“See the land – how is it?” (Numbers 13:18). Is the soil fertile? Are the cities built with towers or open gates? Have trees been planted? Moses needs answers in this week’s Torah portion, Sh’lach Lecha, so he sends out spies to research and report. Their mission lasted more than a month. They walked from east to west, explored cities and valleys and coastal regions. How could they have walked the entirety of Canaan, and traversed from desert to coast and back again in just 40 days? The land is expansive, and they were on foot. Our Torah portion doesn’t supply us with many details about the journey itself. What we imagine as a long, complicated excursion is recounted to the reader in just four simple verses. One of our most important missions and it’s boiled down to hardly a paragraph. I want more! I want the details of this journey, and I’m not alone. The ancient sages supply us with some provocative images. The inhabitants of the land were so tall, they wore the sun like necklaces. The best, juiciest lambs and cows come from Hebron. God shortened the path so our spies could see it all in their allotted time, in just 40 days.
Why would God condense the space? Isn’t Israel meant to be expansive? Midrash Tanchuma makes a miracle happen for our spies. Not only does the land contract, but they return home in a timely fashion. And for a bunch of frightened tribal leaders who were terrified by what they encountered, God did them a favor. And yet, that favor was short lived. Their inability to see Israel for all its potential eventually led to their demise. We take note. We name our children Joshua and Caleb, after the only two spies filled with possibility and vision. Because a shorter path, one where our eyes are closed and fear is all around, doesn’t lead to redemption or holiness or sacred community. Goodness is experienced by those willing to keep their eyes open in all surroundings, by those fearless enough to remain on the path.
Rabbi Danielle Leshaw is a senior educator for Hillel International.