Commentary on Parashat Shelach

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Read the transcript below, or watch a video of the teaching by Joseph Shulam.

Shalom, my name is Joseph Shulam and we are continuing recording the teachings from the Torah portions that are read in every synagogue next Shabbat.

The Torah portion that we’re going to be talking about today is probably one of the most interesting and more challenging Torah portions in the whole five books of Moses. There are several of these challenging portions and dramatic portions, like the giving of the law in Mount Sinai, chapter 20 of the Book of Exodus.

And now we are going to deal with Moses, commanded by God, to send men of renowned leaders in the camp, to tour the country and to examine the country that God promised Abraham to give him as an everlasting possession.

The portion starts in Book of Numbers, chapter 13, verse one, and ends in the book of numbers, chapter 15, verse 41. The Torah portion is called Shelach Lecha in Hebrew, which means, dispatch these men. The section from the prophet that is being read is from Joshua chapter two, verse one to verse 24. The section that we’ll read from the New Testament is Hebrews chapter three, from verse seven to chapter four, verse 13. And of course, I recommend all of you to read as much as you can of these texts, because that is the most important thing. Also, what’s just as important, is to know that the product is more important than the salesman; which means that the preacher, the pastor, I, or any other teacher is less important than the product itself.

The product is the word of God. What we’re talking about starts with the words, “And God commanded Moses saying send to yourself men, to tour the land,” to examine the land, to scout the land, to traverse the land. Whatever the translation you want of the Hebrew word, latur, all these meanings catch. I repeat to scout, to tour, to traverse, to examine; all these words mean “tur” in Hebrew. God tells him what kind of men he should choose for this mission. The men that he is to choose are the presidents, the leaders of the tribes. There are 12 tribes, and he should send 12 men. The men that are sent are supposed to be men of renowned, selected leaders of the tribes; and we have their names. From verse four we have the names of the representative of the tribe of Ruben, who’s the oldest son of Jacob. Then tribe after tribe, we have the names of the people that are sent.

Among them, of course, is Joshua, the son of Nun and Caleb, the son of Jephunneh. They are supposed to be among 12 leaders. I am repeating this. If you want to understand stories, you have to understand the beginning of the story and the end of the story. Everything in between the beginning of the story and the end of the story is a filler, important details, but it’s a filler. The fact that the story starts with the men that are chosen to go on this mission to scout the land and they are the presidents of the tribes of Israel is very, very significant.

In other words, Moses did not choose just anybody who wanted to go. He chose the best, the ones with the most talented gifts as presidents of the tribe. That makes the story much more significant. They’re supposed to go, examine the land, peruse the land, scout the land, and bring back a report. In verse 18 of chapter 13, we are told what they’re supposed to do; what they’re supposed to bring. They will look at the land; what kind of land it is? They will look at the inhabitants of the land that live on the land; are they strong or are they weak? Are there few or are there many? This is a strategic examination for somebody who’s getting ready to wage war. He has to know who is his enemy, how much power his enemy has, how many men his enemy has, and what kind of training they have?

In verse 19 of chapter 13, we read, what kind of land it is. Is it a good land? Is it a bad land? Are they living in fortified cities or in unfortified cities? In camps? In fortresses? This is all information that a good spy ought to bring back to the headquarters in order to be able to assess what is before them and what kind of force they need to conquer such a land. Is the land fruitful or not? Can it sustain such a large public as the children of Israel coming out of Egypt? Do they have fruit trees? Do they have grapes? Because grapes were not only for eating, but for wine, which was important.

And the men, these 12 men, get up and go in verse 21 of chapter 13. They cross the desert of Zin go all the way to the north, to Lebo Hamath, which is today in Lebanon. They go from the Sinai desert, all the way to the north of Israel to the Lebanon, to Lebo Hamath; and they tour the land, examine the land.

They come to the Negev and stop in Hebron, which is, and was, one of the major cities, where Abraham bought the tomb of Machpelah to bury Sarah and himself; and Isaac was buried there, and then Rebecca is buried there. Then Jacob is buried there, and Leah is buried there; in that same cave of Machpelah that Abraham brought from Ephron the Hittite. They meet there; Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai that were descendants of the giants, in Hebron. And they give us a date that the city was built before the city of Zoan in Egypt.

Then they looked at the agriculture; they found grapes, beautiful grapes. The grape bunch was so big that they had to have two men carry it on a pole, which is the symbol of tourism in Israel; the symbol of the Ministry of Tourism is two men carrying a huge grape bunch hanging on a pole between two men. The verses also tell us that they called the place Nachal Eshkol, which means the river of the grape bunch, and that the children of Israel picked there in that place.

