Even in the Land of Milk and Honey there was 'fake news'


In this week’s parashah, representatives from each of the twelve tribes are chosen to scout out the land of Canaan.  These emissaries are sent into the Holy Land to do reconnaissance on the produce, the land and the inhabitants.

After forty days, the scouts return to report that the land is indeed flowing with milk and honey and abundant produce. They also note that the inhabitants are powerful and the cities fortified. 

Then, the majority of the spies offer a report that distorts the details – what we might today label “fake news.”  They tell tales of giants who made them feel like grasshoppers who exceed every horrifying expectation.` Their fear-mongering works and the Israelites hysterically weep and cry. 

Only Joshua and Caleb honestly report the details of the land. They exhort the Israelites not to fear, for God is with them. 

One rabbi points out that, in giving the spies their assignment, Moses had said, “Go up ... into the hill country, and see what kind of country it is...” (Numbers 13:17-8). This commentator imagines Moses saying, “See the Land of Israel from the perspective of the generations, from the view of eternity, in the air of the summit, of ascent, of loftiness.”

From the grand perspective at the top of the mountain they would surely see possibility, a future filled with blessing. From that height, they would know that they could overcome the challenges on the ground.

Instead, the majority of the emissaries, overwhelmed by distrust and panic, see only the lowly, limited perspective.

We have the same choice. We can take the long view knowing that the future is bright with possibility.  Or we can choose to be bogged down in the suspicion and despair that comes from seeing only what is in front of us in the moment.  

May we choose the perspective of Joshua and Caleb – envisioning the possibilities before us rather than the limitations of our challenges so that together we may proceed forward to bounty and blessing.

SARAH MACK, rabbi of Temple Beth-El, Providence, is president of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.

Dvar Torah, Mack