Great people are not afraid to put their name behind their convictions. “And Calev quieted the people for Moshe and said, ‘We will rise and rise and inherit the land, as we can surely do it’” (13:30). Those of lesser quality prefer to hide behind the cloak of anonymity. “And the people who were with him said, ‘We will not be able to go up’”. It is easy to criticize, complain and condemn; as long as one can hide behind others, it is not “me” but rather “they” who will be blamed should things go wrong. It takes courage to stand up and do the same thing publicly.
How can two people witness the exact same events and yet offer two distinct and different reports? This question is one that jumps out as we examine the story of the meraglim. The Torah had been received, the mishkan built and dedicated, the census taken. All that remained was the march to the Promised Land of Israel to implement the Torah way of life.
Of the twelve men sent to bring back a report about the land of Israel, only one of them—Yehoshua—has previously been mentioned in the Torah. During the war against Amalek, Yehoshua served as the commanding officer leading them into battle. This military experience would serve him well for his mission forty years later when he would lead the Jewish people in their conquest of the land of Israel.
Having the right people for the wrong job can lead to tragic consequences. Such was the fate of the meraglim. Twelve handpicked leaders, who represented the best the Jewish people had to offer, were to serve as the final link between Egyptian slavery and Israeli redemption. Yet something went terribly wrong and this was not to be.
Parshat Shelach Lecha is perhaps the most tragic parsha of the Chumash. The march of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel came to a sudden standstill--one that would last a long forty years.
Who should get the blame for the meraglim fiasco? Was it the report of the spies, or the lack of faith of the people that did us in? Might it be possible to question Moshe’s judgment in sending spies in the first place? And might we even question G-d who, knowing the fickle nature of His people, allowed them to fail? When leaving Egypt, G-d “did not lead us the way of the Philistines, although it was the shortest route, because G-d said perhaps the people will lose heart when they see war and will return to Egypt” (Shemot 13:17).
Sefer Bamidbar describes not only the physical locale of the Jewish people, but their spiritual state. Wandering in the desert, they could not be self sufficient, neither physically nor spiritually. The book reads like one depressing story after another. While Bamidbar makes for fascinating reading and its lessons are crucial for community building, for those in the desert, little came of their aimless wandering.
Of the 12 leaders sent to Israel to help prepare the people for their imminent entry into the land, only Yehoshua is previously known to us. He was Chief of Staff during the Jewish people's first war, when Amaleki terrorists attacked the women and children of Israel soon after the Exodus.