Sh’lach, Numbers 13:1-15:41, Parshat Hashavua for Shabbat, June 25, 2022

We live in difficult and challenging times. The impacts of climate change (or Global warming if you prefer) are no longer something to be feared in the distant future–we are feeling them now. Our nation feels deeply divided over fundamental issues of equal treatment of all our citizens, whether women, or racial minorities, or immigrants or queer; gun safety, policing and violence; even over respect for and conservation of our democratic system of government. It is easy, at moments like this, to give in to despair, to feel that we are helpless, to give up hope for a better future and to do nothing.
This week’s Torah portion contradicts this impulse and urges us to maintain hope, faith and to act. The Israelites have reached the Land of Israel and God commands Moses to send 12 spies (one from each tribe) into the land to scout and return with intelligence on what they see. When they return, all the spies report that the land “does indeed flow with milk and honey” (Numbers 12:27) But, ten of them say that the inhabitants are too powerful for the Israelites to overcome. In a classic example of a lack of self-confidence they say, “we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.” (Numbers 13:33). All the Israelites take this message to heart and cry out in despair. But two of the spies, Joshua and Calev respond, “Let us by all means go up, and we shall gain possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it.” (Numbers 13:30)
Just as they have overcome every obstacle on their path to freedom, Calev and Joshua are confident that with God’s help and their own faith the Israelites can meet any challenge, no matter how daunting. We know the rest of the story. The Israelites falter, and after a failed attack are condemned to wander in the wilderness for thirty and a half more years, until the generation of slaves is dead.
The Torah is teaching us that with every challenge, no matter how great it may appear, we have a choice: despair and inaction, or hope and change. How we view ourselves is just as important as our commitment to something greater than ourselves. Both are the essential wellsprings of change. What will we choose today?