Parshot Festivals

Learning to live under water

  • Ilan Herrmann
Each of the 12 tribes had a great spiritual leader. Moses dispatched them to scout the land of Canaan in advance of its intended conquest.
by Rav Ilan Herrmann, JI Congregation | Jun 27, 2019

Forty days of espionage work, and the “spies” returned divided into two factions, each having different perspectives.

Ten of the spies conveyed that the land was unconquerable, and they proceeded to rally people to their position. “The land devours its inhabitants. We cannot capture it. The nations who dwell there are strong, their cities are fortified, and there are giants among them.”

The other two spies, Caleb and Joshua, vehemently opposed this, saying, “The land is exceedingly good … you will not fear the people of that land, for we will win them as easily as one can eat bread. Their protection is gone, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”

How is it that they reached such different perspectives on the same tour?

The people erroneously accepted the first spy report, and began to weep. As a consequence, G-d decreed that they would wander in the desert for 40 years, and their generation would die out in the desert.

What was their error?

The spies were not asked to decide if the Jewish people should or could enter the land. That was decided by G-d. They were not asked to determine if conquest was possible. Their mission was to scout and report on the land. But upon seeing it and its inhabitants, the 10 spies became intimidated, overwhelmed, and fearful, and calculated that the Jewish people could survive only in the desert, not in the land of Canaan.

What is the message?

Entering the land is the model for involvement and engagement by Jews in the world around us. It’s our interaction with life, people, society, work, and the myriad experiences that go with this. The 10 spies are of the perspective that the Jew will lose his identity if he gets involved with the world. He will be overwhelmed, will eventually assimilate, and be lost.

Joshua and Caleb say, “The land is exceedingly good.” By getting involved in the world, and facing these challenge (designed by G-d) as Jews, conscious of our mission and supported by our principles and values, the outcome will be that we will rise to even greater heights – exceedingly”.

The baby cries out because it wants to stay in the womb. It knows that there are massive challenges out there. But, the Jewish people have never reckoned with the world on its terms. As long as we are anchored – connected to Torah and mitzvot (religious commandments) – the forces around us cannot diminish us.

As the old joke goes, the weather forecast announces that a great flood will engulf the world in three days’ time. The pope announces to his people, “Repent, and you will go to heaven.” The Buddhists proclaim, “Contemplate, and you will achieve Nirvana.” The rabbi announces, “Chevrah, we have three days to learn to live underwater.”


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