Parashat Shlah

Very, Very Good

We need to develop greater understanding of our role on this planet.

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The consequence of this attitude, for the spies, was their downfall. The consequence for us is the wanton environmental destruction we see around us. If we don't see the world as being good, what motivation do we have to want to protect it?

Promise of Fulfillment

Furthermore, the kind of behavior advocated by today's widespread "consume-your-worries-away" mentality stems from yeush, despair, which says: "If there is a true meaning of the world, we will never know it; and maybe there isn't one at all! Maybe the world is only inert matter that exists to be exploited for our fleeting satisfaction."

But the Torah belies this attitude. After the catastrophe of the spies, the whole generation is banished to die in the wilderness for their inability to grasp the true nature of the world. Suddenly, the Torah leaps to a new topic: how the temple offerings should be made when we enter the land.

In other words, although we may err, despair, fail, and have no idea how we are to set things right, the ultimate promise of fulfillment is not withdrawn. The ultimate nature of reality, the Torah affirms, is one of joy, celebration, and gratitude. Fulfillment waits for us to wake up and live up to our potential, as knowers of God, and recognizers of the true wondrous nature of God's world. 

Back to Creation

On the sixth day of the creation of the world, God says of the completed work of Creation (Genesis 1:31), "Very good." To the positive spies, the land was not just 'very good' but was 'very very good.' The Torah is hinting to us that in some way, the fulfillment coming from our "entering into the land," in every sense, is better, richer, and deeper than the fulfillment that God experienced when he looked out on the new, pristine creation. 

The Sforno tells us that the sixth day of creation is called "very good," instead of simply "good," like all the other days, because it is the tachlit, the completion and coming to fruition of all the other details that came into being before it.

But this fruition is not the final fruition. What it lacks is experiential knowledge. When the world was created, we hadn't eaten from the forbidden fruit or built the Golden Calf, let alone caused the Temple to fall or pumped toxic waste into our waterways. It is only as creation stumbles and staggers to its maturity and we gain for ourselves, experientially, the knowledge that Caleb and Joshua had: the world is indeed very, very good.

Sforno also explains why the 10 negative spies failed to recognize the land for what it was. The Torah tells us that all of the spies walked the length and breadth of the barren Negev to Hebron, where only Caleb visited and supplicated at the Cave of Mahpelah, the burial place of Adam and Eve, Sarah and Abraham, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah.

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