- People suggest Hashem was angry about the spies. But there’s no evidence of that – after all Yohoshua sent spies. He’s angry about their report and how the people react. Why did they report the way they did? I used to argue that they reported as they did because Moshe asked all the wrong questions. He didn’t ask how to conquer the land, he seemed to be wanting to confirm whether the land was as good as reported and whether it was possible to conquer it. He asked for the analysis. When on a mission from G-d don’t ask “Can I do it?” just ask “How can I do it.” But Yohoshua’s spies did the same thing – they analyzed the ease with the land could be conquered. So something else must has driven the failure. Perhaps we see hint in the breakdown of the tribes. Menashe and Yosef were combined. Ephraim is split out with Yohoshua being distinct. Perhaps something about Yosef undermines the mission and excludes Ephraim from being cast with him.
- “The land we passed through to explore is a land that consumes its inhabitants, and all the people we saw in it are men of stature.” This is a weird turn of phrase. The land is an active character. We see it in Egypt with the Jews – the land fills itself up with them. In this case, by eating the people, they become part of the land. Inseparable. But the word for stature is middot. How are they men of middot? It is because, despite all the signs from G-d, the Jewish people remain a slave people. They lack character. And they see that the natives have it in spades. Yes, princes were sent – but even they lacked the character to understand that they were princes of a people mighty in and of itself. They saw themselves as princes of roaming nomads of the type who had always been excluded from fortified cities. Like a country girl overawed by New York. Like Yosef the slave who served the Egyptians rather than being their true equal. The Jewish people see themselves as grasshoppers and, thus, so they are seen.
- Moshe argues. But Hashem does what he promises – he wipes out the people and replaces them. It seems a terrible curse – but what is the curse? They live out lives, perhaps a bit shorter? They have food and their needs taken care of. The curse is that they never get to reap and sow. They are prisoners serving life sentences in the desert. Isn’t this, in a sense, the nature of exile?
- We switch to supplements brought with offerings. Why? I would suggest that it is to show the people they weren’t actually in prison. And they hadn’t actually been replaced with their children as it would seem in the previous section. Instead, they still have a purpose – to educate the children. Why else give them laws they can never use? So why flour, oil and wine? Perhaps because these, more than animals which shepherds can have, reinforces the ultimately settled nature of the Jewish people. Perhaps it raises their children them from warrior shepherds to those who can be the equal of those who live in walled cities.
- Why the stranger now, three times. Why is no distinction emphasized here? Perhaps to reinforce that nothing makes the residents of the land greater per se than the strangers. The key to greatness is the relationship to Hashem and a stranger who has the trust to convert and join the Jewish people can achieve the level as the most civilized local.
- Taking Challah. We talked about middot as the native’s great advantage. The laws so far have been about legal issues and supporting the leviim. They were loaded with symbolism. But they weren’t acting directly on middot. Taking Challah is about middot – about continually recognizing with every meal that Hashem is the source of our sustenance and power.
- Tzittzit complete this middot expansion. They remind the wearer, constantly, of their connection to Hashem. I remember reading about a fashion CEO who said she loved fabric more than anything else – and that it was really very important. I scoffed – as you can tell, I don’t care much for fashion. But then she said something interesting – from birth to death people are rarely ever further than a yard from fabric. Fabric, more than anything else, is a constant in our lives. In building the middot of the Jewish people it is literally critical to make Hashem part of the fabric of our existence.
Supplement for Nava’s birthday. In this week’s parsha we see discussions about the children of giants. Bec and I may not be giants, but Nava certainly looks like the child of one. She is solid and tall. But she has not been eaten by any land. As I look at the Parsha and think about Nava, I pray that she continues to develop her middot. And for us Jews, middot come from the strength in our connection to Hashem and our understanding that our importance comes from Hashem. Nava and the other birthday children are still children, but I look forward to a future in which they all develop into the child of giants – not because of their physical stature, but because they is so connected to Hashem that all who see them implicitly understand that they have the middot of giants and are deserving of the inheritance of Hashem.