Shelach (Numbers 13:1 – 15:41)

How about a nice, uplifting Torah reading? Sorry, not this week.

By the end of our previous Torah portion, everyone had become seriously cranky: Israelites, Moses, Aaron, Miriam, the Lord.  While everyone is now behaving, the underlying issues haven’t been dealt with.  Apparently, neither Moses nor the Lord is expert in human psychology, especially not the Lord.  “What’s wrong with these people?” they must have thought. “They are no longer slaves, they’ve witnessed miracles, been given the Ten Commandments and built a splendid Tabernacle. And now they’re almost at the Promised Land! They should be rejoicing and bubbling with anticipation!”  But they weren’t.

Our reading starts with a command to Moses to send 12 men, leaders of their tribes, to spy out the land of Canaan (Numbers 13:17-20):

“When Moses sent them to scout the land of Canaan, he said to them, ‘Go up there into the Negeb and on into the hill country, and see what kind of country it is. 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.’—Now it happened to be the season of the first ripe grapes.”

Why? Whose idea was this? Here, it seems to be a suggestion by the Lord, agreed to by Moses.  But look at Moses’ account in Deuteronomy 1:21-23:

“‘See, the LORD your God has placed the land at your disposal. Go up, take possession, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, promised you. Fear not and be not dismayed.’ Then all of you came to me and said, ‘Let us send men ahead to reconnoiter the land for us and bring back word on the route we shall follow and the cities we shall come to.’ I approved of the plan, and so I selected twelve of your men, one from each tribe.”

Both descriptions seem reasonable, but motivations are clearly different. In Deuteronomy, it is the people’s idea; they are just asking for a practical roadmap. In Numbers, Moses carefully describes exactly what descriptive information the 12 men are to obtain.  Since the people have already been regaled with tales of a land flowing with milk and honey, it appears this exercise is meant to reassure the people with reports from their own leaders. This is a red flag, because it means they still don’t completely trust Moses and the Lord.  In fact, Rashi says they are being set up to fail. The Lord, ticked off that the people want more evidence, decides to “give them now an opportunity to fall into error through the statements of the spies, so that they should not come into possession of it (the land).”

So, the tribal leaders dutifully scout out the land for 40 days and return bearing luscious fruit, including that iconic grape cluster carried by two men. They report, publicly. The good news: yes, it’s as fertile as described.  The bad news: we can’t possibly conquer it, the inhabitants are giants, and we are like grasshoppers in comparison.  Joshua and Caleb vehemently disagree, but they are young and taken less seriously than the others.

Chaos ensues.  Some want to appoint a new leader and return to Egypt. The Lord, now totally fed up, wants to destroy them all and start over with Moses.  Moses points out the really bad PR this would generate in the surrounding nations and pleads for forgiveness for the people.  The Lord relents but kills the 10 negative spies and condemns the Israelites to wander a total of 40 years in the wilderness, until all the adults, except for Joshua and Caleb, have died.  The people mourn.  Some admit they were wrong and try to invade Canaan, but, without the Lord’s support, it’s hopeless.  The underlying self-doubt of these ex-slaves has destroyed their future.

After such an awful turn of events, the narrative pauses. We read a section of laws concerning sacrifices to be offered when the Children of Israel settle in the Land. When, not if.  A man is then stoned to death for gathering sticks on the Sabbath. Finally, we read what became the third paragraph of the Shema in our liturgy, Numbers 15:37-41, all about the ritual fringes, tzitzit, which were to be attached to the corners of four-cornered garments.    

The haftarah, Joshua 2:1-24, shows that Joshua learned from this incident how not to spy before an invasion. His plan is private, not public. It involves two nameless, quietly capable men instead of  12 chieftains. Joshua has no need to micromanage; he just tells the two to observe the Land and Jericho, implying this is to prepare for military action.  And what the men report focuses not on fortifications but psychology. Now the Canaanites are the ones who feel like grasshoppers, and “all the inhabitants of the Land have melted before us.”

Next week: mutiny.

Shabbat shalom,


tph arriving in 40 years


Soviet and Russian Jokes

  • In a prison, two inmates are comparing notes. “What did they arrest you for?” asks the first. “Was it a political or common crime?” “Of course it was political. I’m a plumber. They summoned me to the district Party committee to fix the sewage pipes. I looked and said, ‘Hey, the entire system needs to be replaced.’ So they gave me seven years.”
  • A frightened man came to the KGB. “My talking parrot has disappeared.” “That’s not the kind of case we handle. Go to the criminal police.” ‘Excuse me, of course I know that I must go to them. I am here just to tell you officially that I disagree with the parrot.”
  • An English athlete, a French athlete and a Russian athlete are all on the medal podium at the 1976 Summer Olympicschatting before the medal ceremony. “Don’t get me wrong” says the Englishman, “winning a medal is very nice, but I still feel the greatest pleasure in life is getting home after a long day, putting one’s feet up and having a nice cup of tea”. “You Englishman” snorts the Frenchman, “you have no sense of romance. The greatest pleasure in life is going on holiday without your wife, and meeting a beautiful girl with whom you have a passionate love affair with before returning home back to work”. “You are both wrong” scoffs the Russian. “The greatest pleasure in life is when you are sleeping at home and the KGB breaks your door down at 3 AM, bursts into your room and says ‘Ivan Ivanovitch, you are under arrest’ and you can reply ‘Sorry comrade, Ivan Ivanovitch lives next door'”.


Quotes about Self-doubt

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. Sylvia Plath

The worst thing about that kind of prejudice… is that while you feel hurt and angry and all the rest of it, it feeds you self-doubt. You start thinking, perhaps I am not good enough. Nina Simone

Ironically, parenting is a shame and judgment minefield precisely because most of us are wading through uncertainty and self-doubt when it comes to raising our children. Brene Brown

Fame is hollow. It amplifies what is there. If there is any self-doubt, or hatred, or lack of ability to connect with people, fame will magnify it. Alanis Morissette

As far as I can tell, most actors’ main motivation is self-doubt and neuroses. Daniel Radcliffe

You never know what they’re going to come up with next.

Magen Tzitzit – Fringe Guard Laundry Protector  $11.99


This revolutionary gadget has solved the problem of washing Tzitzit in the laundry. You can safely put your Tallit Katan in the washing machine with the tzitzit from four corners snugly protected in this spiral plastic holder, with a protective cover which stays firmly on during the wash cycle. Suitable for long term usage.

-Designed for multiple, long-term use

-Simple and easy to use

-Produced in a Shabbat-Observing factory in Israel


Texan Farmer

by Jokes in Levels | Oct 24, 2019Level 3 |

A Texan farmer goes to Australia for a vacation. There he meets an Australian farmer and gets talking. The Australian shows off his big wheat field and the Texan says, “Oh! We have wheat fields that are at least twice as large.”

Then they walk around the ranch a little, and the Australian shows off his herd of cattle. The Texan immediately says, “We have cattle that are at least twice as large as your cows.” The conversation almost dies when the Texan sees a herd of kangaroos hopping through the field. He asks, “And what are those?” The Australian replies, “Don’t you have any grasshoppers in Texas?”


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