You get a call from your friend, your employee, or a member of your family, advising you of an opportunity. A house 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. For example, here’s one kind of report:
“The house looks solid enough. Roomy, too. Big yard with fruit trees. In fact, we picked a couple of lemons and an avocado. But we can’t get in to see the inside because the agent demands an accepted offer first. Also it’s been painted recently so the price is very firm. Right down the street we saw some graffiti. Kids strolled by wearing their hats backwards, may be gang infested.”
And here’s another:
“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, 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 this week were talking about the same country. The important difference is how they checked it out.
The 12 spies Moses sends out in the Torah portion 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 walls and men of giant size. By a vote of 10 to 2, they convince the people that Canaan cannot be conquered.
In the Haftorah, Joshua sends two spies who are quite 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 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 that she 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 a message: Piece of cake. The locals dread them.
Chances are, neither report was 100% accurate. But the contrast is dramatic. The negative report in the Book of Numbers brings on 40 years in the desert. The positive report in the Book of Joshua empowers the people to take over Jericho in a week. Shofar blasts bring down the walls!
How do we go about checking out our opportunities? Do we suffocate them by analyzing the difficulties? And does that make them look insurmountable?
Am I too old to learn how to use a computer? After all, I’m not even a good typist, and computer science is as foreign as Swahili. I don’t have money to spend on software that becomes 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 40 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? 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 40 years.
Can I really patch things up with my sister? So much time has gone 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. 50-foot walls between us. Our antagonism is gigantic. Better stay in the Breygez (angry) desert for another 40 years.
Let’s take another look. Check it out again. Maybe we can turn part of our future around in just a week. Take 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, 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 both assume that time wounds all heels. Take the first step. Blow the shofar loud enough and the walls come tumbling down.