Faith and Reality

I contrast this week's reading with the portion of "Lech Lecha", where Abraham is told to leave his birthplace and go to a land that God will show him. Abraham follows, not even knowing where he is going. His faith is strong enough to tell him that if God is guiding him, his destination can be nothing but successful.

The Israelites were promised the land of Canaan. This promise was given to Abraham and repeated to each of the patriarchs. It was repeated again to Moses and the people at Mount Sinai. There was no doubt, there was no question.

There was no need for spies. With our perfect hindsight, we can say that the people should have gone as Abraham went, with faith and confidence.

Why, then, did Moses agree to send the spies? The plot thickens when we consider that Moses had an inkling that the spies would not do good. He prays that Joshua be spared "the plotting of the spies". This happens before they are sent. If he had a gut feeling that something was amiss, why did he send them anyway?

One could answer that his prayer for Joshua was not that the spies were going to speak ill of the land. It was rather that they would be jealous of Joshua, who was Moses's protege. These spies were princes in their own right, and may have felt inclined to violence against Joshua in a sort of coup. There is an echo of the story of Joseph and his brothers, who were jealous of his status in his father's eyes and wanted to kill him before they sold them into slavery.

According to that answer, Moses didn't fear the spies as far as the land goes, only as far as Joshua goes.

I think, though, there is another explanation. According to Jewish law, a judge must be completely free of influenced by litigants. A litigant who gives a gift to a judge, even if it is to judge fairly, has eliminated that judge from eligibility in his case. Judges are human beings, and even though the gift was to be objective, they can no longer be objective.

So too with the spies. They needed to be objective, not with a personal agenda. I feel they have a personal agenda, perhaps against Joshua, perhaps a need to demonstrate their own independence and leadership. Maybe they needed to go against Moses in order to state their claim to leadership. Thus, Moses prays that Joshua maintain his objectivity. There is a lot more to say in this direction, which I hope to address in a future post.

With all that, the question is stronger. Why did Moses send them if it was so risky?

I believe it was because the people were hesitant. Moses knew they were afraid of the battles ahead. And he knew that psychologically, the best way to proceed is in small steps. Therefore, the first step would be to send advance scouts. He specifically gives them military and strategic instructions, including what roads to take, what the fruits are like so they will know how much provisions they will need and so forth. They are NOT to evaluate whether or not the project is worthwhile. They are only to give logistical details.

If the people had been on the level of faith of Abraham, Moses would've never sent spies. He felt that the approach of reality was necessary here.

If Moses made such an error, what can we ever say? The best we can do is try to learn from what the Torah tells us. And what the Torah is telling us is to follow God's Word without hesitation and fear. If God is with us, we can proceed on faith. If God is not with us, no amount of reality action will help. The sequel of the spies episode is the story of the "ones who jumped the gun".

They decided, after God decreed 40 years in the desert as punishment for the spies, to go immediately into the land of Israel. Moses warns them that God will not be with them, and they have no chance of success. They go anyway, and are soundly defeated in their first military encounter.

If God is with us, we can proceed on faith. If God is not with us, no amount of reality action will help.

The Jewish people in the state of Israel is at a crisis of faith. We are being asked to follow the path of "reality" in our relations with the Palestinian Arabs, Iran and the other existential threats of our day. On the face of it, the state of Israel exists in defiance of the laws of nature and reality. If God is not with us, none of this could exist. If God is not with us, no amount of land-for-peace or other peace process concessions will make us more secure.

Our job is to bring God with us. "And it was when the Ark traveled, Moses said 'Rise up oh Lord and let Your enemies scatter before Thee...'". If God walks with us, we need do nothing more than show up. What is needed is an awakening of faith in the Jewish people, and in God's promise to Abraham, "to thee and thy seed will I give this Land".

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