It behooves us, every year, as we reread the portion of the week, to try and gain additional insights, and similar to the mandate of the spies to see things differently. “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. What went wrong? They did not see things differently… from one another! Close reading again for the first time almost painfully points this out.
The narrative opens by introducing the spies in a curious yet crucial manner; God seemingly green lights the operation and instructs Moshe to choose twelve representatives:-
אִ֣ישׁ אֶחָד֩ אִ֨ישׁ אֶחָ֜ד לְמַטֵּ֤ה אֲבֹתָיו֙
Loosely translated as one representative from each tribe, but a closer reading invites a more overt and discernible description if not instruction. The tautology of “Ish Echad” is surely emphasizing the individual amongst the collective. To reinforce the point, the Torah then painstakingly provides all of their individual names that bear their individual stories.Moshe gives them multiple tasks, presumably in the hope that they will be delegated where different people will be responsible for the various assignments.
On their return, the tragedy of errors continues to unfold. In Chapter 13:26,
The tautology of “they went and came” seems to painfully highlight unity, yes, but agonizingly uniformity. This occurs in a place named Kadesh,.Sound familiar? It is the place where Miriam died and even more tellingly the same place when there was no water, ( commentators pick up on this juxtaposition, to explain that whilst Miriam was alive a well, her well, continuously sustained the people) and where Moshe struck as opposed to spoke to the rock. This beckons the devastating response by God 20:12 where He proclaims;
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהוָה֮ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֣ה וְאֶֽל־אַהֲרֹן֒ יַ֚עַן לֹא־הֶאֱמַנְתֶּ֣ם בִּ֔י לְהַ֨קְדִּישֵׁ֔נִי לְעֵינֵ֖י בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל לָכֵ֗ן לֹ֤א תָבִ֙יאוּ֙ אֶת־הַקָּהָ֣ל הַזֶּ֔ה אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־נָתַ֥תִּי לָהֶֽם׃
But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust Me enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them.”
This place, and occasion both for Moshe and the spies was supposed to be about Sanctifying God’s name, both failed, and the results for both are identical. They will not enter the Land of Israel. For Moshe it was using the rod rather than the word, for the spies it was similarly about the importance of speech, or more importantly speeches, not one account, but ten. This multiplicity of views is perhaps what brings about a “Kiddush Hashem” , the manifestation of that which is Holy.
Back to the narrative; In verse 27, again the resounding tautology,
They told him and said, in unison? Did ten representatives all say the same thing at the same time? Then almost at the climax of the pleas and counter report from Calev and Yehoshua, in 13:31, the group retorted;
וְהָ֨אֲנָשִׁ֜ים אֲשֶׁר־עָל֤וּ עִמּוֹ֙ אָֽמְר֔וּ לֹ֥א נוּכַ֖ל לַעֲל֣וֹת אֶל־הָעָ֑ם כִּֽי־חָזָ֥ק ה֖וּא מִמֶּֽנּוּ׃
But the men who had gone up with him said, “We cannot attack those people, for they are stronger than us.”
Note the group no longer has names, they have become “Anashim” a group lacking individual identities, voices and perspectives. Later in Chapter 14:27, the group is called an Eidah, a group of ten giving the exact same “testimony.”
The spies failed to bring nuance, to offer the multiple perspectives that would enable the people to make informed decisions. This missed “educational opportunity” has clouded our history ever since. We must work together to avoid it happening again.