“Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders.” — Numbers 13:2
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.
During former President Barack Obama’s first campaign, he used a slogan that resonated with many people, “Yes, we can!” It struck a chord because we’ve all experienced “no, you can’t” more than once in our lives.
Sometimes it’s our conditions that tell us, “No, you can’t afford that.” Sometimes it’s others telling us, “No you can’t; it will never work.” But the most difficult “no you can’ts” are the ones that we tell ourselves. It’s tragic when we stop ourselves because an inner voice tells us we can’t succeed, when deep down in our hearts, we know that we might.
This week’s Torah portion is called Shelach, meaning “send,” from the verse: “Send some men to explore the land . . .” This week’s portion begins with the sin of the spies who went to scout out the Promised Land and came back with a bad report. The second half of the reading deals with an array of commandments.
The Jewish sages ask: Why is the Torah portion named after the sin of the spies, an event that happened in the past and is history, instead of calling it something that relates to the commandments in the rest of the reading, which are eternally relevant?
The sages answer that past events, such as the sin of the spies, are the prism through which we are to view God’s commandments and His will for us today.
The sin of the spies wasn’t that they came back to the children of Israel with a report of how difficult it would be to capture the land of Canaan. True, they said, “the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large” (v.28). But that’s what they were sent there for – to scout out the land and come back with a report on what they saw. The sin of the spies wasn’t in reporting the challenges of capturing the land; it was in saying that it couldn’t be done — “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are” (v.31). This was not their decision to make. It was God’s.
The sin of the spies is history, but the message is eternal. Serving God demands many things from us – our time, our talent and treasure, our bodies, our souls. Sometimes we may think “no, we can’t” but the sin of the spies teaches us that we are not the ones to make that decision. Remember, with God’s help, anything is possible!
When God calls us to His service, there is only one way to reply: “Yes, we can!”
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President