Sh’lach L’Cha—שלח לך
By Zwi Reznik, By June 5, 2021, 25 Sivan 5781
I have a fondness for the work of Rabbi Dr. Avraham Twerski, z’’l, a Hassidic Rabbi as well as a psychiatrist. In one of his brief commentaries I first read a sentence I took to heart. “There are four essentials for human life: Food and Water, Clothing, Shelter and someone to blame”. I’ll be getting back to Rabbi Twerski later, but in the meantime keep that sentence in mind.
Parsha Sh’lach L’cha begins with God commanding Moshe to send a group of twelve men to 13:2“… scout the land of Canaan…”. Moshe selects them and sends them on their mission. Among them are כלב and הושע who, significantly, Moshe renames יהושע by adding a י to his name. Moshe gives them instructions and sends them on their way. We can see the beginnings of a problem in verse 22 where the text refers to the ”…offspring of the giant—ילידי הענק…”. I need to make a comment on translation here. The Jewish Publication Society translation and others use “…the Anakites…” instead of “…offspring of the giant…”. In his footnote to this verse Alter states “22. …offspring of the giant. The second Hebrew term here, ʿanaq, is understood by some modern translators to be an ethnic designation (“Anakites”). The words of the scouts, however, in verse 33, clearly place “offspring of the ʿanaq” in apposition with Nephilim, the legendary man-god hybrids mentioned in Genesis 6:1–4, and there is no indication elsewhere of an ethnic group called Anakites. (On the basis of this chapter, ‘anaq’ in all subsequent strata of Hebrew is the standard term for “giant.”) The legendary scale of the bounty of the land, its “fatness,” is matched by the legendary proportions of its inhabitants. It should be noted that this representation of Hebron inhabited by giants swerves from the depiction of Hebron in Genesis 25, where the local denizens are ordinary, and commercially shrewd, Hittites. (Genesis 25 is at the end of חיי שרה where Avraham’s purchase of the cave of Machpelah from the Hittites is noted).
The scouting party moves on, grabs a huge cluster of grapes, as well as pomegranates and dates, and returns. They confirm that they have seen a land flowing with Milk and Honey and then ten of them horrify everyone with what else they have seen. כלב attempts to respond to the ten by referring to the land saying in verse 30 “We will surely go up and take hold of it, for we will surely prevail over it.” However, the damage has been done and the chapter ends with Verses 32 and 33 “32And they put forth an ill report to the Israelites of the land that they had scouted, saying, “The land through which we passed to scout is a land that consumes those who dwell in it, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of huge measure. 33And there did we see the Nephilim, sons of the giant from the Nephilim, and we were in our own eyes like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes.”
Chapter 14 opens with the people in full panic mode. Finally, God has enough and threatens to kill off everyone with a plague. After substantial effort by Moshe, God relents and decides to just have them die off slowly in the Wilderness leaving only כלב and יהושע of the generation of slaves to make it to Canaan. The chapter ends with the people now expressing regret and proceeding to mount an utterly useless and disastrous attack on a position held by Amalekites and Canaanites. The text is somewhat vague with the details.
I must note that I have not presented a Drash since November of 2019, about nineteen months ago. At that time I spoke of parshat לך לך. My choice for today sounds somewhat similar—Sh’lach L’Cha. The similarity is due to the fact that this parsha name begins with an imperative form of a verb. In particular God speaks directly to Moshe with a clear command (Sh’lach!)ְ, i.e. SEND!. שלח! is the second person, singular, masculine imperative form of the verb לשלוח-to SEND. The addition of the next word לך seems somewhat redundant. Translators and commentators have written of this two word phrase and its significance. There is also further commentary on the third word of verse 2, אנשים MEN. In the English translation of the Midrash Tanchuma on Sefaria the translation “Send men for yourself…” appears. (Note that the Midrash Tanchuma was composed in Talmudic Babylon/Italy/Israel c.500 – c.800 CE and it was often cited by Rashii). In Alter the three word phrase is similarly translated as 2“Send you men…”,
So it is Moshe who is going to be organizing this scouting expedition! In fact a little bit later in Chapter 13 we see that it is Moshe, naming the members of the expedition. It’s not God doing it. It was God who had previously called out the names of the leaders of the military assemblage seen in Parsha במדבר. We see that the impending disaster of this twelve man expedition is being put on Moshe. In addition the character of these men is noted in Alter’s footnote to verse 13:3 “ …all of them men. Rashi, followed by several modern commentators, proposes that “men” has the connotation of men of stature. In the present context, that might mean military prowess—a trait that would make the fearful majority report of the scouts all the more shameful.”
The Midrash Tanchuma continues with comments on later verses דבורים from in 1:21-22. First the verses from Alter’s translation “21 See, the LORD your God has given the land before you. Go up, take hold, as the LORD God of your fathers has spoken to you. Be not afraid nor be dismayed.’ That’s what God has said! Moshe goes on: 22 And you came forward to me, all of you, and you said, ‘Let us send men before us that they probe the land for us and bring back word to us of the way on which we should go up and the towns into which we should come.’ From this Midrash, also quoted extensively by Rashi, we read: “Even though the Holy the Holy One, blessed be He, had said to Moses, “Send men for yourself,” it was not [the wish] of the Holy One, blessed be He, for them to go.13See Numb. R. 16:7. Why? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, had already told them [about] the superiority of the Land of Israel. It is so stated (in Deut. 8:7), “For the Lord your God is bringing you unto a good land.” Moreover, while they had been in Egypt, he had said to them (in Exod. 3:8), “I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians [and to bring them up out of that land unto a good and spacious land].” And Scripture states (in Exod. 13:21), “And the Lord went in front of them by day.” So, blame Moshe.
