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June 17, 2023: Parashat Torah Portion Shlach

This week’s Parashah Torah Portion Shlach is taken from Numbers 13:1-15:41. Join Dr. Jeffery Myers, as he explores the most epic failure of leadership in Torah: The 12 spies, 10 who gave an evil report and the two who stood in faith... the victory was theirs! But in the moment, the people chose to believe the bad report...whose report will YOU believe?

Follow along in the AUDIO PODCAST, by clicking on the play button below, and reading along with the notes, as you listen to today's Parashah Torah Portion:

Lion of Judah Speaks: Parashah Torah Portion Shlach - Numbers 13:1-15:41

Numbers 13:16-14:4 is perhaps one of the single collective failures of leadership in Torah. The story of the 12 spies, 10 who gave an evil report and the two who stood in faith. The Talmud comments on this narrative and states, “One who spreads evil reports almost denies the existence of Elohim.” We find that 10 of the spies whom Moses sent to spy out the Land came back with a report calculated to demoralize the nation. This spew of negative reporting was nonsense! The people should have known it…they left Egypt, the greatest empire of the ancient world, and victory was theirs! What are people telling you? What are you telling you? What is the enemy telling you? It is nonsense!

Israel survived a series of plagues, crossed a seemingly impenetrable barren Red Sea, and fought and defeated the Amalekites, which were a ferocious-warrior nation! The Israelites should have known that their reputation went ahead of them and that the people of the land were afraid of them, not the other way around. It wasn’t until 40 years later when Rahab told the spies that they all were prepared to surrender…but the enemy told a different story which they believed…propaganda!

The Land was good—great and full of bounty just as Elohim promised. The 10 spies, however, interpreted the giant grapes differently and used them as evidence that the Land was inhabited by unconquerable giants! “What would you expect from the vineyards of giants?” Isn’t it strange how two people can look at the same things—such as a cluster of grapes and come to opposite conclusions? Only Joshua and Caleb among the 12 showed true leadership. To Joshua and Caleb—giant grapes were a good thing but to the other spies’ giant grapes were a sign of despair. Joshua and Caleb told the people they could take the Land because Elohim was with them but the people did not listen.

Joshua and Caleb got their reward because they were the only two of their generation who lived to enter the Land. Their faith and refusal to be afraid shines as bright today as it did 33 centuries ago…they are eternal heroes of faith!

As leaders, as men, parents, teachers we are to give people a sense of confidence. Confidence in themselves, in the group they are in, in the mission itself. Confidence is Latin for “having faith together”, there is a self-fulfilling prophesy that applies to our lives: Those who say – “We cannot do it” are probably correct, as are those who say; “We can!” If you lack confidence you will lose! If you have it, solid, justified confidence based on preparation and past performance…You will win! You will win enough to triumph over setbacks and failures!

Remember when Moses hands were raised during the battle…when the Israelites looked up – they win but when they looked down, they would start to lose. We must lift up our heads to where our help comes from…not from man but from Elohim! We must exercise our hope and trust in the Word of Elohim! Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. Optimism is the belief that things will get better but hope is the belief that together we can make things better. From Amos to Jeremiah there were voices of hope!

However, by the 10 spies’ defeatism—as leaders they failed! In Num. 13:3 the Torah tells us these spies were all leaders, princes and heads of tribes. They knew Elohim was with them and that with His help nothing is impossible and they could do anything. They knew Elohim would not promise them a land they could not conquer. Why then did they come back with a negative (evil) report? Could it be those 10 spies were not afraid of defeat but were afraid of victory? What they said to the people was one thing but what led them to say it was another entirely.

Let’s ask the question: What was their situation now in the wilderness? They lived in close and continuous proximity to Elohim, they drank water from a rock, they ate manna from heaven, they were surrounded by clouds of Glory and the miraculous accompanied them along the way. What would be their situation in the Land? They would have to fight wars, plough the Land, plant the seed, gather the harvests and create and sustain an army, an economy and a welfare system. They would have to do what every other nation does- Live in the real world of empirical space! What would happen to their relationship with Elohim? Yes…He would still be present in the rain that made the crops to grow and in the blessings of the field, town and in the Temple in Jerusalem that they would visit 3 times a year. However, He would not be as visible, intimate and miraculous as He was in the desert. So, did the spies’ not fear failure but did they fear success? This might be a noble sin but sin none the less!

I want miracles! I want supernatural! I want an outpouring! I want to feel…but Elohim wants us to live in the real world. He wants us to create a dwelling place here. He wants His Shekinah, Divine Presence, brought into everyday life! It is easy to find Elohim in total seclusion and escape from responsibility. It’s hard to find Elohim in the office, businesses, farms, fields, factories, finances and in life. However, it is that hard challenge to which we are summoned: To create a space for Elohim in the midst of this physical world that He created and seven times pronounced…it is good!

This is what the 10 spies failed to understand, and it was a spiritual failure that condemned an entire generation to 40 years of futile wandering. We are all familiar with the idea of fear of failure. It is what keeps us from taking risks, preferring to stay within our comfort zone. But no less real is the “Fear of Success?” We want to succeed but unconsciously we fear what success may bring us… new responsibilities, expectations on the part of others that may be hard to fill. So, we fail to become what we might have become had someone given us faith in ourselves. The antidote to fear…both of failure and success lies within the passage at the end of this parashah.

Numbers 15:38-41, “Adonai said to Moses, speak to the people of Israel, instructing them to make, through all their generations, tzittziyot on the corners of their garments and to put with the tzitzit on each corner a blue thread. It is to be a tzitzit for you to look at and thereby remember all of Adonai’s mitzvot and obey them, so that you won’t go around wherever your own heart and eyes lead you to prostitute yourselves; but it will help you remember and obey all my mitzvot and be holy for your Elohim. I am Adonai your Yah, who brought you out of the Land of Egypt in order to be your Yah. I am Adonai your Yah.” The command of the tzitzit teaches us to learn to look up so we overcome our fears! As leaders, as fathers…we give people and children confidence by teaching them to look up! We are not grasshoppers unless we think we are!

Joshua was a Jew and Caleb was a Gentile and in Num. 14:24 it says, “But My servant Caleb, because he had a different spirit with him and has fully followed Me- him I will bring into the Land he entered, and it will belong to his descendants.” We need a different spirit! A spirit against all odds commands us to take the Land Elohim has given us! Let us rise and do it!

Shabbat Shalom Mishpocha,

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Let us not be afraid of success! Let’s rise up and take the Land Elohim has given us! We are not grasshoppers but soldiers of the King! Take your stand, move forward and take your inheritance that Yah has promised you! Have a blessed Sabbath and serve Adonai as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable. See you at the altar!

Shalom Aleichem

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