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Dance to the Beat of Creativity

Why Were the Spies Condemned for Reporting the Facts?

    Rabbi YY Jacobson

  • June 13, 2012
  • |
  • 23 Sivan 5772
  • Comment

Class Summary:

Ask not whether, but how -- kill the messenger? Why were the spies condemned for reporting the facts?

Dedicated by David and Eda Schottenstein in the loving memory of a young Jerusalem soul, Alta Shula Swerdlov, daughter of Rabbi Yossi and Hindel Swerdlov. And in merit of Yetta Alta Shula, "Aliya," Schottenstein.

The difficult we do immediately; the impossible takes a little longer. -- General Montgomery

The Hole in the Roof

A rabbi stands before his congregation and reports to them that a massive hole has been found in the roof of the synagogue.

"Now I have good news and bad news for you," the Rabbi continues. "The good news is that we have the money to repair it; the bad news is that the money is in your pockets."

If We Win?

It's an old anecdote. Years ago, the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, convened an emergency session to figure out a solution for the Israeli economy.

One brilliant minister said, "Let's declare war on the U.S., and then, in the wake of the utter destruction America will bring upon us, we will receive billions of dollars for reconstruction, like Germany and Japan."

"Sounds great," responded another member of the Knesset. "One problem: What will we do if we win the war?"

Twelve Jews on a Mission

This week's portion, Shlach, tells the story of 12 men who were dispatched by Moses from the desert to go and survey the Land of Canaan and its inhabitants. The purpose of their journey was to prepare the Jewish people for the subsequent conquest and settlement of the Land.[1]

Upon discharging the spies on their mission, Moses presented them with a list of questions they needed to answer. "See the Land," Moses said to them. "How is it? And the nations that dwell in it—are they strong or weak? Are they few or numerous? And how is the land in which they dwell—is it good or bad? And how are the cities in which they dwell—are they open or are they fortified?"

When the twelve spies returned from their 40-day tour of Israel they presented to the people a report of their findings.

"We arrived at the Land to which you sent us," the spies said, "and indeed it flows with milk and honey and this is its fruit. But the people that dwell in the land are powerful, the cities are greatly fortified and we also saw the offspring of the giants. We cannot ascend to that people for it is too strong for us," they proclaimed.

The report demoralized the Jewish nation and drained it of the motivation to enter the Land. As a result, the spies died, and much of the generation died in the desert, never making it into the Promised Land. Only 39 years later, in the year 1276 B.C.E., did the children and grandchildren of this generation cross the borders and settle in the Promised Land.

Kill the Messenger?

One of the many questions raised by biblical commentators [2] concerns the reason for the spies being condemned to punishment. Moses gave them a detailed list of questions about the Land; he instructed them to make their own observations as to what will await the people upon their arrival.

This is exactly what the spies did. They came back with an answer to all of Moses' questions and reported what they perceived to be the reality. If Moses expected them to cover up their observations -- that the Land was inhabited by mighty men and its cities were greatly fortified -- he should have never sent them in the first place!

Why were the men faulted for relating what they had seen? Is this not a case of "kill the messenger?"

Introducing Paralysis

The answer is that if the spies had merely related to Moses and to the people the reality of the situation as they saw it, everything would have been fine. But they did more than that. They used the difficulties they observed as an excuse to capitulate in the face of fear.

Had the spies returned and said, "Hey guys, we have seen a mighty people and well-protected cities in the Land, so now we need to devise an effective strategy of how to go about our challenging mission," they would have fulfilled their task flawlessly. The moment they responded to the obstacles by saying "We cannot do it anymore," they swayed an entire people to abandon their G-d-given destiny.

The spies are condemned for substituting the legitimate and important question "How will we do it?" with the despairing and helpless conclusion, "We can never do it!"

Conquering Your Darkness

Each of us has a domain in our life that needs to be conquered, a terrain that needs to be transformed into a "holy land." Some of us need to confront trauma, fear, insecurity, temptation, addiction, or shame. We must confront challenges within our psyches, our marriages, and our families. Since the challenges that lay in recovery's path are at times frightening, we are naturally tempted to believe that we are incapable of overcoming our darkness and we surrender to the obstacles.

The feeling is understandable, but if you surrender to it, it will rob you of the opportunity to liberate your life and arrive at your personal "Promised Land." The option of resignation compels you to remain stuck in a barren desert made up of the stuff of shame and despair. 

The question ought not to be, "Can I do it?" Because that's the question coming from my inner sense of incompetence. G-d conceived you in love, and the day you were born is the day He declared that the world is incomplete without you. As the saying goes, sometimes when you find yourself in a dark place you think you’ve been buried, but you’ve actually been planted. The resources to repair the "hole in our personal roof" are present. I am empowered to leave my wilderness and discover my light, joy, and wholeness. G-d has sent me into each of my life's journeys with the power to bring light into my darkness and discover my own inner infinity, as a Divine ambassador of love, light, healing, and hope.

The story of the spies is our personal story. My trauma tells me, "I can't," and I have all the emotional evidence and data to support my conclusions. But with lots of empathy and faith in my inner Divine self, I can discover a deeper untarnished, unfearful core that has the power to say: I can, and I will; now let me figure out how. I want to dance to the beat of creativity and connection, not despair to the beat of survival and loneliness.

Ask not "whether," but rather "how."[3]


[1]Numbers chapters 13-14.
[2] Nachmanides in his commentary on the opening verses of the portion.
[3] This essay is based on an address I heard from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shabbos Parshas Shlach, 21 Sivan, 5749 (June 24, 1989), published in Sefer Hasichos 5749 vol. 2. Cf. Likkutei Sichos vol. 13 pp. 39-41. For other answers to the above question, see Likkutei Sichos vol. 18 Shlach 1, and many references that are noted there.



Please leave your comment below!

  • SL

    Shmuel Lemon -6 years ago

    I understand the laws of human nature to be as follows

    One can’t use intellect to get rid of a feeling that already exists. (One can’t explain to someone who is feeling depressed why he should not feel depressed)

    Once the feeling exists one needs to deal with what caused the feeling in the first place. A lack of self-esteem etc.

    Therefore your D. Torah only applies to enable a person not to get that feeling in the first place.

    But you seem to be saying that one must fight the existing feeling by telling oneself that the only legitimate question is, "How do I do it?"

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

    • DB

      Danny Bergson -1 year ago

      The point is that whena. Persons attitude is shifted to how can I do it this shifts the focus into the strategy and plans and is motivated by and underlying belief in one's power to achieve 

      This simple question "how do I go about it" propels us forward with vitality and energy and is the antithesis of depressive energy 

      And yes I think the point of the essay is to love our lives in such a way that they are naturally fuelled by simcha and life energy and prevent the slippery slope of toxic emotions or worse still utter despair 

      Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

Essay Parshas Shlach

Rabbi YY Jacobson
  • June 13, 2012
  • |
  • 23 Sivan 5772
  • |
  • Comment

Dedicated by David and Eda Schottenstein in the loving memory of a young Jerusalem soul, Alta Shula Swerdlov, daughter of Rabbi Yossi and Hindel Swerdlov. And in merit of Yetta Alta Shula, "Aliya," Schottenstein.

Class Summary:

Ask not whether, but how -- kill the messenger? Why were the spies condemned for reporting the facts?

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