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Probing the Prophets: Parashat Sh’lach

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This week’s haftarah is taken from the second perek in Sefer Yehoshua, which actually relates events that took place even before those found in the first chapter. The first chapter includes the commands that Yehoshua gave to B’nai Yisra’el to prepare for entering Eretz Cana’an within three days. The story of the spies sent by the new leader, however, reports that the spies hid for three days, before they crossed back over the Yarden to rejoin their people at the Israelite camp, indicating that they were sent even before Joshua called for the nation to prepare for their entry into the new land.

Many of the commentaries are puzzled by the decision to send the spies at all. After all, Joshua was one of the spies sent by Moshe and he knew quite well the terrible sin that led to the 38-year delay in entering the land. Why would he, of all people, repeat the same mistake? Why would he decide to send spies?

If we read through the haftarah carefully we will be able to see the contrast between the two spy stories and resolve the question. This was not espionage for a military purpose. There was no doubt regarding the truth of Hashem’s promises. Yehoshua never asked them to report upon the size of the armies or their relative strength nor did he tell them to bring proof of the land’s fertility or the cities’ fortifications, as did his teacher. Secondly, these spies were sent “cheresh,” clandestinely; it was a secret mission sent by Joshua, and therefore the spies reported to Yehoshua alone. Moshe, however, felt constrained to send his spies as a result of the people’s demand for them. They were sent with the knowledge of the entire nation and delivered their report publicly, in front of the entire people.

And lastly, though perhaps most importantly, we are not told anything about these men whom Yehoshua sent. Whereas the parasha specifies the name of each and every spy, including and their lineage and tribal affiliation, we are told nothing about these men in the haftarah—we don’t even know who they were (although Chazal identify them as Kalev and Pinchas)!! This is no minor point.

Each spy sent by Moshe had his own agenda regarding how the land “measured up” for the individual tribe they represented. There were 12 men with 10 agendas. Yehoshua’s spies, however, represented the nation of Israel. There were two—not twelve—and they were anonymous—not named. Rather than carrying the individual concern of each tribe these spies were responsible only to Israel and its leader.

When there is division among the people, even the greatest men will not succeed; when there is harmony and accord, even anonymous individuals can fulfill their mission.

An important lesson to be learned by all.

By Rabbi Neil Winkler

Rabbi Neil Winkler is a past rabbi of the Young Israel of Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.

 

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