Shelach-Lecha describes the disastrous outcome of the Israelite’s spying mission in the Land of Canaan.
Of the 12 men sent, 10 brought back a negative report, two spoke positively. That night’s panic followed by the Israelite’s ‘tears of ingratitude’ became the portent for Jewish calamity over the ensuing millennia.
The spies were men of distinction, chosen for their high moral character. They were charged with a duty and faithfully reported what they saw – “a land flowing with milk and honey … the nation was strong … the cities were fortified.”
They included strategic locations of hostile tribes: Amalekites, Hittites, Amorites and Canaanites. Perfect reconnaissance work!
Then they offered a subjective interpretation of the data. “We aren’t able to ascend … they’re stronger than us … it’s a land which consumes its inhabitants … we were as grasshoppers.”
Inexplicably, the 10 top leaders succumbed to fear or lack of faith, conveying a contagious message to Moses, Aaron and the people, which was grave enough to demoralize the national psyche.
Although the term “fake news” has become popularised through social media, perhaps this episode can be seen as one of the earliest examples.
Objective “facts” reported with subjective “views” and “biases” that mislead public opinion intentionally or unintentionally.
Judaism is now large enough to accept there are Jews who won’t always agree – the Talmud proved this.
It’s wide enough to accommodate those wishing to be non-conformist – Hassidism proved that.
Hopefully, it’s also robust enough to face challenging objections and still come to workable solutions, instead of being trapped in the negativity created by our own limited imaginations.
The importance of intellectual honesty and a willingness to dialogue with those who hold contrasting views perhaps would have gone a long way in the fledging community of wandering Israelites.
It’s certainly a skillset needed in our own contemporary society!
Rabbi Jeff Berger serves the Rambam Sephardi Synagogue in Elstree/ Borehamwood and can be contacted at RabbiJeffLondon@gmail.com
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