Parshat Shelach Lecha: Weekly Torah Portion Summary, Questions, Resources

"Send scouts, one from each tribe, distinguished leaders all of them, to explore Canaan," God tells Moses. So Moses selects Shammua, Shaphat, Caleb, Igal, Hosea (aka Joshua), Palti, Gaddiel, Gaddi, Gemalli, Sethur, Nahbi and Geuel.
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Editor's note: The HuffTorah is an overview of the Torah reading of the week, which is found in the Book of Numbers 13:1-15:41, and includes links to additional resources for study and discussion. Read the full text of Parshat Shelach Lecha in interlinear Hebrew/English.

"Send scouts, one from each tribe, distinguished leaders all of them, to explore Canaan," God tells Moses.

So Moses selects Shammua, Shaphat, Caleb, Igal, Hosea (aka Joshua), Palti, Gaddiel, Gaddi, Gemalli, Sethur, Nahbi and Geuel. He tells them to scope out the land: What kind of land is it? Who lives there? How many? Does it have good springs? What are the cities like? How's the soil? Are there any righteous folk? He tells them: "Be courageous. Take some of the land's fruit."

Moses sends them out at the time of ripening of the first grapes. They explore the land. Caleb finds the graves of the Mothers and Fathers in Hebron, where there are giants and rocks and expertly cultivated land. He prays there. The scouts cut and carry a giant cluster of grapes in Eshkol, where they also find pomegranates and figs.

The 12 return after 40 days. "Flowing with milk and honey!" they proclaim, presenting the fruit. "But the people are powerful. Their cities are huge and protected. There are giants. The people are every..."

Caleb interrupts them: "We can definitely take the land."

The other scouts interrupt him: "We definitely can't go up against these people. The land consumes its inhabitants. The people are giants, and we appear as grasshoppers."

At this, the 70 elders -- all of them -- begin to shout, and the people cry out: "We should have died in Egypt. We should have died in the desert. Why is God leading us to destruction? It would be better to return to slavery. Let's appoint a new leader and descend again to Egypt."

Moses and Aaron fall on their faces before the people. Joshua and Caleb tear their clothes and challenge the congregation: "The land is a fantastic land. God will bring us to this land flowing with milk and honey. Don't rebel. Don't fear the land. God is with us."

The people -- all of them -- do not buy the story. They threaten to stone the optimists, but God's cloud of glory descends before them. All of them see.

Questions: Why shouldn't the people believe the 10 scouts who brings negatives reviews of the land? It's their word against Joshua and Caleb's, right? Why are the people so quick to believe the negative reports?

"How long will these people provoke Me?" God asks Moses, as if God doesn't know the answer. "After all of these miracles! Seriously? I will strike them with plague. I will destroy them. And from you I will make an even greater nation."

"And what will the Egyptians say to that?" Moses replies. "They won't believe You punished the people. They will say Israel could not defeat the peoples of Canaan. They will say that You could not help them. So, please, God, forgive them. Absolve them. Have compassion and kindness on them. As always."

"Fair enough," God says. "I forgive them. But only because of your prayer. And all those who challenged me so will not live to see the land with their own eyes. My servant Caleb, however, will enter the land and drives out its inhabitants. But not now. Turn around. Walk back toward the Sea whence you came."

God speaks to Moses and Aaron, asking how long God must endure the provocation of the spies. God tells them to tell the scouts that they will die in the desert. The people who were counted, too, will perish in the desert. Though their children will enter the land, they must bear the guilt of their parents for 40 years.

From the men who entered the land as scouts, only Joshua and Caleb live.

Moses relates everything to the people, who enter instantly into mourning. They wake early the next day and walk on the path to the Land. "We are ready to go!" they say to Moses. "We have sinned!"

"Why do you continue to transgress God's word?" Moses asks. "Do not go into the Land. God will not protect you. You will die."

They go anyway. And the people of the mountain thwart them.

Questions: Why isn't Joshua mentioned with Caleb? Why are the negative reports so upsetting to God? And why do the people continue to rebel? Why doesn't Moses just accept the fate of the people, instead of arguing with God on their behalf?

God explains the rules about offerings once the people enter the land. Each voluntary offering must be brought with an accompanying meal-offering and an appropriate libation. All pleasant aromas for God.

Converts should bring offerings in the same way as native Israelites.

"When you enter the land and eat of its bread," God says, "Immediately set aside a portion for Me. Whenever you knead, set aside dough as a gift. Do this for all your generations."

Then there's the matter of inadvertent communal idolatry, which is like ignoring all of the commandments. If this transgression stems from a judicial mistake, all the people should bring a young bull burnt-offering and a young goat sin-offering. The priest will atone for them since it was inadvertent. They will be forgiven.

If an individual inadvertently worships an idol, he should bring female goat sin-offering. The priest will atone for him.

But if a person intentionally worships an idol, his soul will be cut off.

On the second Sabbath that the people observe, they find a man gathering sticks. They warn him not to do this. But he does, so the people arrest him and ask Moses what to do. Moses asks God, who tells him that the man should be stoned to death outside of the camp by the entire congregation.

God tells Moses to tell the Children to make fringes for the corners of their garments. They should place a thread of deep turquoise among the fringes in each corner. When they see the fringes -- the tzitzit -- they will remember the commandments and not go astray.

God is God, who took you out of Egypt to God, your God.

Questions: What sort of judicial ruling could lead to idol worship? Why are these three distinct things -- rules of offerings, Sabbath-violation stoning and the tzitzit -- placed together in the text?

Resources for further commentary, discussion and reflection:

  • Haftorah Shelach Lecha -- In the supplemental haftorah, found in Joshua 2:1-24 the prophet continues Moses' mission. (My Jewish Learning)
  • Rashi on Parshat Shelach Lecha -- The classic commentator in all his interpretive glory. (Chabad)
  • The Animated Parshat Shelach Lecha -- "Will the Promised Land be flowing with milk and honey, or giants and battles? This week's guest narrator, Jay Michaelson invites the spies of Parshat Shelach Lecha to look inside themselves and see what the true story behind the challenges to come is: WE CAN DO IT!!" (G-dcast)
  • Very, Very Good -- "Humanity's lack of understanding of its role in the world and its relationship to HaShem is at the core of the problems facing our planet. Like the spies, all that is required of us is to recognize and internalize that HaShem's creation is indeed very VERY good." (Canfei Nesharim)
  • D'Var Tzedek -- "When God tells Moses in Parshat Shlach, "Send for yourself men to spy out the land of Canaan,"1 it sounds like the start of an exciting adventure. But what seems exhilarating soon becomes chilling--then downright devastating." (AJWS)
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