Parashat Sh’lah L’kha
Shabbat Table Talk
Week of 11 June – 17 June 2017
Torah portion: Num. 13:1-15:41 Haftarah: Joshua 2:1-24
This parashat opens with the people of Israel ready to enter the Promised Land. Parashat Sh’lah L’kha literally means ‘send for yourself,’ “that is, for your own purposes (not Mine). G-d seems to be saying, ‘I have told you already that the land is good and that I will give it to you. If you need human confirmation of that, go ahead and send scouts.’” (Num. R. 16:8 in Etz Hayim 840)
At the people’s insistence, therefore, and on instructions from G-d, Moses sends leaders from each of the twelve tribes to scout out the land. Having thus questioned G-d’s ability to lead them to their final promise, they sin against G-d and thus cause a whole generation to die in the desert and delay entry into the Promised Land. A tragic turn of events, to be sure.
We can follow the events as follows; opportunity to enter the Promised Land, doubt and a need to verify, scouts sent from the 12 tribes (13.1-20), the goodness of the Land is confirmed (13.21-29), more doubt because of conceived danger of giants, a desire to return to the old and familiar or to die (13.31-14.5), then threats from G-d because of doubting, punishment with 40 years in the desert (14.11-38) and requirements of the new generation when they come to receive their new land (15.1-36).
In the end, then, the people did not believe in their own ability to ‘attack and conquer the Promised Land,’ and by implication did not believe in God’s ability to ensure their victory. As a result, they were left to wander for 40 years in the desert. (Etz Hayim, 840)
Maimonides describes very well the consequences of such an experience, in a manner that mirrors everyday life; “One cannot be expected to leave the state of slavery, toiling in bricks and straw, and go fight with giants. It was therefore part of the divine wisdom to make them wander through the wilderness until they had become schooled in courage, until a new generation grew up who had never known humiliation and bondage.” (Maimonides in Etz Hayim, 840).
The people had truly experienced a sense of hopelessness, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt,” (14.2) they exclaimed! “A sense of helplessness, a feeling of inadequacy, and inability to deal with one’s problems can lead to a person’s giving up on life and wishing for death. In contrast, a sense of hope in the possibility of a brighter future, a belief that God can help us to do what we find hard to do unaided, can banish that sense of futility and restore the will to live.” (Etz Hayim, 845)
Can we find that hope by reminding ourselves of the purpose of G-d’s covenant with Israel, of the exile in Egypt and the Exodus, of the giving of the Torah, and of the entry and conquest of the Promised Land? Was not all this but to make this world into a home for G-d, “which means to disseminate Divine consciousness to the entire world,” thus creating that will to live and to serve G-d? (Sh’lah L’kha Commentary, 78) What might be our response?
For Reflection and Discussion: 1) What has been my ‘Promised Land’ and have I had to send ‘scouts’ to check it out or have I trusted in G-d’s word? 2) Reflect upon how I have made of my world ‘a home for G-d,’
Bibliography: Commentary on Sh’lah L’kha, http://www.chabad.org/media/pdf/295/xElv2957006.pdf, Plaut, The Torah: A Modern Commentary (New York, 2005), Etz Hayim, Torah and Commentary, (New York, 2000)
This week’s teaching commentary was prepared by
Julien Fradette, Winnipeg, MB, CANADA, Bat Kol alumn 2011
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