Parashat Shlah

Very, Very Good

We need to develop greater understanding of our role on this planet.

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This commentary is provided by special arrangement with Canfei Nesharim. To learn more, visit www.canfeinesharim.org.

Our world abounds with mistreatment of the earth. From climate change and ozone layer depletion to urban sprawl and water pollution, our misuse of resources is stunning. But should we be surprised, when 'Western' culture seems so heavily invested in the delusion that personal fulfillment can come from just one more wide-screen TV or SUV?

The good news is that the portion of Shlah not only gives us the deepest of understanding of what is happening, but also points to how we can get out of this mess! We must start by taking a step back from these specific ills and look at their underlying cause: mankind's devastating misunderstanding of the nature of the world itself.

Coming into the Land

Parashat Shlah centers around the idea of coming into the Promised Land. Spies are sent ahead of the Children of Israel to preview the land which has been promised as our eternal inheritance. Ten of the twelve spies bring back terrifying reports of a cruel land of undefeatable enemies (Numbers 13:27-29). Only two spies, Caleb and Joshua, come back with a different report: "No," they tell us, "The land is not what you think." They tell us that the land is not only "very good" but is very very good--tov meod meod (Numbers 14:17).

In order to unpack this statement, we must consider the greater meaning of coming into the land. On one hand, the portion is speaking literally about the land of Israel, the expanse of territory that the Jews will inherit.

In a larger sense, however, the act of "coming into the land" refers to something that transcends spatial boundaries. Our role in the world is to fulfill our true human potential, to recognize, and thus to reveal the glory of God's creation. For the whole land is full of God's glory; 'Melo Kol Ha'Aretz Kevodo.'

Remember that the Hebrew word for reveal, Galeh, shares the same essential root-letters as the word Geulah, meaning deliverance. The word geulah carries many shades of meaning. Chief among them is the idea of "redemption from exile," both physically (returning to the Holy Land from foreign exile) and spiritually (the removal of our blindness so that we can see God's radiance). Our role in revealing (Galeh) the true wonder and majesty of God's creation is thus linked inextricably with our physical deliverance (Geulah).

Too often we ignore this essential truth. This is the same mistake made by the 10 negative spies in Shlah. They failed to see the goodness in the land, and adopted the attitude that the World (i.e. the land) was essentially bad. They, like us, could have fulfilled their true potential in the world and seen its beauty, but instead made a mockery of it: "We'll never make it," they wailed (Numbers 14:10), "Let's just give up, and go back to Egypt!"   

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