Parshat Shelach: Miracle Fruit or Food for Giants: miracles are in the eye of the beholder
The spies, according to the Midrash, saw funerals wherever they went and concluded “this is a land that consumes it’s inhabitants.” When, actually, G-d “arranged” the funerals to distract the locals from discovering the spies in their midst. The spies reported that Israel was unconquerable because it had “fortified cities.” While, according to the Midrash, when Moses briefed them, fortified cities were a sure sign that the inhabitants were weak and fearful of attack. And then there’s Israel’s Ministry of Tourism iconic logo with men carrying oversized fruit. If you saw those fruits in Shuk Machane Yehuda you might declare that “Israel is blessed with amazing fruits.” Or you might use it as a show and tell, as the spies did, to spread fear about a country inhabited by oversized people with oversized appetites.
The Hebrew word for miracle, “ness,” is also the word for test. Because every miracle is a test as to whether it was perceived as a miracle or it can be explained away in a more rational manner. In a recent TOI article about the anniversary of the bombing of the Iraq nuclear facility, the Israeli pilots credited Menachem Begin for setting down a principle in which any country that vows to annihilate Israel cannot have access to nuclear weapons. But with the clock ticking towards completion of the bomb, Israel was powerless to stop them because they had no jets with the range to bomb Iraq and return to Israel. Ironically, the Islamic revolution in Iran provided the just-in-time solution. The US was about to sell advanced fighter jets to the Shah of Iran but hastily scuttled the plan and offered them to Israel instead. Suddenly Israel had the ability to carry out this vital mission. Miracle or coincidence?
It’s reported that in the first hours of the the Six Day War, Jordanian radar operators, troubled by the unusual number of Israeli jets in the air that day, sent a coded warning to the Egyptians. But the Egyptians had changed their codes the day before without bothering to inform the Jordanians. Meanwhile, during Israel’s initial pre-emptive airstrike, the commanders of the Egyptian armed forces and air force were away from their posts on an inspection tour. Egyptian air defenses were ordered not to fire on any aircraft while the transport plane was in the air. Once again, miracle or coincidence is in the eyes of the beholder.
Eight of the ten spies in our Parsha reported back that the Promised Land was a lost cause. Even miracles couldn’t save them. After all, the inhabitants were “giants.” The Midrash makes a fine distinction in their choice of words. G-d could forgive the spies for reporting their lack of self confidence in saying “we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves.” That accurately reflected how the spies looked upon themselves. But G-d could not forgive the spies for falsely reporting how the “giants” looked upon them. The Midrash asks, “who said the giants perceived the spies as “grasshoppers?” Maybe the spies were seen as angels? How do the spies know what ideas G-d put into the minds of the giants?”
Fast forward a few thousand years and the tables are turned. The world marvels at little Israel’s miraculous achievements. The third most listings on NASDAQ after US and China. The fourth country to send a spacecraft to the moon.
Yet when Israelis look at their own history and achievements, many feel more at home with the narrative of the spies and see nothing miraculous about it.