Why the Generation that Left Egypt Was Kept in the Desert

They looked inside themselves and saw only their own fear, not the confidence needed to make the land of Israel their own.

From Moses and the Messengers from Canaan by Giovanni Lanfranco, c. 1624. Getty Museum.

From Moses and the Messengers from Canaan by Giovanni Lanfranco, c. 1624. Getty Museum.

Atar Hadari
Observation
June 30 2016
About the author

Atar Hadari’s Songs from Bialik: Selected Poems of H. N. Bialik (Syracuse University Press) was a finalist for the American Literary Translators’ Association Award. His Lives of the Dead: Poems of Hanoch Levin earned a PEN Translates award and was released in 2019 by Arc Publications. He was ordained by Rabbi Daniel Landes and is completing a PhD on William Tyndale’s translation of Deuteronomy.


This week’s reading of Shlaḥ l’kha (Numbers 13-15) is unusual for focusing less on the Almighty’s relationship with the children of Israel than on the latter’s view of themselves—on what’s in their own heads. The title echoes that of Lekh l’kha (Genesis 12-17), where the Lord tells Abraham to leave his father’s house and his idol-worshipping native land and “go for yourself” to a promised land where the Lord will make him into a great nation. Our reading, analogously, begins with God commanding that select Israelites be sent from the desert encampment to scout out the promised land. But here is a crucial difference: shlaḥ l’kha means not “go for yourself” but “send for yourself.” The ensuing events reveal not what the Israelites actually see but who they think they are:

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More about: Religion & Holidays, The Monthly Portion