Mission Oriented - שלח

Friday, 24 June, 2022 - 8:31 am


Mission Oriented 

It was perhaps the most dramatic part of the story. Caleb, one of the two spies who remained loyal to the land of Israel, stood up against the other ten spies and "silenced the Jewish people to Moses."

The twelve spies had just returned to the Jewish people in the desert after scouting the land of Israel and presented their report: 

"We came to the land to which you sent us, and it is flowing with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who inhabit the land are mighty, and the cities are extremely huge and fortified, and there we saw even the offspring of the giant. The Amalekites dwell in the south land, while the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the mountainous region. The Canaanites dwell on the coast and alongside the Jordan." (Numbers 13:27-29)

At this point, the spies did not yet say anything wrong, in fact, they did precisely as they were instructed by Moses, who dispatched them to determine the fertility of the land and the quality of its produce, as well as the might of its inhabitants and the fortification of its cities. That is precisely what the spies addressed at this point. The spies' sin was only obvious later when they added a conclusion of their own and declared: "We are unable to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we." Why then did Caleb interrupt them at the point when they were still offering their factual report? 

Caleb saw that the spies made a subtle but profoundly critical change from Moses' request. Moses first asked them to report about the might of the people and the fortification of the cities, and only then to evaluate the produce and fertility of the land.. The spies, however, changed the order. They first reported about the beauty of the produce ("flowing with milk and honey, and this is its fruit"), and only then did they talk about the might of the inhabitants ("However, the people who inhabit the land are mighty…")

When Caleb saw the spies making this change of order, he understood that he needed to silence them immediately. 

Evaluating the might of the native people was necessary in order to know how to engage in the battle of conquest and was therefore relevant to the mission of the Jewish people. The produce of the land, by contrast, represented the benefit that the Jewish people would receive for fulfilling their mission. To Moses, the task was primary, and the benefits were secondary. The spies, however, were primarily interested in the benefit, the produce of the land, and their interest in the actual mission was secondary. Caleb silenced them because he understood the danger of their attitude. A person who is focused on the benefit and not adequately committed to the mission is somebody who will look for the easy way out and will ultimately underestimate their own abilities and skills. 

Each of us is on this earth on a mission from G-d to transform the world into a “Holy Land,” a place of goodness and kindness. Like the biblical spies, we too face fears, worries, challenges, and obstacles. We sometimes question our ability and our resolve to fulfill our Divine mission. Caleb teaches us that when we focus on the goal and put our own concerns aside, we will ultimately be successful in completing our mission. The less we focus on “what’s in it for me”, the more we will be able to fulfill our purpose, and the more we will benefit from “the land that flows of milk and honey”, in both the spiritual and material sense. 

(Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Shelach 5710)

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