Shabbat Shalom. This week's torah portion, "Shelach Lecha," has two parts. The first deals with the spies who are sent to check out the Promised Land; and the second part deals with laws governing sacrifices and the wearing of fringes on the garments.
In the beginning, Moses calls upon each of the twelve tribes to send a representative. These men scout out the Land of Canaan which the people hope to soon enter. During their expedition, the twelve spies see many wondrous and also disquieting things. The land is so abundant, that it yields grapes that are of such size that a bunch must be carried by two men with a pole.
When the spies return, they report to Moses in front of all the people. Two of the dozen, Joshua and Caleb, tell everyone that Canaan is a land flowing with milk and honey, but the other ten are more pessimistic in their report. They say the land is barren and devours its inhabitants, and also that the inhabitants are prosperous giants that they cannot hope to defeat. (Is this a contradiction? Quite possibly, but we believe that each individual spy might use a different example to support the same recommendation of inaction.) Joshua and Caleb counter that even though the inhabitants are strong, they believe that the Israelites can beat them, and that the land is definitely worth having.
The people side with the ten pessimists. They say it is better to have died in Egypt or in this wilderness than to attempt to fight these giants and die. The Lord becomes very angry and threatens to destroy all the people, but Moses pleads with him with the famous passage, "The lord [is] slow to anger, abounding in kindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression," and the Lord repents. However, he decrees that this generation, for their lack of faith, will all die in the wilderness and that no one over the age of 20, except for Joshua and Caleb, will be allowed to enter the Land, which will now not be for another 38 years.
Too little, too late, the people decide they now want to enter the Land, and attempt a battle against the Cannanites and the Amalekites. However, Moses remains behind and the Israelites suffer a terrible defeat.
What a tragedy! Why did this happen? What went wrong? We believe that this is because the people became confused because the twelve spies did not provide a unified report. Had all twelve agreed, we believe that this chapter would have turned out differently--for the better.
Why did they not agree? Perhaps it is impossible for twelve people to agree on anything. Perhaps not. We wonder what the torah does NOT say. Did the spies try to make a unified report? We would like to speculate with our own midrash. Here now is a fictional recreation of a meeting we believe might have happened just before the spies made their report....
It had been a most interesting month. The spies had journeyed all over the Land of Canaan, and seen such diverse things. They had split up on many occasions. In the South, the land was barren and rocky. To the East, it was populated with great cities. To the West, was the sea; and to the North, great land for farming. It was there they had seen such luscious fruits, most especially wondrous were the giant grapes. Ammiel, of the tribe of Dan, and Sethur, of the tribe of Asher, had to carry the grapes between them on a pole. At first, Sethur was proud to carry them, but after a while, they got heavy and he began to complain on the long trip home.
Each man had his own private thoughts at this moment of journey's end. The next morning, they would return to the Israelite encampment in the wilderness and report to Moses and the people all they had seen. As they sat down at the campfire, cooking their last dinner of the trip, Joshua, of the tribe of Ephraim, broke the silence. "Men," he said, "tomorrow we will be home after our long journey, but the greatest task is yet ahead of us. We must report to Moses. What shall we tell him?"
Caleb, who represented the tribe of Judah, was the first to answer. "That is simple. That this is a land flowing with milk and honey. This land promised to us will be a joy forever to live in and to raise our families in. Our faith in the Lord was justified, for this is a good land that we are about to posses."
Shammua, representing the tribe of Ruben, said, "Now just wait a minute, Caleb. I'm not so sure that we have seen the same land. I saw a land filled with rocks and dust. And that weird salty sea by which nothing will grow! This is a cursed land that devours its settlers. I cannot imagine raising a family here."
"Nor will you," said Shafat, who came from the tribe of Simeon. "Even if we wanted to, we could never conquer this land. The cities have such tall and thick walls and the giants that live inside are undefeatable. So strong are the inhabitants of this land!"
Joshua said, "Shafat, you think they are too strong, and Shammua, you think they are too weak. This does not make sense."
