Parashat Shlah

The Eyes Have It

The commandment of tzitzit (fringes) follows the incident of the spies, reminding us to enhance our vision with faith and see new possibilities.

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The following article is reprinted with permission from the Union for Reform Judaism.

Parashah Overview

Moses sends 12 spies to the Land of Israel to report on the inhabitants and the country. Despite the positive report of Joshua and Caleb, the people are frightened. (Numbers 13:1–14:10) God threatens to wipe out the Children of Israel but relents when Moses intercedes on their behalf. To punish the people, God announces that all those who left Egypt would not enter the Land of Israel except for Joshua and Caleb. (Numbers 14:11–45) Moses instructs the Israelites regarding setting aside challah, the observance of the Sabbath, how to treat strangers, and the laws of tzitzit (fringes). (Numbers 15:1–41)

Focal Point

Adonai [God] spoke to Moses, saying, "Send men to scout the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelite people; send one man from each of their ancestral tribes, each one a chieftain among them." So Moses, by Adonai's command, sent them out from the wilderness of Paran, all the men being leaders of the Israelites. (Numbers 13:1–3)

At the end of forty days, they returned from scouting the land.… This is what they told him [Moses]: "We came to the land you sent us to; it does indeed flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who inhabit the country are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large…." Caleb hushed the people before Moses and said, "Let us by all means go up, and we shall gain possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it." But the men who had gone up with him said, "We cannot attack that people, for it is stronger than we." Thus they spread calumnies among the Israelites about the land they had scouted, saying, "The country that we traversed and scouted is one that devours its settlers. All the people that we saw in it are men of great size; we saw the N'philim there--the Anakites are part of the N'philim--and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them." (Numbers 13:25–33)

Your Guide

What is the purpose of the scouts' mission in the Torah portion? How does it differ from that of the scouts in the haftarah portion (Joshua 2:1–24)?

What is the nature of the scouts' transgression according to the Torah portion? Does their punishment fit the crime?

Who issues the command for the scouts to enter the land? Why does God allow and even command this action, given the results that ensue?

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Rabbi Randy E. Sheinberg is a rabbi at Congregation Rodeph Sholom, New York, NY.