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Parshas Shelach – It’s Not What You See, But How You See It



In this week’s parsha ,we discover our tragic predilection for self-destruction. Even if G-d performs open miracles and bestows every blessing upon us, it will be to no avail if we are bent on trouble. G-d performed the most astounding miracles for our forefathers: the plagues that fell upon Egypt, the splitting of the Red Sea, the collapse of Pharaoh and the Egyptian army, manna falling from heaven, water gushing forth from rocks, the giving of the Torah at Sinai–and yet, when the command came to enter the promised land, they demanded that spies be sent forth to scout out the land. It is difficult to understand how a nation that had witnessed G-d’s open wonders could question His ability to bring them into the land. When people have hidden agendas however, then no matter what miracles they may experience, it will have no impact upon them. Thus, the parsha states, “And they went and they came…” (Numbers 13:26), meaning that they returned with the very same agenda with which they had departed. This despite the fact that G-d performed mighty miracles on their behalf while they were scouting out the land.

In order to protect their anonymity, G-d made their reconnaissance mission coincide with the death of Job, the most prominent man in the land of Canaan. The entire population was involved in mourning ceremonies, so the presence of the twelve spies went undetected. But instead of appreciating this, they returned with a malicious report, stating that “It’s a land that eats its inhabitants” (Numbers 13-32)–meaning that it is impossible to survive there–people are always dying, and everyone is busy going to funerals.

G-d allowed them to see the magnificent huge fruit of the land, and indeed, they brought back samples of it, but that too was used to plant terror in the hearts of the people when they said, “Yes, it is a land of milk and honey, BUT the people who dwell in the land are powerful; the cities are greatly fortified, and we also saw the offspring of the giants and Amalek.” (Numbers 13:27) By the time they finished their report, the people were frozen with fear, and ready to return Egypt. In vain did G-d make miracles–they refused to see them.

In contrast to the scouts who maligned the land, Joshua and Caleb, who were also part of the reconnaissance mission, returned inspired and energized. They tried to prevail upon the nation to have courage and go forth, for G-d would be with them and they would succeed in conquering the land with ease, but their words fell upon deaf ears.

The question that should give us all pause is how is it that people can undergo the exact same experience, but have totally different perceptions. The answer is that people see what they want to see. If they have faith, if Torah illuminates their lives, then nothing will be beyond their reach, but if faith is lacking, if they have their own agendas, then even G-d’s miracles will be enshrouded in darkness. We would all do well to take this lesson to heart. G-d bestows so many favors upon us — but do we see them?


Very often, we experience what we believe to be the punitive hand of G-d, but the Almighty is our Heavenly Father who created us and loves us with infinite love, and whose mercies and compassion always encompass us, so His punishment is not affliction, but correction. This teaching is blatantly obvious in this parsha. The people are guilty of an act of perfidy. They spurn G-d’s magnificent gift–Eretz Yisrael, the Holy Land. They demand that spies be sent on a reconnaissance mission–which, in and of itself, betrays a hidden agenda.

As anticipated, they return with a most disheartening, blasphemous report; they inject fear into the hearts of the people which results in a call for a return to Egypt. But the Almighty G-d, who knows the machinations of the hearts of men, foresaw the future and protected His people, even in this time of disgrace.

He allowed these ill-intentioned spies to scout out the entire land in a mere forty days–an impossible feat for that time. G-d gave the spies good speed so that the punishment might be minimized, since for each day that they spied out the land, the nation had to spend a corresponding year in the desert. The forty days of scouting became forty years of wandering. During this time, the nation was reborn and made atonement for the sins of the spies, and herein lies a profound lesson for us to remember.

1) When difficult and challenging days come upon us, and we find ourselves “wandering in our own desert”, we should recognize that that experience is a call from G-d…. a challenge to grow and realize our higher purpose. 2) The second lesson that we should internalize is to try to emulate the boundless mercies of G-d. G-d enabled the scouts to traverse the land in a mere forty days so that the period of rehabilitation would not exceed the number forty. Similarly, we too, should make it easy for those who wronged us or departed from the path of Torah, to make amends, re-enter and become part of our great Jewish community.

Through the sins of the spies, we gain a glimpse of the complexity of human nature and we become painfully aware that if the mind is twisted and the heart is crooked, then no matter how many miracles G-d performs, no matter how much kindness He extends, His actions will be misinterpreted and maligned, for a man sees and hears only that which he wants to see and hear. Thus we find that when the spies entered the Land of Israel, G-d made a miracle on their behalf and arranged that, just on that day, Job, the righteous citizen of the land, should die. Job was respected and revered–therefore his death signaled a national day of mourning. Everyone attended his funeral, and this great outpouring of people permitted the spies to go undetected. No one paid attention to them, no one hampered their movement and they were able to return safely to their home base. However, instead of being grateful for this miracle, instead of recognizing G-d’s protective care, the spies gave a slanderous report and proclaimed, “It is a land that devours its inhabitants. People are dying all day–there are constant funerals.”

This, once again reinforces the sad reality that even the open miracles of G-d are of no avail; if people have hidden agendas. They will see only that which they want to see and hear only that which they want to hear. Join us at Torah classes and learn to see “emes”–the true meaning of your life.

By: Rabbi Osher Jungreis

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