And after 40 days of touring the land, they came back to Moses. Now, again, numbers in the Bible are typological. They’re not only arithmetic, they’re not only mathematical, but they’re typological. Anything to do with the number of four, 40, and 400 is a sign of testing. The children of Israel were 40 years in the wilderness. They were tested these 40 years in the wilderness. Jesus, 40 days and nights in the wilderness. He was tested by the devil in these 40 days and 40 nights. And these 12 leaders of the tribes that were sent to examine the land, to tour the land, to scout the land, spent 40 days walking up and down the land, examining the fruitfulness, the fertility, what kind of vegetables, what kind of trees? What kind of fruit, what kind of cities, what kind of inhabitants were in the land? 40 days, it’s not an accident that it’s 40 days, folks. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. The Torah is telling us this mission that Moses sent these 12 men, the presidents of the tribes, was a test. Not only to test the land, but to test the leadership of the tribes of Israel that were chosen men to go and do this scouting of the land.

Verse 26 of chapter 13, they came back to Moses and Aaron. And the whole community of Israel were camped at that time, in Kadesh, Kadesh-barnea by the desert of Paran, which is west of Beersheba. It was probably several days walk from Beersheba westward to Kadesh-barnea. And they bring with them their own impressions, their witness. They also bring and show the fruit of the land that they gathered and carried with them to show Moses and Aaron and children of Israel how fruitful that land is. Their answer comes in verse 27, of chapter 13 and says, “this is what we saw, you sent us to a land of milk and honey, and these are its fruits.”

The phrase, “the land of milk and honey” appears several times in the law of Moses, also in the Book of Exodus and also in the Book of Numbers and also in the Book of Deuteronomy; it appears several times. It’s a formula and there is a big debate amongst scholars about what it means: milk and honey. Are they talking about cow’s milk, goats milk, sheep milk, what kind of milk? And what does the honey mean? According to many of the scholar, they’re talking about date honey, “silan” in Hebrew and in Arabic. It’s not bee honey that bees make in a beehive, but it is honey that comes from the dates, processing the dates. It’s very similar to bee honey, but different taste, different consistency and different character. Some scholars say it is the date honey and others say is the bee honey. Whatever it is, its honey, that I can tell you for sure.

A land of milk and honey. What is the thing about the land of milk and honey? And that is, that men have nothing to do with the milk. They have to milk it out of the goat, out of the sheep, out of the cow, if they had cows. They had cows we know because in the sacrificial rights, they had bulls and cows as well, like heifers and veal and beef. They also had the land of milk and honey, which means these are two things that men have very little to do with. Milk is produced by the animal from God and honey, whether it’s bee honey or date honey is produced by the bees or by the dates themselves from the tree.

It’s not something that they had to till the land and feed the bees. No, it’s something that is independently provided in the land of Israel, by the land and by God; we see this in Isaiah. In Isaiah, when it’s talking about the land of Israel, and that is a land that is independently endowed by God, it says it’s blessed by God and the milk and the honey are produced by God, not by men; they don’t manufacture it. The bees, if it’s bee honey, the bees manufacture it. If it’s date honey, the dates manufacture it. And the milk comes from the goats or the sheep or the beef. Yes, which means that it’s a land that is independently sustainable by its nature.

We continue in verse 28 of chapter 13, “the people are strong.” Well, the people are strong. They are settling the land in fortified cities, big fortified cities, very big fortified cities. And they are descendants of the giants that we have seen there. And Amalek, the perpetual enemy of Israel, is settled in the Negev desert, the Hittites and the Jebusites are in the mountains, in the central mountain rage. The Canaanites are sitting in the Jordan valley and on the seashore. And now, they’re painting a picture of a complex situation in the land of Canaan.

Nothing is simple, what they’re saying is, nothing is simple. And then Caleb bursts into the scene in verse 30, says, be quiet. Caleb says to the people and to Moses, “We can go up and inherit that land and we can do it!” In other words, we can do it, it’s doable. “For us Israelites that we’re a generation of slaves, our fathers and our grandfathers, our great-grandfather were slaves in Egypt, but we are now free men and we can go and take the land.” But the people that were with him, the other spies, people that scouted the land together with Caleb said, “Oh, we can’t do it. These people are much stronger than we are.” And they brought out an evil report of the land as a result of their scouting the land. It’s a land that devours its inhabitants. That’s what they say in verse 32, “a land that devours its inhabitants and all the people that we saw there were big guys, strong guys.” True. “And we saw there the Nephilim, the sons of the giants. And we looked like grasshoppers next to them. And they looked at us and they thought we’re grasshoppers.” And they complained to Moses and to Aaron and the children of Israel and in front of all the leadership of the community that came out of Egypt into the desert. And they said, “We wish we were dead.

