Lessons on Unity from the Scouts A Dv’ar Torah on Parshat Shelach Lecha by Amy Skopp Cooper, National Ramah Associate Director
The story of the meraglim (scouts) who are sent by Moses to scout the Land of Israel is an intriguing and complicated tale of espionage. All the scouts are impressed by the quality of the land and its bounty. When they return from their 40-day mission, two of them, Calev and Joshua, say that the people would be able to overcome the challenge of entering and inhabiting the land. But the other 10 scouts are not as sure. They spread fear and anxiety among the people. They say in the presence of Moses and all the people, “It is a land that eats up its inhabitants and all the people we saw there are of great stature. We were in our own sight as grasshoppers compared to giants.” God becomes angry and seems to punish those who could not believe that it was the destiny of the Jewish nation to inhabit the land. Moses finally persuades God to forgive the people. The whole episode turns out to be a catastrophe for nearly everyone involved.
What went wrong? How might the story have had a happier ending? Rabbi Marc Angel suggests that a better ending could have been possible if everyone had worked together. He writes, “When the spies returned from their mission, they should have reported their findings to Moses in a closed meeting. The pessimists and the optimists could have made their cases. Moses could have been the realist who fashioned the report in such a way that it reflected the concerns of the pessimists while also expressing the confidence of the optimists. The entire group could have presented the people with a balanced report, one that was honest about the dangers ahead but confident that God would bring them victory.”
We could blame the 10 scouts who shared too freely their anxieties about entering the land. We could also find fault with Moses, who didn’t seem to have a well thought out plan for completing the mission. We could even find fault with the people for overreacting to what they heard from the 10 scouts. But the most reasonable conclusion is that all of them were responsible for the failure of the mission. Had they worked together according to a well constructed plan, they could have avoided the difficulties they encountered.
What can our Ramah community learn from this story? Perhaps the most important lesson is that we must work together in order to be successful in anything we do, whether that involves a group, an edah or the entire machane. Everyone has a role to play in creating successful moments and experiences. A well known passage in the Talmud (Shevuot 39a) says: “Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh Ba-Zeh…All of Israel is responsible for one another.” Not only are we responsible for each other’s well being, but we are also responsible to work together for the betterment of our community, whether that is our Ramah community or the entire Jewish people. The failure of the meraglim can teach us how to be stronger and more united.