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Shelach (Send Forth) – Numbers 13:1 – 15:41

When Israel rejects the Land

Moses sends the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel to check out the land of Israel, to investigate its people and evaluate their strength or weakness, to taste the fruits and crops, and to determine the fertility of the land. The expectation is high and, indeed, the spies return with a report that the land flows with milk and honey. They bring back the fruit of the land to demonstrate its juiciness and sweetness.

But they also bring back a bitter report, that the land is full of giants and fortified cities. Despite the obvious natural riches that the spies observed, they reach a horrifying conclusion: “We are not able to go up against the people for they are stronger than us. And they spread an evil report of the land…” (Numbers 13:31-32)

Clearly, the spies were lacking in faith. They observed the fortifications but didn’t take into account the fact that G-d would protect them and would ensure their victory.

Interestingly, though, it is not their lack of faith that Scripture refers to in summarizing the punishment brought upon these spies. It is the fact that they have slandered the land, bringing evil words before the people of Israel.  “And the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land, who returned and made all the congregation grumble against him by bringing up a bad report about the land; the men who brought up a bad report of the land died by plague before the Lord.” (Numbers 14:36-37)

The Land of Israel is not just a gift that G-d has given to His people. It is a land that He set aside for them from the beginning of mankind. “Remember the days of old, Consider the years of ages past; Ask your father, he will inform you, Your elders, they will tell you. When the Most High gave nations their homes And set the divisions of Man, He fixed the boundaries of people In relation to the number of the Children of Israel” (Deuteronomy 32:7-8).  G-d did not just give us the Land. He divided up the lands of the rest of the nations only after he had first set aside the Land of Israel for His people. 

G-d has prepared His people to receive the ultimate gift — a land that He created especially for them, that He designated for them from creation and revealed His purpose to their forefather Abraham. And just as they are about to receive the gift, they reject it. Yes, they are afraid of the enemies that await them in the land, but they go beyond an expression of fear. They turn away G-d’s precious gift.

In 1948 and again in 1967, G-d presented this gift to His people once more. The State of Israel was created and later, the Biblical Heartland was liberated. This was the result of military victory, but the miracle of it all embodied G-d’s gift to His people. But instead of accepting the gift and trusting in Him to assist us to hold on to the gift, there were people within Israel who rejected it. Out of fear, indeed, but they rejected it nonetheless. And as the years progressed, they began to slander the land, calling it a land, “that devours its inhabitants” (Numbers 13:32), a land which will know no peace unless the people of Israel abandon it.

Yes, the land has been slandered and God surely trembles at the sound of such terrible words. There are a dedicated few who defend the land at every juncture, who cling to it with every fiber of their being. But will this be enough to protect us all?

Shabbat Shalom From Samaria,



Sondra Oster Baras
Director, Israel Office

8 thoughts on “Shelach (Send Forth) – Numbers 13:1 – 15:41”

    • As always I so enjoyed the “Biblical Feast” you so nicely provided this Shabbat morning!

  1. Very interesting take on the 12 spies. I think we also read that Joshua and Caleb were faithful: 2 out of the 12.
    You comment on the events in 1967 when Israel did not take full control of Jerusalem when they had the chance. I take that view totally and the fact that they ‘spurned’ G-d’s gift of the land to them again is something that is tragic. However, I refer to Ezekiel 36 which states that first the people return to the land and then G-d pours clean water over them. There is still hope which is much stronger than anything ranged against Israel Amos 9:15 states that once Israel is in the land she will not again be moved from it.

  2. Insightful teaching! The behaviour of Israel at the time of the Spies represents an addictive fear that has afflicted Israel, and also Christians over almost the whole of time. Slandering the land as Israel did at this stage is a gross failure of faith, and Israel is not alone in that! To me, this represents the battle ground of faith that each of us have to deal with actively on a day to day basis, and we do not do too well at it!

  3. It will be my priledge to visit the Land of Israel before my time on earth is past. As far as this reading is concerned somehow I see it as the people about us are the land. But I am not a conveyor of G-D Word. Thanks for helping me understand God’s word. I use my cell phone 9282457336

  4. It was so wonderful seeing you and where you live in Samaria. This Shabbat the church wanted to hear the good reports from the people who went to Israel. When they handed the microphone to me, I shouted. The land is full of giants, the sons of Anak, and we are just grasshoppers in their eyes. The church booed me, it was fun. And then I talked about the Shavout festival we went to. It was a fantastic visit to Israel, thank you for being a part of it.

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