Parashat Shelach (Send Forth)

Bamidbar (Numbers) 13:1–15:41

Then the Lᴏʀᴅ spoke to Moses saying, “Send out for yourself men so that they may tour (scout, walk) out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to give to the sons of Israel; you shall send a man from each of their fathers’ tribes, every one a leader among them.” (Numbers 13:1–2)

This week’s scripture portion is quite well known, but has some unfortunate mistranslations in the English versions. Many of the English translations use the words, “spy the land of Canaan” whereas I believe a better way to translate these words is “to walk the Land” with the purpose of getting to know it better.

God’s instructions were straightforward and clear, yet when Moses passed on these simple instructions to the Children of Israel, he added a few of his own as we read in these next verses:

When Moses sent them to tour out the land of Canaan, he said to them, “Go up there into the Negev; then go up into the hill country. “And see what the land is like, and whether the people who live in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many. “And how is the land in which they live, is it good or bad? And how are the cities in which they live, are they like open camps or with fortifications? “And how is the land, is it fat or lean? Are there trees in it or not? And be strengthened. Make an effort then to get some of the fruit of the land.” Now the time was the time of the first ripe grapes. (Numbers 13:17–20)

I’m not sure how many of us have stopped to think about what has happened in these verses. As I was reading them, I was thinking about the significance of God’s straightforward, simple instructions versus Moses’ instructions; God instructed the Children of Israel just “to go” and “walk the Land”, whereas Moses instructed them to “see if the people who live in it are strong or weak, few or many, if the land is good or bad, the cities are like open camps or fortifications, and if the land is fat or lean, etc.…”

What can we make of this? Well, it seems to me that perhaps Moses was fearful of what the Israelites were about to face, and unknowingly set up these “investigators” for failure by adding all of the additional instructions. All they needed to do was to trust and inherit that which God had promised them. Nothing more, nothing less. Yet they made it more complicated than it needed to be, and by doing so, came back doubting whether or not God could actually make good on His promise to give them the land of Canaan.

Just like the Children of Israel, all we have to do is to keep our eyes on the Lord and remember that He is faithful to fulfill His promises; we do not need to be focused on the immense challenge that lies before us! We have two options: to be like Caleb who said, “…We should by all means go up and inherit it, for we shall surely overcome it” (Numbers 13:30), or to be like the other “investigators” who gave a bad report of the Land saying, “…The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.” (Numbers 13:32–33)

In other words, we can choose to be like Caleb who focused on God’s power and faithfulness, or like the men who looked at everything from their own perspective rather than God’s.

Shabbat shalom,


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One Comment on “Parashat Shelach (Send Forth)”

  1. Moran, Beautiful reminder! Thank you for the clarification/oversight made in the English interpretation. How many times has a mistake or misinterpretation of one or two words sent us in the wrong direction. I am learning as I trust in the Lord I must slow down and seek with attention to details whether they are simple or involved.

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