Poised to enter the land of Israel, fulfilling the promise God made to their ancestors, the people dispatched 12 men to survey it and report back on its terrain, produce and inhabitants.
Forty days later, these spies returned bearing samples of the land’s luscious fruit, but with a negative report claiming it was unconquerable and uninhabitable.
Despite two men providing a different report, the people accept the false account and destined their entire generation to perish in the wilderness.
Frank Koch in Proceedings, the magazine of the Naval Institute, shares an experience that may shed light on this. Two battleships had been at sea on manoeuvres in heavy weather for several days.
Frank was serving on the lead battleship and was on watch on the bridge as night fell. The visibility was poor with patchy fog. Shortly after dark, the lookout reported: ‘Light, bearing on the starboard bow.’
‘Is it steady or moving astern?’ the captain called out. It was steady, meaning they were on a dangerous collision course.
The captain asked the signalman to send a message to the ship and advise it change course 20 degrees.
A message came back asking them to change their course. They repeated the request, only to be told they should change their direction.
The captain was furious. ‘Send, I’m a battleship. Change course 20 degrees.’ Back came the reply: ‘I’m a lighthouse.’ They changed course.
The spies concocted a story and the people accepted it as they were resistant to change.
They had become so accustomed to a miraculous existence where God provided their every need that the thought of their lives being transformed upon entry to the Promised Land was viewed as a terrifying threat.
To a greater or lesser degree, we all face that dilemma.
We know we do not grow if we do not change, and if we don’t grow then we are not really living. Change is challenging, but we must embrace it because it allows us to achieve new things and makes us feel truly alive.
Rabbi Chapper serves Borehamwood and Elstree United Synagogue