Yes, they discouraged the people. They robbed the people of faith, of hope, of confidence, self-assurance. And then they say in chapter 14, verse three, “Why did God even bring us out of the Egypt? Did he bring us out so we could die by the sword? Our women, our children will be devoured. They will be, you know, ashamed, put to shame. It would’ve been better for us to stay in the land of Egypt.”

Now, this is a very serious situation, folks. They’ve been going now for several years, several, I would say decades, maybe a decade since they left Egypt. And they’re at the edge of entering the land that God gave Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And now they’re saying, “Oh, we wish we had died in Egypt. Why did we even leave Egypt?” You see, this is one of the big issues of what faith means.

See, faith does not look only in the situation that is reality. Faith does not rely on our own strength. Faith relies on our track records of the past. Yes. The lamp from the past is the path for our future. That was one of Ben-Gurion’s mottoes. The first prime minister of Israel, the light from the past is our path for future. That’s what that leadership of the 10 tribes didn’t have. They didn’t calculate. We left Egypt. The sea was in front of us. The Egyptian army was behind us. Did we have a chance? No, but God took us through. We were in the wilderness. We didn’t have water. We could have died from thirst, from drying up. God provided water from us by striking, Moses striking the rock in chapter 17, I’m talking about, not the second time in the Book of Numbers. God told him, strike the rock. Water came out of the rock. They had the Amalekites attack them. Did they have a chance? No, but Aaron and Hur held the hand of Moses up in the air and the battle was won by Gods. All these events, they didn’t take into account. They didn’t take in God’s track record in taking care of his children. They looked at the reality and they allowed the reality to poison their faith.

That was the big sin of these spies, of these scouts, of these men that were sent to examine the land, to scout the land. It was not the issue of the reality that was in the land of Canaan. It was the issue of the lack of reality of how they saw themselves with God as their leader, as their general, as their president, as their warrior, that fought the battles for them and provided all their needs in spite of their complaining and their murmuring. That was the big sin of these 12 tribes.

That’s why only two people that left Egypt entered the land Canaan; Joshua, the son of Nun and Caleb, the son of Jephunneh. From among the people that were sent by Moses, the presidents of the tribes, only these two had faith.

And when they heard what the other ten spoke, what did they do? They used the customs of mourning for the dead. They tore their clothes in chapter 14, verse six. And they said to the community, to the crowd of the children of Israel, “We have gone and scouted the land and the land is very good! You could say that it is hard. You could say that the people there are big and sons of giants. You could say that they live in fortified walled cities. All true, but the land is good and we can do it. It’s a very good land and we can win it. How can we win it?” Verse eight of chapter fourteen. “If God wants us, if God brought us to this land, if God gave us this land, the land of milk and honey, with God, we can do it.”

This is a lesson for all of us folks. All of us, sometimes in our, life face, I would say, insurmountable difficulties. And we don’t know how we’re going to get out of it. And we don’t know where our salvation is going to come from. And we say, well, it’s time to give up. We’re giving up, I’m raising my hands, Lord, I can’t do it.

But Joshua and Caleb knew God. They were not only religious. All of them were religious. They were presidents of their tribes. But it’s possible to be religious and not to have enough faith. And the 10 spies, the 10 leaders of the tribes, they knew the facts; the land is beautiful, there’s fruit, grapes. It’s a good land, the land of milk and honey. But what they didn’t have, those 10, is that they didn’t trust the boss, our boss, the boss of the whole earth. The one that the whole earth is his footstool, the father and the creator of the world, the sun and the moon and the stars and everything in our galaxy; at least our galaxy, maybe more. That is the one that they didn’t know. And without him, yes, it looked hopeless. It looked bad, it looked hopeless. But the people who knew God, and they looked at the backlog, they looked at what God has done for them in the past. They said, we can do it. Not alone, with God’s help, we can do it.

And I want to tell you this; we are commanded in the letter of James, that whatever we decide to do, to say, if God helps us, in Arabic, Inshallah, in Hebrew, Reh-Tzone HaShem, with God’s will. And if you talk to a Jew, Orthodox Jews or to Muslim Arabs, they are not going to commit to anything. They’ll say God willing. We’re commanded to say God willing. I hear people in Israel, Arabs, and Jews, all the time say, God willing. They say, will you come to visit us next Friday, come to our house as a guest? God willing, I will come. The Arab will say Inshallah, I will come, but I don’t hear Christians keep the command that the letter of James tells us. We don’t say Inshallah. Joshua and Caleb said with God’s will, we can do it. And they did it.

