Shelach L’Kha (Send on Your Behalf) B’midbar/Numbers 13:1-15:41

1.In our Haftorah portion we read in Joshua 2:1-24 about the spies hiding in the house of Rahab the harlot. Why do you think G-d chose a harlot to be a part of this story.

God could have made the spies invisible or caused the people to go blind or used angels, but He chose to use two ordinary men and one ordinary woman walking by faith with courage to act on their convictions. He chose to use the more normal circumstances of life. 

In order for us to trust the L-rd, are we looking for miracles, the sensational, and asking for out-of-the-ordinary experiences before we act? Or are we willing to step out in the normal situations of life trusting G-d to use us and lead us to ordinary people, sometimes even unlovely people whose hearts He has touched?

The name Rahab is mentioned eight times in Scripture (Josh. 2:1, 3; 6:17, 23, 25; Matt. 1:5; Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25) Seven of these verses are clearly talking about Rahab the harlot. The verse in Matthew, some believe, is also speaking of the same person. If so she would then be, alongside Ruth and Tamar in the lineage of the Messiah.

2.If you read through our Torah portion you can find several cases of “distorted thinking” both in the report brought back by the 10 men and in the response of the people.  See if you can identify any of these instances where their words were not glorifying G-d or trusting in Him. These responses may remind you of yourself or other believers you have listened to.  One example is when we only see things as black or white – no in-between. The ten men saw no hope, no chance. They could have said it looks difficult but with G-d’s help we will prevail. See what else you can find.

They used negative filteringNumbers/B’midbar 13:27-29 They discounted the positives as being insignificant, and focus almost exclusively on the negatives. The spies began by noting the positives: “The land is good. Look at its fruit.” Then came the “but”: the long string of negatives, drowning out the good news and leaving an overwhelmingly negative impression.

Everything is a catastrophe. Numbers/B’midbar 14:2-3 They said, “Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us die by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder.”

They were mind-readersNumbers/B’midbar 13:33 That is what the spies did when they said, “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and so we seemed to them.” They had no way of knowing how they appeared to the people of the land, but they attributed to them, mistakenly, a sentiment based on their own subjective fears. Do you ever assume you know what other people are thinking? Most of the time we are completely wrong because we are jumping to conclusions about them based on our own feelings, not theirs.

They chose to not change a negative opinionNumbers/B’midbar 13:30-31, Numbers/B’midbar 14:7-9The spies heard the counter-argument of Caleb but dismissed it. They had decided that any attempt to conquer the land would fail, and they were simply not open to any other interpretation of the facts. Do we ever reject evidence or argument that might contradict our negative thoughts?

They resorted to emotional reasoning: The ten spices were operating out of their feelings not G-d’s promises.  A key example is the interpretation the spies placed on the fact that the cities were “fortified and very large” (Num. 13:28). They did not stop to think that people who need high city walls to protect them are in fact fearful. Had they stopped to think, they might have realized that the Canaanites were not confident, not giants, not invulnerable. But they let their emotions substitute for thought. Do we ever let our feelings take over rather than the factual concrete promises of G-d.

They resorted to the blame gameNumbers/B’midbar 14:1-2 This is what the people did in the wake of the spies’ report. “They grumbled against Moses and Aaron, as if to say, “It is all your fault. If only you had let us stay in Egypt!” People who blame others have already started down the road to “learned helplessness.” They see themselves as powerless to change. They are the passive victims of forces beyond their control. We accuse someone else of being responsible for our predicament instead of accepting responsibility ourselves.

Hence the life-changing idea: never let negative emotions distort your perceptions. You are not a grasshopper. Those who oppose you are not giants. You are a child of the King. His arm is not short. We must always keep our eyes focused on our Creator.

3.I know we have in the past discussed the English word, spies, used in the English translation in this Torah portion in Numbers 13:1-2. In Hebrew the word is latour, a word that means to tour. What difference do you see in these two words?  How would it affect the way you would approach this trip into Caanan? How could they have erred in their conclusions?

These men could possibly have misunderstood their assignment. They were not to go in as spies looking for dangers, if the land could be conquered or what was bad in the land. The children of Israel already knew they had been given this land but they had not yet seen it.  These men were to check out the land that had been promised to their ancestors and report back what they saw with their own eyes. 

Moses had already told them the land was flowing with milk and honey. They needed the testimony of eyewitnesses. That was the mission of the twelve. In fact all twelve fulfilled that mission. When they returned, the first thing they said was: ”We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit: Numbers 13:27.  But after that it fell apart. This leads me to contemplate, how many times do we understand the role G-d has given us for our life?  Are we ever trying to live someone else’s role? Are we fulfilling the tasks He has appointed us to do?

When we look at the world we are living in how do we interpret what is happening around us? Do we take on a “chicken little” attitude that the sky is falling or do we strive to see things through G-d’s plan, what scripture tells us. If we spend our days fussing and complaining, we will never enjoy the good things G-d is continually doing for us. We will never even notice them.

Last point, read Numbers 15:38-40. Verse 39 says, “And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them, and that you seek not after your own heart and your own eyes… Seek in this verse is latur.  By using the verse latur again maybe G-d was connecting the episode of the bad report to this commandment to wear tzitzit.

The tzitzit would be a constant reminder for them to not seek or wander after their own hearts or what they would see with their own eyes. Instead of judging their experiences with a critical or negative eye the tzitzit would remind them of who they were and the G-d they served.

4.Why do you think Moses changed Oshea’s name to Joshua? 

Joshua’s name was originally Hoshea, which means “Saves” or “Salvation.” Moses, however, changed his name by adding a yud to the beginning of his name which means G-d will save.  (Numbers 13:16). Every time Joshua’s name was used, people would be reminded that salvation comes from G-d and not from human leaders. In later generations, the name was used as a way for parents to express their hope or prayer that G-d would rescue His people from their oppressors. 

5.One last question. Read Numbers 15:13-16 and tell me who is the stranger mentioned, “one law and one custom shall be for you and for the stranger who dwells with you.” Since similar phrases are mentioned in other places in scripture I think it is important to think about. Is this referring to the strangers actually living in the desert with the children of Israel or could it be a broader concept. How does this relate to Acts 15:28-29? 

First let me be clear, our salvation does not rest on how we relate to the Torah. We are saved by grace not by works. However, having made that stipulation, I do believe as non-Jews we do have the opportunity to live a deeper more fulfilling, more submitted life by taking the entire Bible as our guide. The Torah is G-d’s detailed blue print on how we are to live our life. Nowhere in Torah does it suggest we as non-Jews should convert to Judaism. Also, scripture does not give us permission to ignore part of the Bible and only be concerned with being saved and getting a free pass to heaven.  We are to use His entire, inspired word of G-d as our guide to life.

The verses in Acts seem to be an introduction to that fullness, or a minimal beginning for those grafted in to the house of Israel. It is a great loss to those who have made that first step of salvation to not continue on deeper with the L-rd.  For example, many relate to the holidays listed in scripture as Jewish holidays. I think they are much more than that. They are G-d’s calendar for us to live by beginning with Passover as a picture of salvation all the way to Sukkot being an example of the final harvest of the L-rd.