And Igal, of Issachar, said, "Of course this makes no sense, Joshua. This land is strange and alien. We will never find peace here. We would be better off to return to the fleshpots of Egypt."
Then Caleb said, "How can you say that? Has two years in the desert dulled your memory? Even if what you say were true, it is better than being slaves."
And Joshua said, "Look, everyone, I think we had better agree on what we are going to tell Moses tomorrow. We twelve men must be united and speak with a single voice."
"Why?" said Palti, of Benjamin, "So you can be our leader? You are a vain and egotistical man, Joshua. Who do you think you are? Moses' successor? Let us each speak for ourselves."
Then Gaddiel, from the tribe of Zebulun, said, "No, I think Joshua is right. We should speak with a single voice. We twelve must all say, unanimously, that this land is not worth it."
"Not worth it?" said Caleb. "This is a wondrous land. Just look at these grapes which we are bringing back from Mt. Carmel. Think of the glorious wine we can make from them. What praise to God we can give!"
And with that, quite a cacophony went up and they argued for an hour. It was clear they could not reach a single agreement, each man convinced of his own rightness. Joshua's face fell as he realized they could never speak with a single voice. Finally, he quieted them. "Gentlemen," he said, "let each man say to Moses what he believes. Moses will sort through our details and evidence and draw his own conclusions." At least all twelve could agree on that.
The matter being settled, their little camp quieted and they prepared for sleep. The fire died down; Nahbi, of Naphtali, was posted to be the guard; and a darkness descended upon the twelve men. When they finally drifted off to sleep, Joshua had a dream. He dreamed he was no longer a spy, but an old man who was a leader and sending out spies of his own.
The next morning, they broke camp and quickly hurried back to the Israelite encampment, anxious to report to Moses. But before they were within two leagues of the encampment, they were spotted and the people began to run out after them. Shouts of "Welcome back! What did you see? What did you bring? My God, look at those grapes! Tell us, what is our land like?" pierced the air. Before they could get anywhere near Moses, they began to talk. Geuel, of Gad, was the first to break silence and soon all the others followed suit. Before they knew it, they had told the people everything, each his own story, each his own recommendation.
Finally, the group approached Moses, in the center of the camp. Surrounded by the elders, by the priests, and accompanied by his brother Aaron, Moses went up to the spies who had all the people following behind them. And Moses said to the spies, "Nu?" And they all started to talk at once.
What lessons can we learn from this for today? Do we have a situation in the contemporary world where twelve people must agree on something? Yes, we do. In our justice system. As anyone who has ever been called for jury duty knows, juries must sort through often contradictory evidence and return with a unanimous verdict. This is not easy, as Joshua and Caleb found out.
Remember the movie "Twelve Angry Men"? Eleven men believe that the defendant is guilty and one lone man, Henry Fonda, believes he is innocent. Instead of declaring a hung jury, Henry Fonda, one-by-one, convinces all the others of his view so that finally in the end all twelve men are united. Why does the judicial system insist that a jury must return with a unanimous verdict? And how can you get twelve people to agree on something so important as a man's guilt or innocence, if they cannot even agree on what they want on their pizza? And yet that is the underlying principle of our justice system-if you CAN get twelve men to agree, then that is almost certain to be the truth-therefore you force them to agree. And if they cannot agree, then the consequences are disastrous, as we have seen in today's torah portion. The conflicting reports and opinions of the various spies may have confused the Israelites and made them unsure of themselves. They questioned themselves, they questioned Moses, and they questioned God. With no clear verdict or direction, the lowest common dominator prevailed and those who feared the unknown called for the return to Egypt. Likewise, in our justice system, if the twelve people on a jury cannot agree, there is a mistrial, and justice is not served.
Thirty-eight years later, as our haftarah for this week tells us, Joshua has become the new leader of Israel. In preparation for attacking the city of Jericho, he too sends out spies; but he has learned from this earlier experience. Instead of sending twelve men, he sends only two-and secretly at that. This way, there cannot be too many conflicting reports, and Joshua alone has access to the information upon which to base his decision. This time, the results are far more successful. The walls of Jericho come tumbling down and the people finally enter the land.