We’re going to talk about this next section of the Book of Numbers and we are going to celebrate the punishment and the repentance of the children of Israel that equip them later to enter, to cross the Jordan, to enter the land and to take it. Let’s all take our land of Canaan with faith.

In Yeshua’s name, amen.

Shelach – Part 2 [2022]

Read the transcript below, or watch a video of the teaching by Joseph Shulam.

Shalom, my name is Joseph Shulam and together with Brad TV, we are doing every week, a teaching from the portion of the Torah that is read in every synagogue around the world.

I did a first session for the portion that is called Shelach Lecha, which means dispatch these people to tour the land. This portion is so central and so pivotal in the whole history of the Jewish people and in the settling of the land, that I think that I need to do a second session, a bit shorter session, to compliment the first session of this portion. So, you will have two sessions, of the same portion of Shelach Lecha, that starts in Numbers 13:1, and ends in chapter 15 verse 41.

So, in the first session, I stopped at dealing with the lack of faith of the 10 spies, tourists, or investigators, travelers, however you want to define them, that Moses sent.

Moses chose from every tribe, not just a representative, but the president of that tribe, the elect people, the people who are capable to lead. These led the group to check out the land, investigate the land, tour the land, bring a report of the land. What kind of land it is? What about the agriculture? What about the cities? What about the military defenses; fortresses whatever.

And they come back. They’ve been 40 days in the land touring about, walking about all the way from the Northern border of the land of Israel to the Southern border of the land of Israel. And 10 of them say, “Oh, it’s a beautiful land. It’s a wonderful land, but we can’t take it. The people there are too strong, they lived in fortified cities. They’re giants, we can’t do it.” Two men, Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun, say, “This is nonsense, we can do it. It can be done. We can go up to the land and conquer it and settle it.” And they try to encourage the people.

But both Moses and God are angry. Why are they angry? They’re angry because they have already spent several years in the wilderness and it’s toward the end of their tour. And they have seen the hand of God, miraculously deliver them from hunger, deliver them from thirst, deliver them from cruel enemies like the Amalekites. They have crossed the sea on dry land. The older people that were there at this time, still like Joshua and Caleb. They saw the plagues on Egypt. They ate the lamb on the night before they left Egypt and got liberated from their slavery of a couple of 100 years. They saw the hand of God, and the voice of God delivering the Torah to them in Mount Sinai. This is all happening after all these events and both Moses and God and these two men, Caleb and Joshua, had faith that God is with them and that they can do it. What seems impossible if you analyze it strategically with the mind of men and you don’t take into account that there is a creator that’s in control of his creation, then you may say like the ten did, “too hard, too hard, no, we can’t do it, we can’t do.

We look like grasshoppers in the eyes of the inhabitants of the land of Canaan.” They complained to Moses and they said, “Let’s get ourself,” new head, not Moses, and go back to Egypt.” This is after years that they had been wondering in the wilderness, let’s go back to Egypt.

Of course, God saw that as an affront to Him, as doubt in His reign, as doubt in His ability to rule and protect and guide the children of Israel whom he chose through Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.

Now, what is interesting is that the all the spies, all these messengers, actually said the truth. It’s a wonderful land, wonderful fruit, wonderful agriculture, a land of milk and honey, but they lacked that vitamin, called faith. And faith is a result of experience not of doctrine. True faith is trust, not doctrine. And that trust that they had already experienced so many times in the years of their wonderings in the wilderness, they didn’t have.

And in chapter 14 verse 9, Moses tells them, “You are rebelling against God.” “Don’t be afraid of the inhabitants of the land of Canaan because they’re like our bread. We can eat ‘em up. They have lost their shadow. They’ve got no substance. Don’t be afraid of them.” But what was the reaction of the people? The reaction of the people is, let’s stone them, stone the leadership. Joshua and Caleb and maybe Moses, and the other leaders that were, had faith. Some of the people there, said, “let’s stone them.”

