Photo of Rabbi Ettedgui

Parashat Sh'lach - 5776

My friends,

In this Parasha, we read of the most severe punishment that will be given to the people who were liberated from Egypt. They will not get to enter the Promised Land, but all the adults will die in the course of the forty years they will be wandering aimlessly in the wilderness. Their children will be privileged to conquer and inherit the Promised Land.

What happened?

This took place in the beginning of the second year from the time they left Egypt. They are ready to enter the Land of Canaan, but Moses, at the request of the Israelites and with G-d's approval, sends twelve distinguished men, one from each tribe, to tour the Land of Canaan, and report back to the people about the produce of the land, the kind of people who live there, and the cities, whether fortified or open, etc.

Ten of the twelve men start by giving a good report about the land, her fruits, etc., but then they add their own opinions and comments - that the Canaanites are too strong and that there is no way that these former slaves can conquer the Land. Caleb and Joshua differ and say that the people in Canaan are weak, and with G-d's help the Israelites will prevail. But then the other ten say more bad things about the land and slander it by saying, "the land which we have toured eats its people".

Upon hearing these words, the Children of Israel went back to their tents and cried all night. They complained to Moses and asked why he took them out of Egypt, and some said that they should get organized and return to Egypt. G-d's punishment was that they will pay for their lack of faith by wandering for the next forty years.

It is a difficult Parasha to understand. The mission to send these men was approved by G-d and Moses. When, then, was the entire nation punished for the sin of these men?

I believe that this is a most powerful way of showing the serious impact that slander can have on a community. When they said, "the land eats people", it's an exaggeration that turned the people against the land that they had dreamed about, and in their collective memory was supposed to be the Land that flowed with Milk and Honey. They lost their faith. The dream of a people returning to their promised land was gone.

I believe we have a similar situation in our midst today. Yes, Israel is not perfect. But we cannot let the slanders that are spread against Israel diminish our love, commitment and appreciation of this wonderful land that has welcomed millions of our people who have been liberated from all kinds of oppressive countries. We should continue to show our love to the land and to its people.

Shabbat Shalom,