Parashat Shelach-Lecha

The expression “it depends on the eye that looks at it”, or similar expressions, show us that each one of us has more than one point of view. Try looking with just one eye while covering the other with your hand; now do the same with the other eye... you will notice that what you see with just one eye is not exactly the same as what you see with the other.


Our parashah teaches us that it is not just a question of physics. Sometimes the eyes of one person do not see the same as the eyes of another, even though we are looking at exactly the same situation.


Shelach-Lecha, this week's parashah, tells us the story about the 12 meraglim, the 12 agents that Moshe sent to investigate the Promised Land. The land that Adonai had promised and assured the People of Israel that it flowed with milk and honey and so many other benefits, but... OOOOPS, it seems that it was a bit occupied by other people. This should not be a minor detail.


It seems that part of the training of Bnei Israel when leaving Egypt was to learn to defend and attack in case for the future to come. This would be of some use to us. It was a premonition… and it has helped us!


Back to the story, Moshe indicates to these agents "...and see what kind of country it is. Are the people who dwell in it strong or weak, few or many? Is the country in which they dwell good or bad? Are the towns they live in open or fortified? Is the soil rich or poor? Is it wooded or not? And take pains to bring back some of the fruit of the land..." (Bemidbar 13, 18-20).


We know the results: ten of the envoys reported “The country that we crossed and scouted is one that devours its settlers. All the people that we saw there were tall, a great height. We saw strong, giant people and we looked like grasshoppers to them and so we felt ourselves.”


Only two of the spies, Yeoshua ben Nun and Caleb ben Yefuné, told about the benefits of the land they had seen and expressed that it would be possible for them to conquer it. They stood up to the cry of the people who longed to return to Egypt and to the life they were used to instead of entering the unknown.


The Torah shows us the prize given Joshua and Caleb: they were able to enter the Promised Land, unlike the remaining 10 meraglim who died in the desert along with the entire generation that had been freed by the Kadosh Baruch Hu from slavery.


What was the fault of the alleged transgressors? Did they lie? No, the fault committed was not that of lying. What was the reason for which they received this punishment of not being able to enter the long-awaited land?


If we look at the end of the parashah, we will know the answer.


The Midrash Tanchuma tells us that the human being has three parts of the body over which he has full control and another three over which he has none. It is possible for him to control his mouth, his hands and his legs. With your mouth you can utter words of kedushah, constructive, encouraging, supportive and loving words or you can choose to enunciate curses, insults, lashon hara, or swearing and destructive phrases. With your hands, in turn, you can also build or give warmth or help a fellow man or another being or you can steal or destroy what has been built. With your legs you can go the right way or choose the wrong one.


On the other hand, the eyes, nose and ears are the parts of the body over which there is almost no control. It is not possible for us to choose what we see, what we smell or what we hear. At many times, regretfully.


It is precisely at that moment of spiritual weakness or when our perceptions fail us that one of the paragraphs of the Shema found in this parashah intervenes with: "And when you see these fringes, you will remember the precepts of Adonai, and you will fulfill them, and not go astray after your impulses” (Bemibar 15:39). The tzitzit of the talit or the tefillin that we put on almost daily reminds us of the fulfillment of the mitzvot that helps us control what our bodies and spirits cannot do.


The transgression of the 10 meraglim was that they allowed themselves to be carried away by the impulse of what their senses showed.


Sometimes our particular point of view makes us perceive things in the wrong way. Other times we get carried away by our impulses and the misunderstanding of the reality that surrounds us or even by what others mention to us.


What the 12 meraglim teach us is that only two of them—Joshua and Caleb—had faith in themselves and in the people they led in their respective tribes. That is why they were the only two of the twelve who deserved to live and enter the Promised Land.


Smell, sight and hearing are senses that can be "regulated" or oriented through the work of the soul, avodat hanefesh—spiritual work.


When we connect with the pain of others and with the needs of others; when we give of our time so that others can enjoy (most of the time, we also enjoy ourselves observing that joy in others); when we receive a smile or a hug of gratitude for having been there with someone in his moment of sadness or happiness or joy: all this makes us sensitive and we can improve or change our points of view, smell or hearing.


When we are faced with adverse situations, we can make less severe, less blunt, more comprehensive and inclusive decisions. It is then that we can open our own hearts and those of others to give and receive. It is then that we can correctly sniff out the situations that life confronts us with and make more appropriate decisions.


May we find a way to moderate what we see, smell and hear so we can conduct ourselves in a more positive and constructive way.


Gustavo Geier