Shlach Lecha – Stormy whispers

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2 Send out the men so they can scout the land of Canaan that I will give to the children of Israel; one man from each of his ancestor’s tribe; send out everyone who is a tribal leader. … 21 They went up and they scouted the land from the Zin desert to Rehov, at Levo-Hamat. 22  They went up through the Negev, came up to Hebron and there were Ahiman, Sheshi and Talmi the descendants of Haanak.  23 They came to the Eshkol stream, where they cut down from the vine one bunch of grapes – which two of them carried on a pole – as well pomegranates and dates. … 26 They came and went before to Moses and Aaron and the whole community of the children of Israel – to the Paran desert near Kadesh; they brought back word to them and to the whole community and showed them the fruits of the land.

Numbers 13

That was the account of the ancient reconnaissance mission; the spies were gone for 40 days that tried the patience of the entire people of Israel.  Certainly it was whispered about privately: Can you imagine, another set of 40 days? Would bad or good news come on their return? How long would these feelings of fear and trembling hold sway? Even though whispers could not be clearly heard by their leaders, they inevitably gained momentum. The words spiraled in the wind above their tents.

27 They told them saying: we came to the land to which you sent and it is flowing with milk and honey—here are the fruits; nonetheless the residents of the land are mighty and the cities are very well fortified and also we saw the children of Haanak there.

Numbers 13

Former slaves had to face the news brought to them. As the words poured over them, dread would not subside. Feelings of mistrust in the leaders welled up that must have been transmitted as a whisper through the crowd that day. Then a chilling fear spread swiftly: how do we choose who to believe in the middle of the desert? Dread swirled the wind to an even higher velocity.

Sandstorm in the desert near Timna

30 Calev [1]In the Numbers 13 listing of the heads of each tribe, verse 6 reads “Of the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh.” Caleb’s report balanced the appeal of the land and its … Continue reading   silenced the people to Moses he said: we will go up and possess it because we are able to do so. 31 And the men who had gone up with him said: we cannot take the people up because they are stronger than we are. 32 They made a misrepresentation of the land….

Numbers 13

At that moment, things just got out of hand when only 10 out of 12 spies agreed. Those declarations continued to escalate the people’s doubts: Aren’t the reports of 10 more reliable than the other ones? Could those two spies have slipped up? Did they make an innocent error in judgement? Did anyone mean to make such a grievous report?

30 The entire community cried out loud and the people wept all that night. 2 They protested to Moses and to Aaron, all the children of Israel; the entire community said: we should have died in Egypt, or in this desert, we should have died. … 4 They each said to the other, let us take control and return to Egypt.

Numbers 14

The crescendo of the cries burgeoned into a raging storm of strife and rebellion. The people turned against their leaders, Moses and Aaron.

30 The entire community called out for them to be stoned; then YHWH’s presence was perceived by all of the children of Israel above the Mishkan.

Numbers 14

This rebellious exclamation was a verbal eruption of emotions that could not be calmed by reassurances. So an unexpected divine intervention may have been the only way to diffuse that perilous whirlwind of passionate insurrection.

If finding a way out of a storm can be perilous, overcoming trauma can be just as tortuous. The freed slaves were put in charge of their lives, but were they mature enough for the challenges they faced in the desert?

33 Your children will wander the desert for 40 years…

Numbers 14

Tragic consequences were ascribed to the insurgence that was unintentional. Trauma scarred the people of Israel because there were unforeseeable consequences to every whisper. Clear skies and balmy weather obscure the raging whirlwind but the damage remained.

Burnt out fores
Burnt out forest

Midrash Harabah and English translations by Rabbi Gail Shuster-Bouskila ©2021

References

References
1 In the Numbers 13 listing of the heads of each tribe, verse 6 reads “Of the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh.” Caleb’s report balanced the appeal of the land and its fruits with the challenge of making a conquest.