Numbers 13:1 to 15:41 After God asks Moses to send scouts to explore the Promised Land, the scouts return with an unfavorable report. One wonders why God punishes the people for their response of wanting to return to Egypt.
“The Eternal One spoke to Moses, saying, “Send notables to scout the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelite people; send one man from each of their ancestral tribes, each one a chieftain among them.” (Num13:1-2)
Now God knew what the land was like. So, why the request to send scouts?… The title of this week’s parsha may provide the answer … Sh’lach L’cha – “Send for you” … so you will know what the land is like.
Moses sent the scouts with the following instructions: “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…” (Num. 13:17-20)
The instructions of Moses were much more detailed than the request of God…. But, Moses left out one detail – A key piece of information that will have a tremendous effect on the future of the Israelites. Moses did not indicate that the scouts were to explore the Land that the Eternal was “giving to the Israelite people.” Nowhere in his instructions does he even mention God.
The land is scouted and the reports that are bought back state that the land is good. It flows with “milk and honey.” However, the inhabitants are powerful and their cities are large and well fortified. “We cannot attack that people, for it is stronger than we…. All the people that we saw … are of great size.” (Num. 13:25-28)
Only two of the twelve scouts, Caleb and Joshua, brought back a differing view: “Let us by all means go up, and we shall gain possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it.” (Num. 13:30) “If pleased with us, the Eternal will bring us into that land … and give it to us; only you must not rebel against the Eternal. Have no fear then of the people of the country, for they are our prey; their protection has departed from them, but the Eternal is with us. Have no fear of them!” (Num. 14:8-10)
But the Israelites listened to the majority – Not Caleb and Joshua – and demanded a return to Egypt. God responded to Moses: “How long will this people spurn Me, and how long will they have no faith in Me despite all the signs that I have performed in their midst?” These signs included the plagues, crossing the Sea of Reeds, victory over the Egyptians, water and manna in the desert. (Num. 14:11-12) God threatens to kill all the Israelites. But after Moses intervenes, the Eternal stated that this generation is not fit to capture and dwell in the Promised Land. They will all die before entering the land… save Caleb and Joshua who showed faith in God. The land will be conquered by their children. (Num. 14:20-24)
I am troubled by this story…. I ask, how would I have acted – with the majority of the scouts – afraid of the future battles for the land…. Or with Caleb and Joshua placing my faith and trust in God, that the Eternal would assist in victory?
Even though the Eternal is not mentioned in the instruction of Moses – or the response of the majority of the scouts, God saw that the people didn’t have faith … they couldn’t understand that God would assist them … they still had the mentality of the slaves they were. They couldn’t see victory. All of their past victories were completed by God alone without the direct decision making of the people (i.e. the plagues, splitting of the sea, victory of the Egyptians, food and water in the desert) God saw that the people lacked both faith in the Eternal and in themselves. They would never be successful in gaining the land. In order for success, the people had to have an understanding of what it meant to work in partnership with the Eternal.
The Eternal wanted a people who could work in partnership. The Israelites were not ready!
Later in the parsha we are told a story of a man who was collecting wood on Shabbat in conflict with the law of Shabbat rest. Moses asks God what should be done. God demanded that the person be stoned to death… a seemingly severe punishment for not knowing, forgetting, or just ignoring the law. (Num. 15:32-35)
The stories of the scouts and the wood gatherer seem completely unconnected …. But, actually, they both tell of people who don’t know or have forgotten the laws and power of God.
We see this attitude from all levels of the people, from the leaders (the scouts) and from the common man (the wood gatherer). And as a result, both are punished by God. The parsha ends with a suggestion that will help the people remember their connection with God and the laws commanded at Sinai: “Speak to the Israelite people and instruct them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout the ages… That shall be your fringe; look at it and recall all the commandments of the Eternal and observe them, so that you do not follow your heart and eyes in your lustful urge. Thus you shall be reminded to observe all My commandments and to be holy to your God…” (Num. 15:37-40)