The Israelites are now at the border of the Promised Land, and they suggest to Moses to send spies in to reconnoiter the land before attacking it.
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This seems like a good idea to Moses, so he chooses one prince from each tribe (12 men in total) to search out the land and report back.
After 40 days in the land, the spies come back and report that it is a wonderful land, bringing back samples of the fruit and other natural resources. But they also report that the towns are fortified, and they saw the sons of Anak (giants) in the land.
Joshua and Caleb were excited to enter, and faithfully declared that they should attack because God will give this wonderful land to them. However, the other 10 princes said that they would be destroyed and had no chance of winning against such a strong and fortified people.
This distressed everyone so much they wanted to stone Moses, but God appeared and told Moses that he will destroy these people and make a new, better nation out of Moses.
Moses begs God not to do that, saying (as before) that if God destroyed the people, his name (meaning his reputation) would be weakened, as the other nations would say God destroyed the people because he wasn’t able to do as he said he would.
So God relents, and tells Moses that these people will not enter the land, and to turn towards the desert. Their punishment will be that whereas they cried their children would be taken as slaves, it will be their children who inherit the land, and not the parents.
Moses is told that for every day they were in the land, they will wander in the desert one year until all of the generation that despised God’s word by revolting against him and not entering the land will be dead.
Upon hearing of their punishment, the people immediately repent and say they will now do as God said, but it is too late. Moses warns them not to attack because God is not with them and they have no chance, but they follow one terrible mistake with another and ignore Moses’ warning.
Of course, they are defeated horribly, pushed all the way back to Hormah (which means “utter destruction”).
This parashah ends with God repeating the Levitical rules for sacrifices, the showbread, and the wearing of tzitzis. The final entry is a story of a man collecting sticks on the Shabbat, and for that sin God commands he be stoned to death.
I want to change up a little today, and instead of talking about the parashah, I want to talk about the Haftorah reading, which is in the Book of Joshua, Chapter 2.
This may be a good time to digress a bit, and review about the reading of the Torah.
A predetermined portion of the Torah, called a parashah, is read each Shabbat; there are 54 readings for the one-year cycle, with some readings doubled to keep pace with leap years. All Jews, everywhere, come to the final sentences of the Torah at the same time, which is the 8th day of Sukkot. We call that day Shemini Atzeret (8th day of assembly) and Simchat Torah (Joy of Torah). On this holiday, the Torah is paraded around the neighborhood, accompanied by singing and shofar blasts, and once back in the synagogue, as the congregation dances and sings, the Torah scroll is rolled back to Genesis.
The Haftorah is a section of the other books of the Tanakh (Old Covenant), usually from one of the books of the Prophets, which are read in addition to the parashah. The haftorah is chosen because the events there relate to the events in the Torah reading of that day.
OK, that being said, let’s get back to todays’ message.
The haftorah for today occurs some 38 years after the events in the Torah. Joshua is now the leader of the Israelites, and they are outside the land, having just defeated Og and Sichon.
Unlike the mistake Moses made when he sent 12 men into the land, Joshua sends only two men to spy out the land, knowing that he can trust these two to bring back a true report.
Remember: these men are not former slaves, for that entire generation (except for Joshua and Caleb) have died. These two are men raised in hardship, living and growing up in the desert, and aren’t conditioned with the mindset of a slave.
The men reconnoiter Jericho and while there, they come to the house of Rahab, a prostitute, who hides them from the King of Jericho making the spies promise to protect her family when the Israelites come to attack the people in the land.
The men do so, and report back to Joshua that the people in the land are scared stiff, and already emotionally defeated.
How does this reading relate to the Torah portion? Well, it seems pretty obvious: Joshua learned that the more people you send to do a job, the more reports you will have to deal with.
It is like that old adage: too many chefs spoil the soup.
We need to learn from this that when we trust people, the more people we trust to accomplish something, the less likely it will get done correctly. This doesn’t mean to take on everything alone- that is another type of mistake.
My father, God rest his soul, used to tell me when I was a young boy and asked to help him with a project, that he wanted to do it alone so that if it went wrong, the only person to blame was himself. That made sense to me at that time, but as I grew older and placed in positions of leadership, I realized how wrong that attitude was.
People in leadership positions have an obligation to teach all they know to the ones who they are in charge of, to make that person a greater asset to the company, or congregation, or just to help them become a better person.
For those of us in a position of spiritual leadership, that means when choosing shammashim (Hebrew for “leaders”) within the congregation, you must follow the biblical requirements for a leader.
In the New Covenant, you can find these in Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; Hebrews 13: 7 and 17-19. However, you must also remember that these are all from the Torah portions in Exodus 18:21 and Deuteronomy 1:13.
We must be careful to not choose by friendship or by influence, and especially not by financial support. Too many congregations are led by those who are the greatest tithers, and that is not assigning by ability, but by bank account.
Moses sent too many people, and Joshua sent just the right number of people.
Moses sent those who were in positions of honor, while Joshua sent those who he trusted to give a proper report.
What’s the bottom line? We must choose those who demonstrate the qualities specified in the Torah when we assign people important positions within our congregations, following the example that Joshua set for us.
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That’s it for this week, so l’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!