Shelach (Numbers 13:1 – 15:41)

Very tall Canaanites + very low self-esteem = Disaster

(I have cobbled together comments I like from 2013-2016)

This portion begins ambiguously.  The Lord says, “Send for yourself men to scout…”  Rashi interprets “for yourself” as a disclaimer (Hey, I’m not ordering this, it’s on your head).  In Deuteronomy, Moses says the people asked for this.  In any event, it seems to be a move taken by Moses to reassure a nervous people, in public, using their own leaders.  Moses did not appreciate the risk and far-reaching effects of sending such a mission when he didn’t have to, the risk of “no.” [I am reminded, naturally, of the crisis precipitated in 2016 in the United Kingdom, implications summarized by one newscast as “You Brexit, you bought it.”]

With great fanfare, Moses sends 12 men, one respected leader per landed tribe, to spy out the land of Canaan.  Their assignment is just fact-finding: (13:18-20): “18…Are the people who dwell in it strong or weak, few or many? 19 Is the country in which they dwell good or bad? Are the towns they live in open or fortified? 20 Is the soil rich or poor? Is it wooded or not? And take pains to bring back some of the fruit of the land.”  They come back after 40 days with some giant fruit (remember that iconic picture of two men carrying one bunch of grapes on a pole?), and 10 say, yes, it’s flowing with milk and honey, but we cannot conquer it; we felt like grasshoppers next to the giants that inhabit the land.  Caleb and Joshua say conquering it will be a piece of cake with the Lord on their side.  The people panic and wail.  Literally on the edge of the Promised Land, they actually consider appointing a new leader and going back to Egypt and slavery.

That is the last straw. Moses prevents utter destruction, but the Lord’s punishment is swift and final: Those aged 20+ who came out of Egypt will wander a total of 40 years in the wilderness, 1 year per day of the spies’ trip, until all of them except Caleb and Joshua die off, or, as the Lord more colorfully puts it, “your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness.”  The 10 faithless spies are killed by a plague.  Then a group tries to conquer the Land anyway, but without the Lord on their side, they are beaten back.

But what really was the sin that lead to such a punishment?  According to Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, it wasn’t simply a loss of already-shaky faith.  They don’t doubt the goodness of the land, nor do they speak against the Lord.  The key lies in 13:33: (W)e looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.”  As Rabbi Riskin put it, “Tragedy erupts not so much when others take a sudden dislike to us, but when we dislike ourselves and become paralyzed and passive as a result. The sin of the scouts is not in the terrible report they bring, but in their vision of themselves, a perception which becomes contagious, and which ends up as a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom. As James Baldwin said so aptly, he could forgive America for enslaving black people, but he could never forgive America for making the blacks feel that they were worthless, that they deserved to be slaves. And that’s precisely what Egypt did to the Hebrews!”

The portion ends with a return to law-giving, maybe as an attempt to restore calm: more on sacrifices for when (not if) Israelites eventually capture the Promised Land, the penalty for violating the Sabbath (stoning), and the commandment to put fringes (tzitzit) on the corners of garments as a reminder of the Lord and the Law (sort of like a string around your finger).  These verses, 15:37-41, form the last paragraph of the Shema in our liturgy. 

In the haftarah, Joshua 2:1-24, Joshua applies a more successful strategy, quietly sending out just two resourceful spies to infiltrate Jericho and obtain militarily useful information.  The conditions have changed. 38+ years before, only a few Israelites were psychologically ready and had the self-confidence to enter the Promised Land.  This new generation has no doubts.

Shabbat shalom,


tph NSA


During the Cold War, three spies were captured by the Soviets — one Englishman, one American, and one Italian.

The guards grab the Englishman, tie him up, and torture him unmercifully for an hour. Finally, he breaks and reveals all he knows.

The guards then grab the American, tie him up, and torture him unmercifully for two hours. Finally, he breaks and reveal all he knows.

Then the guards grab the Italian. They tie him up and torture him unmercifully for an hour… two hours… three hours. They torture him all night, but the Italian won’t say a word. Finally, the exhausted guards give him and let him go.

Wow,” the other two say, “how did you manage not to say anything?”

“How could I?” the Italian says, “my hands were tied!”



tph selfesteem Calvin


Grasshopper Jokes

A grasshopper walks into a bar. The bartender says, “Hey we have a drink named after you.” The surprised grasshopper says, “You have a drink named Shaun?” 

Religious Cowboy The devout cowboy lost his favorite Bible while he was mending fences out on the range. Three weeks later, a grasshopper walked up to him carrying the Bible in its mouth. The cowboy couldn’t believe his eyes. He took the precious book out of the grasshopper’s mouth, raised his eyes heavenward and exclaimed, “It’s a miracle!” “Not really,” said the grasshopper. “Your name is written inside the cover.” 

Movies A man in a movie theater notices what looks like a grasshopper sitting next to him. “Are you a grasshopper?” asked the man, surprised. “Yes.” “What are you doing at the movies?” The grasshopper replied, “Well, I liked the book.” 

Oldie but goodie

Bush and Moses

George Bush was traveling through an airport just recently when he saw a man that looked just like Moses.  He had longer, white hair, had a shepherd’s staff, he was wearing a cloak and holding onto two stone tablets.  George goes up to him and says, “Pardon me, but are you Moses?”  The man doesn’t even acknowledge him.  He doesn’t look and him or say anything.

Again, George says, “Excuse me – you look just like Moses – are you?”  The man still does not respond in any way.  

By now, George is starting to get irritated… he’s not getting any answers!  About this time a secret service agent approaches and asks if there is a problem.  George tells him – “I’ve asked this guy if he is Moses two times and he hasn’t even responded to me!”  The secret service agent looks at Moses and asks “So, are you Moses?  Why won’t you talk to us?”

Moses finally looks at the secret service guy and says, “The last time I talked to a bush I spent 40 years wandering in the desert.”


Quotes about Self-Esteem

Social media websites are no longer performing an envisaged function of creating a positive communication link among friends, family and professionals. It is a veritable battleground, where insults fly from the human quiver, damaging lives, destroying self-esteem and a person’s sense of self-worth. Anthony Carmona

Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish. Sam Walton

To me, self-esteem is not self-love. It is self-acknowledgment, as in recognizing and accepting who you are. Amity Gaige

The thing that drives me crazy is when comics say, ‘I have low self-esteem.’ No you don’t. You’re standing on stage asking people to pay. You don’t play an instrument. You want people to pay to hear what’s in your mind. You don’t have low self-esteem. You might have other problems. Colin Quinn


From Jewish Jokes: A Clever Kosher Compilation: A Clever Kosher Compilation (2005) by David Minkoff

The Government is going to put a special tax on tzitzit.  They are being classed as fringe benefits.

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