Friday, June 8, 2018

The People's Request

One of the most significant events in the journey of the Children of Israel through the wilderness was the incident of the spies. Sent into the Land of Canaan to assess its potential for settlement, ten of the twelve tribal leaders sent as spies reported upon their return that the land was fearsome and that the Children of Israel would be no match for its inhabitants. The Israelites cried out in panic and, in consequence, God determined that their entry into Israel
would be delayed for one generation. 

In the Book of Numbers, the description of these events begins with two small but significant words: “Shlach lecha,” “Send for yourself” (Numbers 13:1).  According to many commentaries, these words, spoken by God to Moses, point to the fact that God did not plan on having the Children of Israel send spies into the Land of Canaan, but that He commanded it in response to a request from the Israelites. This understanding is supported by Moses’ own words as he related the history of the Israelites’ travels in the Book of Deuteronomy: “Then all of you came to me and said, ‘Let us send men ahead to spy out the land for us...” (Deuteronomy 1:22).

It is easy to think of Scripture as a tome of commandments, of one-directional instructions from God to Moses to the Jewish people. The narrative of the spies, however, reveals a subtle insight into the deeper relationship of God and the Jewish people, which is never one-directional.

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