This week’s sedra paints an unflattering view of Bnei Yisrael and one can’t help feel a deep sense of tragedy and dread. The central story is the negative report, from 10 of the 12 spies, that it was impossible to conquer God’s Promised Land.
Rashi famously states the nation’s “needless” crying on that night would prove “necessary” in future nights – referring to Tisha B’Av, when allegedly both the first and second Temples were destroyed. Other calamities on that date include the 1492 Spanish expulsion and the outbreak of the First World War.
How could one particular date be so inauspicious for Jews? The generation who left Egypt – with first-hand experience witnessing the plagues in Egypt, Pharaoh’s army drowned in the Red Sea and the Revelation at Sinai – surely should have believed God would also help them defeat the Canaanites?
This may justify why they were deemed unworthy to enter the Land of Canaan. Yet we must ask why the Almighty would visit further punishment on successive generations. One view is to identify their failure as an inability to maintain hope. Rather than using imaginative powers to anticipate success, fear led to backward regression; in their own words, “better had we not left Egypt … let’s appoint a leader and return”!
The lesson of Shelah-Lecha is clear: when leaders are stuck in regressive ideas, only seeing negativity and failing to look ahead, the results follow a similar pattern. It’s up to us to create a new cycle of hope.
Jeff Berger is rabbi at Rambam Sephardi Synagogue in Elstree and Borehamwood.