“What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified?” — Numbers 13:19
The Torah portion for this week is Shelach, which means “send,” from Numbers 13:1–15:41, and the Haftorah is from Joshua 2:1–24.
When a massive earthquake hit Nepal earlier this spring, Israel was among the first to send a convoy of professional volunteers to help with relief efforts. Someone had commented in the media that “this is the true face of Israel.” Indeed, helping others is part of Israel’s DNA.
Israel is a country that is deeply rooted in the concept of tikkun olam, which means “fixing the world.” Secular and observant Israelis alike are committed to making the world a better place, to being “a light unto the nations” in whatever way we can.
But we are not naïve here in Israel. We know that the majority of the world does not see the “true face of Israel.” Israel doesn’t have a worldwide reputation of the gentle, caring, and generous country that it seeks to be. Our face has been muddied by wars that we have been forced to fight in order to protect our citizens, our children, and our very existence as a Jewish state. However, for all those seeking the truth about Israel, they will find it. It’s plain as day for anyone willing to see it.
In this week’s Torah portion, Moses sent spies to scout out the land of Canaan, the future site of the Promised Land. In his instructions to the 12 leaders chosen for the mission, Moses advised them on what to look for: “What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad?” According to Jewish tradition, Moses also added the following: He told the spies that even if the land appeared bad to them, they should know that it really was good. Every single part of it.
The holiness and goodness of the land might be hidden from a superficial scan, but the spies needed to know that they shouldn’t be fooled by appearances. God promised the Israelites a good land, and so no matter how things appeared, the spies needed to know the truth: “The land . . . is exceedingly good” (Numbers 14:7).
In Psalm 128:5 we read “ . . . thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life” (KJV). The Jewish sages comment that we need to make an effort to see only the good of Jerusalem no matter how things may look on the outside.
I think this is a good lesson for life as well. Sometimes things appear to be good, other times as bad. But we need to know the underlying truth: It’s all good. Everything that God does in His world is for good. We may not always see it and we may certainly not always understand it, but everything in this world is ultimately good.