Parashat Shelah Lekha

By Cantor Alan J. Brava

God through Moses promises the Israelites a land flowing in “milk and honey”; a land which they will inhabit as a free nation after years of being enslaved in Egypt by Pharaoh. We have a slave nation wandering the desert with a leader who by the hand of God performs miracles at each and every obstacle the Israelites encounter. So what could go wrong?

The leaders of each tribe went into Canaan and returned with fruits of the land and two different reports. Except for Caleb and Joshua, the others reported a land that was occupied by military giants and unconquerable; their recommendation was to return to Egypt or at best continue their journey and not enter Canaan at this time. “The land which we have journeyed into in order to scout out is a land which devours its inhabitants, and all of the people we saw in it are men of great measure” (Numbers 13:32). This slave mentality and refuting of God’s promise caused God to make the Israelites wander in the desert for 40 years; one year for each of the days the scouts were investigating Canaan.

To me, the “giants of Canaan” represent the obstacles and challenges each of us has to “conquer” in order to achieve happiness, fulfillment and peace. Whether it is in our professional or personal lives, we must have faith that we can overcome the “giants” that are often placed before us when we are on a quest to improve and grow as human beings. It doesn’t surprise me that there were differing reports on the conditions in Canaan. There are always people who go into a situation and see the magnitude and impossibility of the task and run; and there are others who confront head on the challenges of life and have faith in themselves and in God that they will have the strength and fortitude to overcome anything.

It doesn’t come as a surprise to me that the majority of the scouts gave a negative report. Perhaps There was an insurmountable obstacle in conquering the land and creating a free society. The obstacles were the Israelites themselves. Born into slavery and now being asked to inhabit a land promised to them by God was too much for this slave nation to handle. A new nation, one born without shackles on their wrists and whips to their backs was needed to inhabit Canaan. As the parashah tells us, God needed this entire generation who came out of Egypt to die out and a new one be born to fulfill their destiny of entering the Promised Land.

God wanted the scouts to look at the Land of Israel and see God and His commandments just as He wants each of us to look into ourselves, and see God and His commandments. God wants us to understand that our nation and land exist for the sake of our unique and Divine mission to perfect the world -and with this knowledge and commitment we need fear no human being, no mighty earthly power – no “giants”.

Joshua and Caleb took the next generation of Israelites into the Land of Israel; their faith in God and the Jewish future made them much taller in prominence (if not in height) than the native inhabitants of Canaan and divinely prepared to partake of the goodly fruits of the land flowing with milk and honey.

We too must shed our own insecurities, fears, trepidations and self-doubt to move forward in life. There will always be people around us telling us that we can’t – but hopefully we will have supporters like Caleb and Joshua who will encourage us to go forward and meet the challenges at hand face on. Having faith in God and in one’s self surely will enable us to conquer any “giants” that face us in the future.


Cantor Alan J. Brava is the Director of Cantorial Studies and Director of Development at The Academy for Jewish Religion.