The Torah portion, or parasha, this week is Sh’lach (sometimes called Sh’lach L’cha) and is found in Numbers 13:1-15:41. In this parasha, Moses sends twelve spies, one from each tribe, to scout the land of Canaan and bring back a report of the conditions the Israelites will find there. After forty days the spies return, bringing their report of the good land and samples of its produce. However, ten of the spies, all but Joshua and Caleb, insist that the Canaanites are too powerful for the Israelites to conquer. The people panic when they hear the ten spies’ conclusion and declare that they want to return to Egypt. Caleb and Joshua try to change their minds, pointing out that with God on their side the Israelites need not fear the inhabitants of the land. God’s patience finally is exhausted and declares that the generation of the Exodus will die in the wilderness; it will be their children who will possess the land.
The twelve spies were leaders, well respected in the community. They all saw and experienced pretty much the same events. However, not everyone came to the same conclusion. Yes, there was a Promised Land. But it was filled with both grapes and giants, fields and fortified cities. Some saw grapes and fields in a land flowing with milk and honey. Others saw giants and fortified cities in a land that eats up its occupants. Some saw their own inadequacies and believed the challenge was not possible. Others remembered God’s deliverance and were willing to believe that same God would provide for their future.
Knowing the end of the story, it is easy for us to criticize the ten who doubted. Yet, it is not easy to take the risks necessary to achieve a visionary goal. Often the fear of failure and the discomfort of facing the uncertain prevents people from trying to accomplish something great. However, great things are never accomplished without risk. If we try, we might fail to achieve our vision. However, if we don’t try, we lose out on the reality of that vision. The Israelites in our story today lost out on the Promised Land because of their unwillingness to take the risk. May we have the wisdom to discern what visions are worthy of pursuit and the courage to take the risks to achieve our visions.