Mazel Tov! I get a Mazel Tov! My son got engaged last Friday. (You say, “Mazel Tov!”) Yes, thank you. No doubt the young couple is both excited and nervous. So I think I want to talk about this week’s Torah reading and its advice about staring into the unknown.
Parshat Shelach deals primarily with the episode of the spies, who were charged by Moshe to travel through the Promised Land and then report back to the Jewish people what they found. It should have been just days before the Jewish people would enter the land promised to Abraham. Alas, the spies report disheartens the people who cry tears of fear and frustration. They discuss throwing off Moshe as leader, appointing a new head, and returning to Egypt. G-d will have none of that, and blah, blah, punishment, blah, blah, 40 years in the desert, blah, blah, everyone is going to die.
When studying this text in school a student will often ask, “What exactly is the problem?” They were asked to spy and report. They spied and reported. The land IS a land flowing with milk and honey; the people are strong and the cities are fortified. The people freaked out, sure, but why is that the spies’ problem?
The great Ramban (aka Nachmonidies 1194-1270) says that the problem was not their report; it was in their evaluation. “Efes ki az ha’am.” (Num. 13:28) That first word is hard to translate. You might recognize Efes as the modern Hebrew word that means, “zero.” So loosely, the translation is, “There is zero chance we can win! The people are mighty!” The problem wasn’t the report that the people are mighty – it’s the editorializing.
Why was one group of people able to look at the facts and see what was possible and one group looked at the same data and saw only what was impossible? Though it has been suggested the difference is faith in G-d or in the selfish pride of the spies, I wonder if it could have been something much more mundane.
These spies were sent as representatives of their tribes. As such, their vision was perhaps limited to what their tribe could do. Even if they had faith in G-d, perhaps they lacked faith in each other. (Note that in the book of Joshua when spies are sent again, there are two spies sent on behalf of all the people, and that was successful.)
And that is my advice to our young Chosson and Kallah. Know that there will be times when you are staring together into the great unknown. You’ll be afraid (and justifiably so.) But the key to success is knowing that you can trust in Hashem who has done so much for you already and importantly, you can trust in each other.
Rabbi Mordechai Soskil is the Director of Judaic Studies at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School’s High School. His recent book, “Questions Obnoxious Jewish Teenagers Ask” on matters of faith but in the language of teens, has been well received by teens and their teachers. He and his wife Allison have six children who range from Amazing to Fantastic. (And one smooshy-cheeked granddaughter.)