This week’s parsha of Shelach Lecha could be described as a “circle poem”, characterized by the way the start and end employ the same word or phrase. The sound of the first two words Shelach Lecha send for yourself, conjures this, but more significantly the key phrase and perhaps cause for the spiraling fall; Latur to scout, both opens and closes the portion.
“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” In this thought Jonathan Swift, the Irish writer, poet and cleric knowingly or not captures the very essence of the tragic drama that so radically changed the course of our history as described in the portion of Shelach Lecha. The twelve spies are to scout out the Land, but tellingly when Moshe provides more detailed instructions from verse 17 of chapter 13, in what would appear to be tautology, he exhorts them to see.
ויִּשְׁלַח אֹתָם משֶׁה לָתוּר אֶת אֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם עֲלוּ זֶה בַּנֶּגֶב וַעֲלִיתֶם אֶת הָהָר:
Moses sent them to scout the Land of Canaan, and he said to them, “Go up this way in the south and climb up the mountain.
וּרְאִיתֶם אֶת הָאָרֶץ מַה הִוא…
And you shall see what kind of land it is… There then follows more details as to what to inspect. The narrative suggests that Moshe fearing the worst, (as shown by his changing Hoshea’s name to Yehoshua) gives very specific guidelines. Key among them is the capacity to see not just scout , climb the mountain to see and gain perspective, a shallow exploration will not provide the necessary insight.
Might we suggest that Moshe arranging the first Israel experience in Jewish history implies both a timely and timeless request; do not visit Israel as tourists תיירים, visit as seers, as visionaries, see what might be invisible to others.
The portion poetically closes with the familiar third paragraph of the Shema, detailing the commandment of Tzitzit. In the almost penultimate verse ;
וְהָיָה לָכֶם לְצִיצִת וּרְאִיתֶם אֹתוֹ וּזְכַרְתֶּם אֶת כָּל מִצְוֹת יְהֹוָה וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם וְלֹא תָתוּרוּ אַחֲרֵי לְבַבְכֶם וְאַחֲרֵי עֵינֵיכֶם אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם זֹנִים אַחֲרֵיהֶם:
This shall be fringes for you, and when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the Lord to perform them, and you shall not wander after your hearts and after your eyes after which you are going astray.
In these instructions, God in a sense, restates the art if not the obligation of seeing, evoking the plea of Moshe; lir’ot not Latur, a focused and rigorous look, being truly observant is not possible with only a superficial viewing, for this may lead us astray. Seeing requires points of view, enabling deeper and profound insights that ought to guide our pursuit of righteousness and the promise of the Land.