Commentary in this vein continues to modern time. Moving ahead from the Midrash Tanchuma about 1300 to 1600 years, we come to a commentary by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks on שלח לך written prior to his death in November, 2020. It is titled “Confidence”. These commentaries are based Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks previous book Lessons in Leadership. It begins “It was perhaps the single greatest collective failure of leadership in the Torah. Ten of the spies whom Moses had sent to spy out the land came back with a report calculated to demoralise the nation”. He then goes on to quote several of the verses that I have already from the end of Chapter 13. Rabbi Lord Sacks seems to implicate Moshe in this failure of leadership. In addition the ten spies lacked confidence due to a lack of effective leadership! That lack of confidence led to the failure and condemned the people to forty years of wandering. He does praise כלב and ,יהושעfor showing leadership, but notes that the ten did not listen. Rabbi Lord Sacks then compliments and paraphrases a commentary by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Rabbi Schneerson’s opinion was that the ten were actually afraid of victory, regardless of what they reported back to Moshe and the people. That in fact they were content to remain in the wilderness where “they lived in close and continuous proximity to God”. If on the other hand they reported that they were in agreement with what כלב had argued in verse 13:30 noted above—i.e. “We will surely go up and take hold of it, for we will surely prevail over it.”, they would be faced with fighting wars, ploughing land, planting seed and so on in the land of Canaan. So we have moved on from blaming just Moshe to now including the ten for their share. I must admit that reading the entire Rabbi Lord Sacks’ commentary was oddly intriguing, which is why I have included it but, I am not entirely comfortable with it. In fairness, I would suggest that you find it online and form your own opinion. That said, I’ll go back to Rabbi Dr. Twerski now.
I have a collection of his brief commentaries on all the parshaot. He has titled the one on שלח לך “Misguided Humility”. I would like to quote from it. “In this week’s portion of the Torah we read of the tragic consequences of misguided humility. The saga of the spies sent by Moses to bring back a report of the Promised Land, which eventuated in the Divine decree that the generation of the Exodus must perish during forty years of wandering in the desert, represents both a lack of trust in God and a lack of faith in one’s self”. Then, after quoting the second half of verse 13.33, about feeling like grasshoppers in the presence of the Nephilim, Rabbi Dr. Twerski then quotes Rashi’s comment on the verse, “We heard them—i.e.the GIANTS, say about us, ‘There are ants crawling about in our vineyards, ‘ ”. In other words, since the ten saw themselves as grasshoppers, they would then think of themselves as being perceived as the even more diminutive ants in the eyes of the Nephilim.
Rabbi Twerski then concludes his commentary by bringing in the concept of the yeitzer hara and that it may try to confuse us by giving us “…the impression that we are in remorse for our sins, while the true fact is that the yeitzer hara is simply trying to paralyze us with depression”. The commentary concludes with the sentence “We have too much to accomplish to allow ourselves to be disabled by unwarranted feelings of unworthiness”.
I used to wonder about my affinity for Rabbi Twerski’s writings given the stark differences in our theological views. However, those disagreements are minor given what I see as the demonstration of the compassion of the true physician.
Finally, I’ll turn to one more commentary which I discovered which proposes a seemingly radical idea. Moses should have sent men! As noted above the three word phrase שלח לך אנשים is best translated as “send men for yourself” or “send for yourself men”, or “send you men” and NOT just “send men”. The idea of sending women originated with Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim of Luntschitz (1550-1619) who was the Rabbi of Prague. It appears in his 16th century Torah commentary know at the Kli Yakar—כלי יקר. By definition a Kli Yakar can also be a person. That title originated from Proverbs 20:15—“15There is gold with abundance of rubies, but lips of knowledge are a precious vessel”.
As far as I could tell Sefaria only has a Hebrew version of the Kli Yikar. What I’m quoting from is a translation that was posted by a Rabbi Joyce Newmark.
Our Rabbis said, the men hated the land and were the ones who said, “let us head back for Egypt” [Numbers 14:4] and the women loved the land and said, “give us a holding among our father’s kinsmen” [Numbers 27:4, the story of the daughters of Zelophechad, five sisters who asked that they be given the share of the land that would have gone to their father who died without sons]. The Holy Blessed One said, “In My opinion … it would be better to send women who love the land for they will not defame it. But you, (i.e. Moshe) according to your opinion that they are fit and that they love the land, want to send men. This is the meaning of ‘send for yourself men’ — according to your opinion, men, but in my opinion it would be better to send women.”
I’ll end with a personal observation. I’ve shared with friends that I was once advised by a Hospice counselor that whether I wanted to or not I was starting a new life. As it turned out that involved choosing to move to Los Angeles. Clearly that was nowhere near as frightening as the idea of trudging across a desert and fighting Amelikites. The move has turned out well for me. Since its spring I will very much enjoy seeing the Jacaranda trees in bloom around my apartment building. I am also recalling that I’ve also seen Jacaranda trees in Israel, where my thoughts have been focused lately.
Alter, Robert. The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary . W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.