Yom Sheini, 22 Iyyar 5779
Monday, 27 May 2019
Parashat Shelach Lecha 2012

Parashat Shelach Lecha: Rabbi Harry Jacobi
13th June 2012

A king once promised his only son a beautiful bride. The son did not trust his father’s promise or judgement and insisted that he see his bride-to-be first. The father granted his son’s wish, let him see his bride; but then forbade him to marry her.

This is how the Midrash explains the story of the spies in this week’s Sidra. The twelve tourists (it is better to call them tourists for they were sent ‘latur et ha-arets’) saw that it was indeed a land flowing with milk and honey and brought back huge clusters of grapes. This biblical scene is now, by the way, the symbol of the Israeli tourist board. On the other hand they saw fortified cities whose inhabitants seemed like giants in their eyes. So ten of them were pessimistic, fearful, faithless and influenced the people to rebel and demand to be led back to Egypt. The ten, and all that faithless cowardly generation were punished, prevented from entering the promised land and conemned to die in the wilderness.

Two of the twelve, Joshua and Caleb, were optimistic, men of faith and courage, filled with ‘Ruach acheret’, a different spirit. “The Almighty is with us”, they said, “ We shall overcome”. They alone of the whole ‘dor hamidbar’, the generation of the wilderness, were rewarded and allowed to enter the promised land.

Thus the first generation of our people were taught a lesson, a lesson that many of our present generation have not yet learned . A minority which has the faith, the courage, the optimism and the will to go forward can overcome seemingly impossible odds against them. A majority that has always been pessimistic, lacking faith and confidence, unwilling to go forward to confront danger will never overcome. “The difficult takes some time”, say the Israelis, “the impossible takes a little longer”. This was the view of Joshua and Caleb and thus they saved themselves and ensured the future of the children of Israel.

This was also the view of the Maccabees. They were also filled with ’Ruach acheret’, a different spirit from the majority and also saved themselves and their people. Their example also inspired Churchill, who after the fall of France, when Britain stood defiantly alone against Germany, encouraged his people in a broadcast on June 22nd 1940, by quoting from the Book of Maccabees: ”Many can easily be empowered by few. It makes no difference in heaven to save by many or by few. Victory does not depend on numbers. Strength comes from heaven alone.” (I Macc. 3,18)

Yes, material facts have always been against us. Yet, filled with the spirit of Joshua and Caleb, we have always overcome them. To-day, material facts are also against us. To mention just a few: rising anti-semitism, the economic situation, global warming, anxiety about Israel, racial prejudice. When we consider them, we can be forgiven for being afraid and pessimistic. We need the faith of our past great non-Jewish friend, James Parkes. In his book: ‘The end of an exile’, he wrote: “As so many times before in Jewish history a new situation has thrown up a new challenge, unexpected dangers and opportunities. Nothing in this will dismay the courageous. Problems equally intractable were solved in the past, difficulties equally dangerous have been surmounted. Only when Jewry refuses to respond to challenge of an age, fears to grasp new opportunities and adventures will Jewish history come to an end. That time is not yet.”

To-day we face new situations and dangers. We shall not refuse to respond to the challenges of our age. We shall not fear to grasp new opportunities. We declare with James Parkes: the time for Jewish history to come to an end is not yet. As Joshua and Caleb were filled with ‘Ruach acheret – a different’ in their generation, so are we filled with a different spirit to that prevalent in our generation. Filled with faith, trust and courage we declare as they did: “Yachol nuchal la” and “Adonai itanu, al tira-um”. “We shall surely overcome. The Eternal God is with us, do not fear.” (Numbers 13,30 & 14,9)