Monthly Services

In June our Shabbat Service will be held at the UUCOB
building at the corner of Kitty Hawk and Herbert Perry Roads


Please join us!

Upcoming Service:
Friday, June 16, 2017
Time: 7:30 PM

Parsha Shelach L’cha
Numbers 13-15

    This week’s parsha is always one of my favorites because it is my daughter Rebecca’s Bat Mitzvah portion.  It also has several passages that might be familiar.  We are about halfway into the Book of Numbers, known in Hebrew as Bamidbar, “In the Desert”.  I am sure most of you are aware that the Children of Israel show a lack of faith in God week in and week out, but this week’s parsha has one of the most significant examples of that lack of faith.
    The first sections of the parsha, chapters 13-14, describe the events in which Moses appoints one person from each of the 12 tribes to cross the Jordan and scout out the land of their inheritance.  As God had commanded, the men are to spy out on the inhabitants, their cities and the wealth of the land.  They do as commanded, taking 40 days to complete their task.  They even cut down a massive cluster of grapes, pomegranates and figs, which they bore upon a pole between two of the men.  But while the land flowed with milk and honey, 10 of the spies were so afraid of the might of the inhabitants, the Hittites, the Canaanites, the Jebusites, the Amorites and the Amalekites, that they created an evil report about the new land.  And this caused the children of Israel to murmur against Moses and Aaron, saying “would it not have been better had we stayed in Egypt?”
    One of my sources poses an interesting question:  If God had already promised this land to the Children of Israel, why was it necessary to send the 12 spies?  Was he expecting them to fail?  Was he hoping to be able to reward the Children of Israel if they disagreed with the false report?  Did God hope that the Children of Israel might “step up to the plate” in his behalf?  Did God have an ulterior motive?
    Fortunately, there were 12 spies and not 10.  The last two to report, Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, disagreed with the other 10, telling the people not only that the land they saw was good, but that the Israelites were strong enough to vanquish the inhabitants because they also had the support of God.
    Now the Lord was greatly displeased with the report of 10 of the spies and with the murmurings of the Children of Israel.  And he threatened to smite them all with a plague, for they had no faith in the Lord.  But Moses interceded on behalf of the people, reciting the 13 Attributes of Faith, and begging for his forgiveness.  And as we read on Yom Kippur, the Lord said to Moses, “I have pardoned according to thy word – Vayomer Adonai, Selachti Cidvarecha”.  So while the Lord forgave almost all the people, he did not let their lack of faith go unpunished.  Except for Caleb and Joshua (and Moses and Aaron at the time), all adults who came out of Egypt would not live to see the Promised Land, for God decided that they would wander in the desert one year for each day the spies spent on their mission, 40 years for 40 days.  The Lord, however, did not forget the 10 spies.  He brought a plague upon them and they died.
    Before I move on, let’s make a note of a few more things.  First, this is the same Joshua who will lead the Children of Israel across the Jordan into the Promised Land.  Second, while Caleb does not receive a similar honor, he and his family were given the city of Hebron in the Southern Kingdom.  Third, what was in the character of the other 10 spies that they would offer such a false report?  They obviously suffered from a lack of faith in God.  What could they possibly hope to gain?  Wouldn’t they assume that there was a special reason that they were chosen as the best representative from their tribe?  Did they really think the Israelites would be annihilated by the peoples in the new land; if so, once they heard the report of Joshua and Caleb, don’t you think any of the 10 would have changed their story?  While it is easy to say they did not have the faith to realize that their God would overcome the physical strength of the current inhabitants, they also lacked the courage to change their minds.  That’s a common personality fault that most of us have.  I think the term “man up” comes to mind.  It is alright to change your mind.  That is not the mark of a weak person.
    When I googled to determine today’s parsha, the website I selected offered some commentary.  The most interesting item was one that claimed that the day the 10 spies offered their report and the Children of Israel murmured against God, Moses and Aaron was the 9th day of Av, Tisha B’Av, also considered to be the day both the 1st and 2nd Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed and the day in which the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492.  Of course, the Israelites in the desert would not have considered the 9th day of Av to be important, but it is a very unusual coincidence.
As always, the goal of the Old Testament writers was to indicate that if you have faith in God, you will be victorious.
    Let’s move on.  I just talked about being brave enough to change your mind.  Well, some of the people had a change of heart, but at this stage, Moses warned them that God would neither approve nor support any hostile action.  However, they attempted to cross directly into the land, and the result was a crushing defeat at the hands of the Canaanites and Amalekites.  Therefore, it would officially be 40 years before the Israelites would enter the Promised Land, and not by a southern route but by one from the east across the River Jordan
    The parsha now takes a change in subject matter in the short but significant chapter 15.  I suspect that chapters 13-14 were written by a different author as this last chapter has a priestly tone to it, like Leviticus.  First, God decrees that the first bread that will be baked in the Promised Land, and which will be set aside as a gift to the Lord, will be called Challah.  The parsha, however, does not describe it as braided egg bread.
Then we learn of an incident where a man was found gathering sticks on the Sabbath Day.  He was brought to Moses and Aaron, and after consulting with the Lord, and the man was put to death by stoning because he had intentionally sinned.
    The final section of the parsha, and the Maftir portion that was sung by Rebecca, describes the institution of the tallis and the fringes of royal blue, and the idea that when you hold the fringes you are to be reminded of all the command-ments of the Lord, and to follow in his ways and be holy to him, and not to lead yourself astray.  The last 3 lines of the parsha are read at the end of our V’ahavtah, “l’ma’an tizceru v’asitem et …ani adonai elohaichem.” (p.131)
    The Haftarah is a direct connection with the story of the spies.  If you recall the Joshua Chapter 1 is read after we conclude the Book of Deuteronomy, today’s reading is Joshua Chapter 2.  Here Joshua send spies out to the City of Jericho in order to determine how to capture it.  With the help of a woman named Rahab, one of Jericho’s inhabitants, the spies return to Joshua with a positive report, saying “Truly the Lord hath delivered into our hands all the land; and moreover, all the inhabitants of the land do melt away before us.”  There is no contradictory testimony here.  All the spies know of the power of God, and Joshua believes their report.  Jericho will surely fall. presents the story of the parsha spies in a different but excellent way.  The spies were really sent to learn about themselves, as were the Children of Israel.  While all 12 saw a land flowing with milk and honey, 10 saw the inhabitants in a pessimistic context, and feared for the worst.  While 2 were optimists and saw that God would help them prevail, they could not sway the Children of Israel who were accustomed to living as slaves under Pharoah.  They were not ready for the challenge of the new land.  So God needed to wait 40 years for a new generation who had a new perspective on things as evidenced in the Haftarah.  Joshua led this new generation to a great victory at Jericho and the beginning of their lives in the Promised Land.  After all, the title of the parsha, Shelach L’cha, which means send you, implies that the spies were sent to learn not about the new land, but rather about their true character.  And in the story in the Haftarah, that mission was accomplished.
     Again, we are presented with one of the major recurring themes of the Old Testament: Have faith in the Lord, as well as a new one: Have faith in yourself, i.e., learn personal courage.