19 Yehuda Hanasi St., POB 437, Netanya 4210300, Israel
Parshat Shlach 2018
We know what the spies – actually the scouts – reported to the Israelites after 40 days in the land of Canaan. We know how Moshe and the people reacted. We also know the consequences of the report and of the people’s reactions. But what were the spies thinking? What mental processes led them to report as they did? Let’s put ourselves in their sandals for a few minutes and try to recreate their feelings.
Obviously, the men were very favorably impressed by the lushness of the land. After two years in the desert with its 50 shades of brown, any change would have been refreshing. Here they encountered a veritable technicolor coat spread out on the countryside: reds, greens, the purple of grapes, oranges, yellows.
They came to a vineyard where they saw grapes the size of grapefruits or at least apricots. Huge. Like nothing they had seen in Egypt (forget about the desert!). The bunches were so heavy they required two people to lug one on a long staff.
They saw trees laden with fruits, fields flowing with grains. This was sensory overload on a humongous scale. What were they thinking? If only my wife or kids could see this… And to think we’re stuck with manna…How do they harvest all of this?… They need tractors, at the least.
And then they came to a city. This was not like flat Egypt. This was mountainous country with cities built on hills, fortified with 3-meter thick protective walls. Goodness, they said, the whole structure of our homes in Egypt weren’t three meters wide!
They entered the cities (I can’t imagine how, without being detected), and they looked around. The market places. The homes. The official edifices. Impressive. And that started them thinking. If these people are like the Egyptians, they are strong. After all, the Egyptians held us in slavery for 200 years. They must be even stronger to cope with all of the oversized produce in the fields and the oversized stones in the walls.
They saw the people too. They weren’t as smooth and smartly dressed as the Egyptians. They were rugged. The spies made themselves as inconspicuous as possible. They didn’t want to be captured and they didn’t want to have to answer questions about where they came from, which people they belonged to. And from their physical vantage point and their inferior psychological vantage point – these people were HUGE.
“We felt like grasshoppers in our own eyes and that’s how they saw us.” That’s what they told the Israelites, but how they knew what the Canaanites thought of them is not made clear. Surely they didn’t encounter a Canaanite who said, “Hey, you look like a grasshopper to me.”
What are we going to do, they asked themselves. And they decided to delay their decision so that they could enjoy the country a bit more. They walked over hill and dale, soaking up the richness of the land (which was also magnified in their eyes in comparison to the desert they were stuck in). They probably drank wine and tasted whatever they could along the way. Manna could wait.
And when they could delay no longer, as they tramped back to their own people, they summarized their visit. The land – good. In fact, great. The produce – outstanding. Water flowing in pools, falls, rivers. Paradise on earth.
Would we want to live here? Of course! But here’s the catch. Some other nations are already there. Of course, we have God on our side, but still, it’s a new land…And even if he can, it could involve a lot of blood.
And what if we win? Will we have to worry about them coming back? And how will we take care of the land? We were mini-farmers in Egypt. We had a little plot for growing a few vegetables…How will we grow food for all the people? And organization. We’ll have to have a police force and a political force to control things. Moshe is getting on in years, he should live to 120. Yehoshua can take over but….Can you leave everything in the hands of one person?
So what do we do? We have to tell the truth, that this land is great. But maybe we can qualify our enthusiasm and hint at the difficulties. Maybe enough just to keep us in the desert a little longer so we can get a grip on things. If we get a grip on things.
True, we’re the leaders of the tribes. We should be able to raise their morale so that they will follow and fight! But are our people the ones we really want to lead into battle? Are they ready? We are not sure.
Maybe we can test them. We can give them the plusses and the minuses and see how they react. If they react badly, we’ll know they’re not ready to enter the land and we won’t walk into certain death. But that’s dangerous. Moshe may get upset.
That’s a chance we have to take. It would be more dangerous to lead an unwilling army into battle than to bring down the wrath of Moshe. So that’s what we’ll do.
And that’s what they did. They took a chance and they lost – or perhaps they didn’t. Leading the people as they were, two years after slavery, into a land that required intense fighting, was not a formula for success. And in the end it wasn’t Moshe they had to worry about but God.
Perhaps we can see a parallel here to how Israel is presented to the young generation abroad. Does their learning make them committed or only knowledgeable enough to know where cities and sites are located? Is their involvement emotional or only intellectual? These are still matters of life and death for us.