CHECK IT OUT – Sh’lakh l’kha – Num. 13-15 – by Rabbi Baruch Cohon

CHECK IT OUT – Sh’lakh l’kha – Num. 13-15 – by Rabbi Baruch Cohon

You get a call from your partner, your employer, or a member of your family, advising you of an opportunity. A house is for sale in a neighborhood you like. You are interested. So you suggest: Check it out.

Depending on how that person goes about checking out the prospective purchase, you may or may not want to make an offer on it. Forexample, here’s one kind of report:

“The house looks solid enough. Roomy, too. It has a big yard with fruit trees. In fact, we picked a couple of bananas and an avocado – not bad, eh? Can’t get in to see the inside because the agent demands an accepted offer first. But it’s been paintedrecently, so the price is very firm. Right down the street we saw some graffiti. Teens strolled by wearing their hats backwards – could be gang infested.”

And here’s another view:

“Got talking with the lady next door. Found out the owner is very anxious to sell. Open to any offer. Just modernized the kitchen and redecorated, and then got transferred to the east coast. So he has no cash on hand to put down on a home there. Anyone with a large down payment can write their own ticket. Neighborhood Watch is very effective; no major problems.”

Are these two people talking about the same house? Sure they are. Just as the two groups of spies we will read about in this week’s Torah portion were talking about the same country. An important difference is how they “checked it out.”

The 12 spies Moses sends out in the Sedrah are princes. Executives. Commissioned officers. They follow accepted procedures – sample the fruit, assess the strength of the fortifications, take note of the appearance of  the local population. If they only had video, they could bring back picture and sound to back up their report of 50-foot-high walls and men of giant size. By a vote of 10 to 2, they convince the people that Canaan can’t be conquered.

In our Haftorah, Joshua sends just 2 spies. They are different. One is 80-year-old Caleb – the only surviving member of the original checker-outers and one of the dissenting minority (Joshua himself being the other dissenter). The second spy is a youth of 18. One is chosen for courage, the other for wisdom. They don’t take notes and they don’t bring samples. They spend the night with Rahab. Her occupation is Innkeeper, providing accommodations to travelers. From the Hebrew word zonah we gather thatshe provides other comforts too. Either way, she has ample opportunity to gauge the spirit of the population. She trades her inside information for a guarantee of safety, and the two spies return with an exciting message about Canaan: Piece of cake.

Chances are neither report is 100% accurate. But the contrast is dramatic. The negative report in the Book of Numbers brings on 38 more years in the desert. The positive report in the Book of Joshua empowers the people to take over Jericho in a week.

How do we go about checking out our opportunities? Do we suffocate them by analyzing the difficulties? And does that make them insurmountable?

Am I too old to learn to use a computer? After all, I’m not even a passable typist, and computer science is as foreign to me as Swahili. I have no money to spend on computer software that can become obsolete in half an hour – let alone the furniture that goes under all that equipment. I’d better stay in the lead pencil desert for another 38 years.

Do I have the discipline to change my health habits? After all, those exercise machines are really no better than a good walk around the block, are they? And didn’t you hear about the fellow that lost big pounds and built up his muscles – and died anyway?

I don’t trust those diets either. Every couple of weeks a new one comes out, and they contradict each other. I’d better stay in the Aspirin and Alka Seltzer desert for another 38 years.

Can I really patch things up with my sister? So much time went by. She’ll consider me stupid for trying. Whatever happened between us isn’t even the issue any more. We just have different lives now. We built 50-foot walls between us. Our antagonism is gigantic. Better stay in the Breygez (Angry) desert for another 38 years.

Take another look, friends. Check it out again. Maybe we can turn part of our future around. Accept a message from your friendly “Innkeeper:”

A computer is just a tool, and a few simple functions of it can make your life easier and more interesting. The first cream puff you forego, and the first stationery bike ride you take, can be the first step to feeling better. And as for your sister, maybe you and she can at last agree that “time wounds all heels.”

Our Haftorah has a sequel. After the two spies return with their positive report, Joshua mounts the campaign to conquer Jericho. The sequel, later in the same book, recounts Joshua’s signal to attack. He sounded the shofar, and the walls came tumbling down.

Blow that shofar loud enough, and we can wake ourselves to action. Our success in decisions that affect our own lives can bring us blessing.

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