And God says to Moses, in verse 11 of chapter 14, “That’s it, I can’t take it anymore. These people are not going to believe. They have not believed the signs and the wonders that I’ve done among them. And I will destroy these people and take you Moses, and create a new nation from you. I will strike them and make a new nation from you, a great nation from you.” And Moses argues with God and says, “When Egypt will hear that, they know that you have brought these people out of Egypt with great power. And then other people of the land will hear it that you are their God, in the midst of them. And that you have shown yourself eye to eye. And everybody knows that there is a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night that guides them; that you lead them. So, if you kill these people in the wilderness all the nations are going to say, ‘What is this?’ God could not bring these people to the land that He swore to them. And He destroyed them in the wilderness. Your reputation, God, will suffer.”

That’s Moses argument here. Didn’t you tell us in Exodus 34, that you are a long-suffering God, full of grace and truth? And you don’t overlook crime and sin, but you punish the sinners and the criminals to the third and the fourth generation? Moses challenges God to forgive these people.

And God says in verse 20 in chapter 14 “I forgive them just as you said, just as you asked, but I will fill the whole earth with the glory, my glory. For the people will see my glory and my signs which I have done on Egypt and in the wilderness. And they have tried me 10 times. They’ve tried me in the wilderness. I swear to you Moses that that generation, except Caleb and Joshua are not going to enter into the land.” Such a pivotal point.

God’s patience with his children has a limit. That’s something that our Christian brothers don’t realize. There is a limit to grace. There is a limit to mercy. There is a limit to forgiveness. It’s not endless, and it’s not without consequences. And this story is one of the best places to learn this because God says in verse 27 of chapter, “How long are they going to continue this evil, this complaining, this bad talking? I’m tired of hearing them.” And as you’ve said, as you wanted, that’s what’s going to happen to you. You are going to die in the wilderness. You are not going to enter into the land. I’ve carried you, the word here, “I carried you like a baby. I carried you in the wilderness.”

“So, you’re not going to enter, but Caleb and Joshua are going to enter and your children are going to enter. Your bodies are going to die in the wilderness and your sons will wonder for 40 years in the wilderness and they will carry their spiritual prostitution to the end. 40 days you were out there in the land. Now you’ll spend 40 years in the wilderness and you will carry your sins with you 40 years. And you will know me, that what I’ve spoken to you and to the whole community, is true; and everybody will witness this.”

Now, this is the pivotal point. Two people out of 10, out of 12, two people out of 12, Joshua and Caleb, entered into the land, participating in the conquest of the land. Built their families in the land and received their inheritance in the land. But the other 10 presidents of the tribes and their generation didn’t.

What can we learn for ourself today from these events? Number one, we can learn that God keeps His words. Number two, we can learn that a man of God can argue with God and change His mind. God’s mind is not set in cement. Moses was able to change God’s mind more than once. Abraham was able to change God’s mind. Jacob even was able to get through when he fought the angel in the river, crossing the river Jabbok.

So yes, this is a very important lesson. It’s an important lesson because all of us tend to allow our fears to control our actions and our faith then sits in the backseat. We have got to move our faith to the front seat and hold the steering wheel of our life and drive looking forward, based on the promises of God. That’s our highway. And this reading of the portion that’s called Lech Lecha, dispatch, go forward is very important for us to learn. And that the lack of faith, not of the people or the plain people of the leadership, can sink the ship.

Yes, that’s why to be leaders is such a big responsibility; it’s such a big job. It’s a lonely place; Moses was lonely. But if you want to be leader, if you are called to be a leader, if you’re called to be a teacher of God’s word, you’ve got to realize that what you do will have consequences to all the people. And you need to be able to bear the criticism, bear the lack of faith. And as the leader, you’re holding the steering wheel in your hand, and all the train is behind you; all the way to the caboose. Those that want to get on that train like that old song, “This train, don’t carry no sinners;” whatever the words are of that song, English folk song, is that we are looking forward with eyes of faith.

God’s promises are being fulfilled every day. Especially if you look at the land of Israel, and the people of Israel, and the nation of Israel. After 2000 years of the dispersion around the whole world, we are a living fulfillment of God’s promises. We’ve got all kinds of Jews here. We have Ashkenazi Jews, Sephardic Jews, Ethiopian Jews, Jews from the Arab countries, tomato Jews orange Jews, carrot Jews, all kind of Jews. You want, we’ve got ‘em here. And all of it is a result of fulfillment of God’s promises that he gave to our forefathers thousands of years ago.

So we have no reason to be despondent, no reason to be fearful, no reason to hold back. Our Aliyah returns to the land. We have to look forward, standing on the promises of God, as the song says.

And until then, dear brothers and sisters keep reading the Torah. It is a word of wisdom, a word of encouragement a lesson to be learned every day.

God bless all of you. Amen.

These videos and transcripts originally appeared on Netivyah and is reposted with permission.