The Torah portion of Shlach relates how the men sent to spy out Eretz Yisrael returned and reported that the country was unconquerable. The Jewish people, they said, would be unable to enter the land, since “The inhabitants of the land are mighty.” (Bamidbar 13:28.)
Furthermore, say our Sages, (Sotah 35a.) the spies went so far as to say that even G-d would not be able to wrest the land from its inhabitants. Their words caused great consternation among the Jews, who feared that they would be unable to enter Eretz Yisrael.
How was it possible for the spies to mislead the Jewish people and convince them that even G-d could not help them, when the Jews themselves had constantly witnessed the miracles performed on their behalf, e.g., G-d provided their daily food and drink in a miraculous manner — manna from heaven and water from Miriam’s well.
Commentary on Torah Portion Shlach
from “The Chassidic Dimension” series
Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XVIII, pp. 171-174
and the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
Like the logic applied in our initial conundrum, the spies argued that after God created the laws of nature, He ruled that even He Himself would not be able to change those laws. God bound His own hands, as it were, by means of the laws that He Himself instituted. Until now, God’s leadership in the wilderness had been one of supernatural miracles that defied the laws of nature again and again. It was clear though that entering thelandofIsrael, for all its holiness, meant entering the confines of nature and living by its laws. This was why the ten spies thought that the Jewish people could not overcome the giants who lived in the land. They believed that God had indeed created a rock that could not be lifted. Moses himself used this argument in his prayer asking for God’s forgiveness, saying that destroying the Jewish people, God forbid, for their sin, would be proof for the surrounding nations of the erroneous claim that “God lacked the ability to bring this nation to the land which He swore to them…” (Numbers 16:14-15).
Joshua and Caleb, the remaining two spies, also saw that conquering the land was a supernatural task, but they said, “Yes, God can create such a rock that He cannot lift, but He can still decide to pick it up if He wants to.” They realized that on entering theHoly Land, God could paradoxically empower the Jewish people themselves with supernatural powers and this would become their very nature.
I hadn’t heard this particular perspective on the “sin of the ten spies” before and that they believed that there was “a rock that God Himself couldn’t lift,” so to speak. I did however, realize that anyone who is “sent out” for a particular purpose is called “shlach,” including us.
I know it doesn’t sound like these two things are connected, but I can explain.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” -Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)
That command was originally given by the Master to the “eleven disciples (who) went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.” (v16) However, it has been inherited by every disciple who is called by his name, Jew and Gentile alike, and we have carried that mission upon us for nearly 2,000 years.
How are we doing so far?
Actually, not that bad. But we could be better, especially in the present age. It’s not so much that the Good News of Jesus Christ isn’t being spread to the four corners of the earth and that the vast, vast majority of the human race hasn’t heard of God, the Bible, and Jesus. They certainly have heard the Good News, however many of those people; perhaps most of those people, don’t see it as “good news” at all. Many people experience Christianity as “bad news.” They see us as superstitious, as old fashioned, as out of touch, as bigots, sexist, racist, anti-gay, anti-political correctness, anti-progressive.
Some of that is true, whether we intend it to be or not. Where have we gone wrong?
In the days of Moses, the ten spies gave an “evil report,” not because they were dumb or evil or cowards, but because they believed that the supernatural power of God would not go with them when they entered the land of Canaan. They believed that without the power of God, in terms of mere human strength, they would have no chance at defeating the mighty giants of the land. They felt abandoned and afraid.
Every time I read the words of “the great commission” as recorded in Matthew 28:19-20, I always puzzled over Christ’s final statement:
“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Now I realize what he was trying to say. He was trying to say that his disciples would not be alone in the enormous mission of taking the word of the Jewish Messiah to the nations of the world. Remember, nothing like that had even been dreamed of before let alone attempted. In a world full of false gods and polytheistic idol worshipers, how would the Word of the One God of Israel and the Messiah King of the Jews be received by the Gentiles? Would they listen to the Gospel message at all, or listen and then merely incorporate God into their panthenon of other gods, worshiping the God of Heaven as if he were just another idol of stone, wood, or bronze?
The Bible didn’t record the reaction of Christ’s “great commission” but it would be another fifteen years or so before any one of them would attempt to respond. Even then, Peter needed the prompting of not only a vision on a rooftop (Acts 10:9-16), but that of a messengers sent by the God-fearing Roman Cornelius with an unusual request. (Acts 10:17-23). The rest of this chapter in Acts tells the tale of God showing just how possible it was to carry the message of the Messiah to the Gentiles and how indeed, many Gentiles were eager to hear it.
And in seeing that the Gentiles could receive the Holy Spirit, even as the Jews had already done (Acts 10:44-48), it was confirmed that the supernatural power of the Spirit of Messiah was with them “always, to the end of the age.”
That age hasn’t expired yet and neither has our calling. Not all of us enter what the church calls “the mission field” in a formal sense, but in truth, we are all “missionaries” or “sent ones.” We are shlach in the way we live our lives. Every word we speak and every action we take tells the tale of our Lord and Master, for good or for ill. Every deed of honor and praise glorifies the Name of God, and every mistake and mean-spirited act we commit drags that Name through the mud.
Joshua and Caleb understood that God would enable the Israelites to take the land, not by a series of supernatural miracles, but by making the people of Israel the miracle. We see in the book of Joshua and beyond how true this was. They didn’t have to believe in the miracles. They just needed faith in God. That first generation out of Egypt couldn’t overcome their “slave mentality” and when faced with such challenges, they balked. They didn’t have faith in themselves, let alone a God they felt would cease to provide protection from Heaven (I know, I’m applying midrash here, but I think it fits).
As believers and disciples of the Jewish Messiah, our teacher, our Master, and our King, what have we learned, not only from his lessons but from the lesson of the Shlach among the Israelites? Jesus already said that he would continue to be with us for the amount of time it takes to fulfill the directive to spread the Word of hope. He asks us to have faith. Faith in our Master, faith in the One Holy God of Israel…and faith in ourselves.
We see from the Biblical record that the taking of Canaan and the forging of Israel was no easy task, even though God was with the Children of Jacob. We see from the record of Paul’s letters that even though he was personally comissioned by the Messiah to be the “shlach to the Gentiles,” his task was at times brutally difficult. Our tasks are not easy, either. Living a life of faith and swimming against the tide or a world determined to deny God never is. We are reviled, called foul names, laughed at, ridiculed, and that’s only in the western nations. In other parts of the world, Christians are raped, beaten, tortured, and murdered for the sake of Jesus Christ. Under such terrific pressure, our sin is never in doing our best and failing, but only in failing to try.
“In fact, the spies’ sin, in fact any sin, can be understood using the same principles just applied. Sin is like a rock that by nature cannot be “lifted,” that is forgiven…But we know that even after sin, God remains open to teshuvah (repentance and return to God).”
-Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh
“You do not always succeed, but you always have to try.”
“Tefillin After 72 Years”
Stories of the Holocaust series
A life of faith and miracles isn’t begun by waiting for God to make the first move. He’s waiting for us. So is everyone else. You can be the answer to someone’s prayer. All you have to do is try.