THE SELECTION PROCESS – Sh’lakh l’kha – Num. 13 – by Rabbi Baruch Cohon
If you are running a business, how do you decide on a branch manager? If you’re running a nation, how do you pick an ambassador? If you are looking for a medical breakthrough, how do you staff a lab? And if you are facing a military enemy, how do you qualify a scout to bring you advance intelligence? Difficult decisions, all of them. Yet they are important – even vital. And sooner or later, we all face similar challenges to our judgment.
In this week’s reading, Moses hears the Divine message: “Send out men for yourself, and let them explore the Land of Canaan.” Rashi and other commentators note the word l’kha – “for yourself.” They conclude that this apparently extra word is not superfluous at all, but indicates that the process of sending spies into Canaan is not a Divine commandment. It is merely a permission granted Moses to do something he and other Israelites were already thinking about doing. We know that some tribal chiefs were ready to give up the idea of getting a country of their own, and openly advocated choosing new leaders and going back to Egypt. Rather than leave it to them to make the choices, G-d gives Moses the go-ahead, as a step toward invading the Land.
The Klee Yokor offers two conflicting comments on this story. Noting that the selection of the spies follows immediately after Miriam’s punishment for badmouthing Moses and his wife, the text specifies “send out men.” The Talmud in Kidushin contains the statement: “Ten portions of conversation came into the world. Women took nine of them!” Since women tend to chatter and gossip, Miriam being a woman initiated the slander about Moses. Aaron was secondary to her. Therefore the message says “send out men,” because they will be less likely to slander the Land.
On the other hand, the Klee Yokor offers his own opinion. Citing the Yalkut to the effect that the men disliked the Land, the rebellious men even advocating return to slavery in Egypt, he underscores Rashi on a later story in Numbers where the seven daughters of Zelophehad ask for a possession in the Land of Israel. The women loved the Land. They would not report on it in such a way as to run it down. So in effect G-d is telling Moses: “All right, you want to send men? Go ahead. But I know it would be better to send women.”
Who gets selected? Twelve men, one for each tribe. These are not the tribal princes named in the Torah readings of the last 2 weeks. Those princes brought the 12 identical offerings that dedicated the altar. They led their tribes on the journey from Sinai to Paran. But none of them will be selected to explore Canaan. Apparently Moses decides he needs different qualities for this job. We do not know how he made his selections. All we read here are twelve new names. No, not twelve. Eleven. Because one of the spies, the one representing the tribe of Ephraim, is none other than Moses’ right hand man, Joshua. Here we learn his original name Hoshea, signifying the act of saving or rescuing, and Moses adds the letter yud making it Yehoshua – starting with the letters yud & hey, the two letters of a Divine name – indicating that G-d will save.
With all Moses’ wisdom we would expect him to select the right men for this key assignment. And yet, when they complete their exploration and return to camp with their load of fresh fruit harvested in the Land, they report that the natives there are giants, with impregnable defenses, and we cannot conquer them. Only two spies disagree, and insist that with Divine help the battle can be won. One of those two is Joshua; the other is Caleb from the tribe of Judah. Badly outnumbered in the report, they tear their clothes in mourning and insist that with G-d’s help the Land can be Israel’s. The people follow the majority of the spies, and revolt. Tragic consequences follow. Plague, a disastrous battle, the rebellion of Korach, and another 38 years in the desert. Couldn’t Moses have picked more positive spies?
Or is this the kind of result to be expected? Take away the inspiration of Mitzvah, and negative reports follow. Appoint explorers – of a country or of an idea – who dig in with vision and with faith in their effort, and you have a much better chance. We look for inspired men – or women – and sometimes we find them. Moses succeeded twice out of 12 tries. How many of us can do as well?
Success of any investigation also depends on another factor. Reconnaissance can only supply reports. If those receiving the reports have a negative mindset they will retreat. The boss, the president, the doctor, the general — whoever sends for the information – must maintain confidence in the possibility of success.
Our Haftorah tells a similar tale with a far different result. The 38 years have passed, and Joshua is now leading the people. He also sends spies. Just two, this time. One being Caleb, his one positive colleague from the first exploration. Now 80 years old, Caleb represents experience. The other spy is a youth of 18, the figure of courage. They don’t travel the country or harvest any grapes. They just spend a day and a night with a female innkeeper named Rahab, and learn enough to bring Joshua and the Israelite army to a victorious campaign against Jericho. Mitzvah was there, confidence was there. And a woman plays a key role too.
Let’s hope it will not take 38 years to deal with our challenges and realize true value from our own explorations. Whether the challenges are military, commercial, medical or diplomatic, we pray we can face them wisely and put our explorations to positive use. Ken y’hee rotzon.