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Shelach Lecha (send for yourself!)

Numbers 13:1 to 15:41, Joshua 2:1-24


Note that the tribe of Levi did not participate in the scouting. Does this mean the scouts were intended to explore territory they considered "theirs" by God's promises? (The Levites, of course, had no territory.)

In verse 14:2 we learn that it was the Israelites, not God, who first proposed that death in the desert is preferable to entering the promised land.

The word nefeleem appears only in Genesis 6:4 and Numbers 13:33. It literally means "fallen ones". The Anakim are "giants", called "children of the Anak" in verse 13:28 and "the fallen ones, sons of Anak" in verse 13:33.

Verse 14:12 is the second time God offers to destroy the Israelites and from Moses remake them.

Does verse 14:22 introduce a general principle, that God only allows phony repentance a few numbers of times?

What are the ten instances of "testing God and not listening to his voice" which verse 14:22 alludes to? Exodus 5:21 (enemies), 14:11 (enemies), 15:24 (water), 16:2 (food), 16:27 (food), 17:2 (water), 20:16(19) (worship) and 32:1 (worship), and Numbers 11:1 (food) and 14:1 (enemies). The total: three times about enemies, twice about water, three times about food, and twice about worship.

Traditional Jewish Commentary

There are many interesting comments about the phrase "send for yourself..." which begins this Parasha. (1) Even Shoev writes that the phrase implied a previous conversation between God and Moshe, in which the idea of spies was suggested by the Israelites, brought before God by Moshe, and now God was saying it was allowable but was not divinely inspired. (2) R'Bechaye, in an uncommon neglect of consideration of the World to Come, says the phrase emphasize that the spies will only benefit Moshe, who is destined to not enter the Promised Land: the extra 40 years is good for him, at everyone else's expense. (3) The Tz'enah Ur'enah comments that the phrase is similar to Proverbs 21:31 in teaching that we must rely on God but also not neglect our share of doing the work we are called by God to perform.

A sequence of rabbinical stories has been formed around verse 13:16, in which Moshe blesses Joshua and changes his name from Hoshea (savior) to Yehoshua (may God save you). The addition of the letter yud, which has a numerical value of ten, forshadowed Joshua standing against ten of the other spies. Moshe gave his staff to Joshua to carry, and during their scouting the staff, through this blessing of Joshua's name change, protected them from being detected. The blessing also helped Joshua be courageous in disagreeing with the ten naysaying spies. When they spied the more densely populated land around Hevron, Joshua alone proceeded with the staff (the verb "came" in verse 13:22 is singular) to that city. Upon returning to Moshe, Calev contradicted the negative report while Joshua remained silent; Joshua was waiting to be consulted to resolve the disagreement, and when the people immediately despaired instead of consulting him then Joshua was the first to tear his clothes.

A Midrash teaches that in verse 13:22 the spies come to the south, and then God himself (becasue of the singular verb "came") visits Hevron to tell the patriarchs in their tombs that their descendents were beginning to take the Promised Land.

In verse 13:17 the spies are told to go from the far south (the Negev) to the far north (the hills).

Moshe asks the scouts, in verse 13:20, to see if a "tree" is in the land. One interpretation is that Moshe meant a righteous person who would stand tall (like a tree) and avert a city's doom, such as happened when Abraham begged that Sodom be spared because of Lot and Lot's family. Joshua and Calev report in verse 14:9 that conquest will be as easy as eating bread, because "their shadow has departed from them" (the "shadow" which is also interpreted to mean that type of righteous person, whose righteousness covers the city metaphorically like a sukkah).

In verse 13:32 the spies report that the land "consumes" people. Tradition interprets this as referring to a plague that God sent to distract the people of the land, as part of hiding the spies. Thus this detail contradicts verse 13:28 which claims the people are strong—but the Israelites do not notice the lie.

The phrase "cleanses, but will not cleanse" in verse 14:18 ("Adonai is long-suffering and great of mercy, bearing iniquity and rebellions, he cleanses but will not cleanse") is understood to mean that God forgives those who repent (gives them a "clean slate" in the English idom) but will not force repentance (does not clean people's heart for them). Comparing verses 14:5 and 14:40 we see Moshe had genuine repentance but the Israelites did not.

Chizkuni comments that Joshua is not included along with Calev in verse 14:24 because Joshua had no children. Furthermore, the reason that Calev was blessed with children and Joshua was not is becasue Calev spoke out against the negative report of the spies, whereas Joshua remained silent.

A passage about accepting sacrifices in the land (15:1-31) was to reassure the Israelites that God meant what was promised about the younger generation entering the Promised Land in forty years.

Note that the people are only a few days from Sinai. The first Sabbath after departing from Sinai happened during the week of waiting for Miriam to be healed. On this second Sabbath someone does work and is stoned.