Shlach Lecha and perspective

Rabbi Philip Weintraub
Parshat Shlach Lecha
June 5, 2021

This week’s parsha opens with chapter 13 of Bamidbar, where the scouts are sent to the land of Israel with very specific questions:

יז וַיִּשְׁלַח אֹתָם מֹשֶׁה, לָתוּר אֶת-אֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן; וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם, עֲלוּ זֶה בַּנֶּגֶב, וַעֲלִיתֶם, אֶת-הָהָר.

17 And Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, and said unto them: 'Get you up here into the South, and go up into the mountains;

יח וּרְאִיתֶם אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, מַה-הִוא; וְאֶת-הָעָם, הַיֹּשֵׁב עָלֶיהָ--הֶחָזָק הוּא הֲרָפֶה, הַמְעַט הוּא אִם-רָב.

18 and see the land, what it is; and the people that dwelleth therein, whether they are strong or weak, whether they are few or many;

יט וּמָה הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-הוּא יֹשֵׁב בָּהּ--הֲטוֹבָה הִוא, אִם-רָעָה; וּמָה הֶעָרִים, אֲשֶׁר-הוּא יוֹשֵׁב בָּהֵנָּה--הַבְּמַחֲנִים, אִם בְּמִבְצָרִים.

19 and what the land is that they dwell in, whether it is good or bad; and what cities they are that they dwell in, whether in camps, or in strongholds;

כ וּמָה הָאָרֶץ הַשְּׁמֵנָה הִוא אִם-רָזָה, הֲיֵשׁ-בָּהּ עֵץ אִם-אַיִן, וְהִתְחַזַּקְתֶּם, וּלְקַחְתֶּם מִפְּרִי הָאָרֶץ; וְהַיָּמִים--יְמֵי, בִּכּוּרֵי עֲנָבִים.

20 and what the land is, whether it is fat or lean, whether there is wood therein, or not. And be ye of good courage, and bring of the fruit of the land.'--Now the time was the time of the first-ripe grapes.--

After visiting the land, the scouts bring back their report. While they discuss the bountiful produce, including bringing back a cluster of grapes or grapefruits so large they have to be carried on a frame by two men (now the logo of the Israeli Tourism Ministry), they also discuss their own perspective and the challenges of a military campaign.

The scouts said:
לא וְהָאֲנָשִׁים אֲשֶׁר-עָלוּ עִמּוֹ, אָמְרוּ, לֹא נוּכַל, לַעֲלוֹת אֶל-הָעָם: כִּי-חָזָק הוּא, מִמֶּנּוּ.
31 But the men that went up with him said: 'We are not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we.'

לב וַיֹּצִיאוּ דִּבַּת הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר תָּרוּ אֹתָהּ, אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לֵאמֹר: הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר עָבַרְנוּ בָהּ לָתוּר אֹתָהּ, אֶרֶץ אֹכֶלֶת יוֹשְׁבֶיהָ הִוא, וְכָל-הָעָם אֲשֶׁר-רָאִינוּ בְתוֹכָהּ, אַנְשֵׁי מִדּוֹת.
32 And they spread an evil report of the land which they had spied out unto the children of Israel, saying: 'The land, through which we have passed to spy it out, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of great stature.

לג וְשָׁם רָאִינוּ, אֶת-הַנְּפִילִים בְּנֵי עֲנָק--מִן-הַנְּפִלִים; וַנְּהִי בְעֵינֵינוּ כַּחֲגָבִים, וְכֵן הָיִינוּ בְּעֵינֵיהֶם.
33 And there we saw the Nephilim, the sons of Anak, who come of the Nephilim; and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.'

Perhaps, the spies failed because they took initiative. How often do you hear that!? Usually, going above and beyond is a good thing. Usually, doing more than your mission is seen as advantageous for your organization. Sometimes this is NOT the case. Sometimes if you are asked to do something, especially in military settings, your opinion is neither wanted nor warranted. Of course, that is a big challenge for Jews!

Although, now that I share that perspective, I would like to offer another. I don’t really think it was their overeagerness that was the spies failure. Rather it was one of false perspective and of lack of faith. It was also one of spreading falsehoods. The spies shared rumor and not truth. They shared their ideas, without thinking about Gd. They forgot the Holy One, who had brought them from the land of Egypt. They forgot the One who had split the sea, the one that had moved mountains and valleys, the One who gave them Torah. They also made a very faulty assumption that others see us the way we see ourselves.

How many of you have walked into a room as a speaker or presenter, given a presentation, been shaking inside or nervous inside, and then been told what a great job you did? Have you had people come up to you and say how calm you looked?

While some of them might have been nice, others were completely honest. To them, you were cool and collected. To them, you were an expert sharing their wisdom. While you might have felt yourself nervous or imperfect, your presentation went off flawlessly. A musician or actor can flub a line or miss a note, but only another actor or musician will even notice. If someone reads Torah or Haftorah and misses a note, we say absolutely nothing; we only correct if a word is mispronounced. The real challenge of the spies is that they thought what THEY saw is what EVERYONE saw. They assumed their perception was the reality.

They transferred their own fears onto others. We see this with small and not so small children, and some adults, (for example, many politicians): the only way to see the world is out of their eyes. If you don’t see it the same way, you are wrong! You are missing the point! Except at the end of the day, the world does not work that way. Even if Representatives or Senators think that members of their opposing party are idiots, we know that there are some brilliant Republicans and some brilliant Democrats, and that the government and our country can only function if we occasionally look from an alternate perspective and work together!

This week’s parsha ends with another vision, with another perspective and reminder of perspective. The maftir is read twice daily. It is the last paragraph of the Shema, where we are reminded to attach fringes to our four-cornered garments.

לח דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם, וְעָשׂוּ לָהֶם צִיצִת עַל-כַּנְפֵי בִגְדֵיהֶם, לְדֹרֹתָם; וְנָתְנוּ עַל-צִיצִת הַכָּנָף, פְּתִיל תְּכֵלֶת.
38 'Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them throughout their generations fringes in the corners of their garments, and that they put with the fringe of each corner a thread of blue.
39 And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them; and that ye go not about after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go astray;
40 that ye may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy unto your God.
41 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the LORD your God.' {P}

We are commanded to wear fringes not for decoration, but to remind us of Gd, of our history and of our future. Just by looking at our tzitzi, we see our past (the Exodus), our present (the commandments) and our future (a holier/Divine world). That’s a lot in just a few verses!

So in keeping with this parsha, let’s keep our eyes wide open, be aware of our challenges, but not let them overwhelm us. Together, we can do great things.

Shabbat Shalom.

My sermon begins at the 2 hour and 10 minute mark.