Parsha Thought – Shelach

“…we were like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and so we were in their eyes!”
  • Torah: Numbers 13:1-15:41
  • Haftarah: Joshua 2:1-2:24
  • Renewed Covenant: Hebrews 3:7-4:1

After scouting the Promised Land of Canaan, ten of the twelve spies came back and delivered a statement that provoked fear in the hearts of the Israelites.

And they reported to him, and said, “We went to the land where you sent us. And truly, it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. But the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are walled, very great. And we saw the descendants of Anaq there too. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the South, while the Ḥittites and the Yebusites and the Amorites dwell in the mountains. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea and along the banks of the Yarden.” 

Numbers 13:27-29

One small word is all it takes to overshadow the promise of the Land; ֶ֚אֶ֚פֶס (efes). This word can mean ceasing, ending, finality, but or nevertheless. What the ten spies did is confirmed that the Land appeared just as they had expected it to, but then contrasted the promise with the uphill battle that they had before them. Had they merely continued to state the facts without interjecting the disconnect with the optimism of the first two sentences, the alarm of the people wouldn’t have been raised as this word had intended to do. Unfortunately, what the people only heard was despite the richness of the land, the inhabitants were too powerful, their cities were too impregnable, and they were unable to even think about battling the giants.

After Caleb is shouted down for defending their cause the ten continue on with one final blow to the morale of the people:

And they gave the children of Yisra’el an evil report of the land which they had spied out, saying, “The land through which we have gone as spies is a land eating up its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. And we saw there the Nephilim, sons of Anaq, of the Nephilim. And we were like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and so we were in their eyes.” 

Ibid 13:32-33

What does it mean that the land was devouring its inhabitants? Was it that the sword raged through the land, killing them? Did the earth open up and “swallow” them as it had done with Korach and his group? Rashi maintains that the spies saw people everywhere burying their deceased which gave the implication that the land was actually “consuming” them. But if that’s the case, could it not be said that they saw this because HaShem was making a way to allow for the safe passage of His own people? With the people of the Land so focused on burying one another, who could have time to notice twelve people skirting around the cities?

It’s easy to take what we see with our own eyes and twist it to bolster our doubt. Oftentimes, because we lack the confidence in ourselves, we will allow fear to overshadow what we’ve been told is true. The spies went even further to prove their point by saying that they were like grasshoppers in the eyes of the inhabitants. How did they know that?

While we may see ourselves in a certain way, we cannot allow that to shape how we think others see us. We, therefore, should not project our lack of faith on others as demonstrated by the meraglim, the spies, in this week’s Torah Portion. What the spies should have done is first shared their concerns with Moshe in private, being wary as to not provoke fear in others. Moshe would have been able to reiterate to them the faithfulness of their Elohim. But instead, they went about it in a very self-centered way. Since they didn’t think they were able to fulfill the mission set before them, they convinced the people that HaShem wasn’t able to either. Be cautious of those who place seeds of doubt in your ear. You’ve been given your own mission, so who is giving the orders? Is it the Holy One who spoke the world into existence or someone who doubts what He spoke into existence?

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