal” with more laws to be put in place for when (not if) the Israelites enter the land that the Lord is giving them and taking them to(15:2, 18). These include free-will and sin offerings, such as those for unwitting sin. Deliberate rebellion against the Lord results in karet,literally, being cut off. A man breaking the Sabbath is stoned to death. And we conclude with several verses about ritual fringes (tzitzit. See http://www.aish.com/jl/m/mm/Tzitzit.html for more info), which form the last paragraph of the Shema in the liturgy.
So now, we can expect the Israelites to accept their fate, atone wholeheartedly, and follow Moses and Aaron without question, right? Riiiiight. Tune in next week.
A college graduate applied for a job as an industrial spy. Together with several other applicants, he was given a sealed envelope and told to take it to the fourth floor. As soon as the young man was alone, he stepped into an empty hallway and opened the packet.
Inside, a message read: “You’re our kind of person. Report to the fifth floor.”
Capturing a Spy (Pun of the Day)
During World War One, Mata-Hari, the famous spy, attended a masquarade party at one of the French Army Officer’s Clubs, in hopes of learning some secret information.
Colonel Bouchard, a counterintelligence officer, learned of this, and decided to raid the place and arrest her. He and a squad of military police stormed in and secured the doors.
Bouchard then took the stage, and commanded, “All right, let’s everybody get those masks off, and we’ll see who’s Hari now!”
In a spy novel I had just read, the hero hid a letter in a particular statue in Washington, D.C. Since I was in that city at the time, on a whim, I decided to see if the statue really contained the small niche the author had described. To my great surprise, it did — and a cellophane-wrapped letter was inside.
After a moment’s hesitation, I pulled out the letter, opened it, and burst into laughter. An unidentified reader had penned, “Good book, wasn’t it?”
The walls of Jericho
During his morning cheder class, Maurice, the Jewish history teacher, asks young Simon Levy, “Who blew down the walls of Jericho, Simon?”
Simon answers, “It wasn’t me, teacher. Honest.”
Maurice is surprised by Simon’s answer and decides to phone Simon’s father after class.
“Mr Levy,” he says, “I thought I should tell you something about your son Simon. Just now, during my history class, I asked him who blew down the walls of Jericho and was surprised when he answered that it wasn’t him.”
“Well,” says Mr Levy, “my Simon is an honest boy, a mensh even. If my Simon says it wasn’t him, then I can guarantee you it wasn’t him.”
Within minutes, the ‘Jericho story’ starts going round the school until near to home time, the school’s rabbi calls into Maurice’s office and says, “I’ve just heard that when you asked Simon Levy who blew down the walls of Jericho, he said it wasn’t him. Is that true, Maurice?”
“Yes,” replies Maurice. “And I can also confirm that his father vouches for Simon’s total honesty.”
The rabbi goes immediately into the Chairman’s office and says, “Mr Chairman, I think you’ll be interested in this story about Simon Levy. When his teacher Maurice asked him who blew down the walls of Jericho, Simon said it wasn’t him. And to back it up, Simon’s father vouched for his son’s honesty. So I then asked Maurice whether he ….
At his point, the Chairman interrupts and says, “OK, alright already. You don’t need to go on, rabbi. I’ve got an important meeting to attend in 5 minutes time. Just arrange to get the walls fixed as soon as you can and ask the builder to send me his invoice.”
Cheder: a school for Jewish children in which Hebrew and religious knowledge are taught.
Note: This joke appears much more often set in Christian Bible class.
What is green, sooty and whistles when it rubs its back legs together ?
Chimney Cricket !
What is a grasshopper ?
An insect on a pogo stick !
What is green and can jump a mile in a minute ?
A grasshopper with hiccups !
What do you call a grasshopper with no legs ?
A grasshover !
Why is it better to be a grasshopper than a cricket ?
Because grasshoppers can play cricket but crickets can’t play grasshopper !
Trinkle did not possess a legal mind. He was a mental grasshopper, an intellectual kangaroo, a mind wallaby.
[from Beyond the Void by Fanthorpe, Robert L(ionel) (1935-) writing as John E. Muller]
1. Ladies Bible Study will be held Thursday morning at 10. All ladies are invited to lunch in the Fellowship Hall after the B.S. is done.
2. Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 PM. Please use the back door.
3. The pastor will preach his farewell message, after which the choir will sing, “Break Forth Into Joy.”
4. Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our church and community.
5. At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be “What Is Hell?” Come early and listen to our choir practice.
Below is a picture of an “Arba Kanfot” (four cornered garment with tzitzit to be worn under clothing) originally owned by my great-great grandfather.
Natural Museum of America Jewish History
This tzitzit was thought to have magical powers by the residents of Koval, Poland, where its owner, Louis Joseph, a very religious man, was born in 1821. His great-granddaughter, Lillian Abrams Greenwald, who donated it to the Museum, said villagers would put the tzitzit – a ritual garment with fringes worn during the day by observant males – on babies if they were sick because they thought it had healing powers. Joseph joined his son in Titusville, PA in 1878, where the tzitzit served a similar function. The tzitzit is an example of how Eastern European traditions were preserved in America by Jewish immigrants.