Sh’lach L’cha – “Send Out For Yourself”

This Shabbat’s parasha is Sh’lach L’cha, meaning “send out for yourself…”. God directed Moses, “Send out for yourself men so that they may spy out the land of Canaan, which I am going to give to the sons of Israel…” Moses selected twelve leaders, one from each tribe, including Caleb from the tribe of Judah, and Hoshea (Joshua), from the half-tribe of Ephraim, and sent them out on a fact-finding mission. They returned forty days later, and this was their report: “Well, Moses, we’ve got some good news and some bad news…”

The good news: it was a beautiful and fruitful land; indeed, eretz zavat chalav u’d’vash – a land flowing with milk and honey. They brought back a branch with a single cluster of grapes so big and heavy that it took two men to carry it! Also, figs and pomegranates.

The bad news? According to ten of the twelve spies there was enough bad news to make a shopping list! They said, “The people there are bigger than us, stronger than us, more numerous than us; their cities are walled and heavily fortified, and as if all that wasn’t bad enough, we saw the descendants of the Nephilim – the giants there!”

So there was a majority report, and a minority report. The majority (10 out of the 12 spies) said, “No way! It’ll never happen. They’ll slaughter us!” The minority report (Joshua and Caleb) said, “Absolutely we should take possession of it; God will help us overcome it.” Joshua and Caleb trusted Adonai to keep His word. He promised us the land, He will give us victory there. They walked by faith, not by sight. But the majority held sway over our people – a pattern that unfortunately continues to this day. People are more inclined to side with the majority than to do what is right. For some, perhaps it’s just intellectual laziness – they don’t bother to investigate for themselves. For others it is cowardice – fear of what other people think of them outweighs truth.

In this case, the majority opinion was to abandon the mission and return to Egypt. It was more than a bad decision, it was rebellion against the Lord, who promised us the land and directed us to go in and take it.

The cynicism of the 10 spies discouraged the people, and their despair quickly gave way to resentment toward Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb. They said, “We’d have been better off dying in Egypt! Tell you what – let’s appoint another leader and go back.” Moses and Aaron fell on their faces and Joshua and Caleb tore their clothes; reminding the people of God’s promise and urging them not to commit this terrible sin. But the people refused to listen, and even threatened to kill the four of them!

Tragically, this wasn’t an isolated incident. Even a casual reading of Scripture reveals a consistent pattern of Israel persecuting the very individuals God sent to help us, to teach and admonish us and lead us to repentance. It is a pattern that continued through the centuries, through the days of the prophets, most of whom our people persecuted and some of whom we murdered. This persistent and callous disregard for God and contempt for His messengers culminated with the premeditated killing of the Messiah Himself, Yeshua of Nazareth!

In chapters 14-15, Adonai was furious with our people, and contemplated destroying us. He offered to start over with Moses, and create a new nation – an offer that a lesser man, a man of selfish ambition, might have accepted. Instead, Moses pled our case, reminding God of His merciful nature, and suggests that the Egyptians would certainly interpret it the wrong way. Moses stood in the gap for us, acting as our middleman; and for his sake, God relented and we were spared.

But rebellion cannot go unpunished. That generation of unbelievers and complainers was consigned to wander 40 years (one year for each day of the expedition), and the promise of the land would be postponed until every last adult (save Joshua and Caleb) died in the wilderness. Their children would inherit the land.

The 10 spies who caused the people to be disheartened were struck down with a plague by God that very day. By contrast, Joshua and Caleb were singled out for honor and remembrance.

At the prospect of wandering forty years, Israel decides maybe they should go in and take the land. Moses warns them against it. God had already withdrawn His favor and protection and pronounced His verdict; to rebel a second time would be disastrous. Once again, however, we refused to listen, attempted a military strike against the Canaanite armies, and many died as a result.

So what can we learn from this sad chapter in our history?

1) Follow the truth, not the crowd. Crowds tend to behave badly… even inhumanly. If you are more worried about peoples’ disapproval than with doing the right thing, then you are unfit for God’s Kingdom. If you want to be a man or a woman after God’s heart, then follow the truth regardless the cost.

2) It’s a really, really bad idea to re-interpret God’s directives. Just follow them.

3) Contrary to the usual claim, Jewish people DO need a Middleman to go to God! Had Moses not interceded for us, we would have been struck down on the spot, and deservedly so! But Moses is long gone, as is His mediatorship. That covenant is a broken covenant. But Messiah Yeshua, the Supreme Mediator between God and man, far greater than Moses, is alive and well, and intercedes with Adonai for all who trust in Him.

How do you want your epitaph to read? How do you hope to be remembered? As a ‘nice guy’ who never rocked the boat – just went along with the crowd – or as a Joshua or Caleb, willing to take a stand for the truth despite the disapproval and even hostility of the majority? It comes down to this: do you want the applause of men or the applause of Heaven? It’s your call.