Thoughts on Sh’lach lecha

canstockphoto3712801This week’s parasha is Sh’lach lecha (you send), Numbers 13:1 – 15:41,[i] which is the well-known, though tragic episode, of the twelve spies being sent to check-out the land before entering as a nation (Numbers 13-14). Tragic, because of the twelve men chosen, all of whom were leaders of their individual tribes, ten decided to stand against the word of HaShem, sowing fear and discontent in the people. In spite of all the miracles and despite the delivering power of HaShem they had already witnessed; the people chose to listen to the bad report and even suggested replacing Moshe and returning to the bondage of Egypt. Then, after being chastised and disciplined by the LORD, they presumed to obey the original command to enter the land, even though the grace and authority had been removed. The end result was a resounding defeat at the hands of the Amalekites and Canaanites and a further thirty plus years of wandering until the entire generation that had left Egypt passed away – except Joshua and Caleb.

There is a lesson to be learned for us today. When we know the direction of the LORD, we need to do it in the proper time. If we choose not to do so, there may well be consequences, even if we try to do what we should have done originally. We know of people who over the years have had a strong desire to make Aliyah (immigrate to Israel). After much prayer, they knew they should make the move and that the LORD would be with them, going before them to pave the way. However, perceived family issues, work issues, or simply fear of the unknown of Israel life and society caused them to delay, and in doing so missed the timing of the LORD. When they tried later when everything was right and in order, they were unable to make Aliyah. They missed their window of opportunity. As with the children of Israel, the missed opportunity was not a permanent situation, but there were for them and often are for us, consequences that could have been avoided with a little faithful obedience.

As this week’s parasha concludes, HaShem gives a command that in many ways becomes an aspect of self-definition of the Jewish people.

ADONAI spoke to Moses saying “Speak to Bnei-Yisrael. Say to them that they are to make for themselves tzitzit on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and they are to put a blue cord on each tzitzit. It will be your own tzitzit—so whenever you look at them, you will remember all the mitzvot of Adonai and do them and not go spying out after your own hearts and your own eyes, prostituting yourselves. This way you will remember and obey all My mitzvot and you will be holy to your God. I am ADONAI your God. I brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God. I am ADONAI your God.” (Numbers 15:37-41; c.f. Deuteronomy 22:12)

The exact understanding of this command has been a matter of debate throughout the centuries. Was the command for all of Israel, male and female, or just the males? What about the garment – if one wore a robe that had no corners, was the command obligatory? In Matthew’s Besorah, some of the Pharisees are chided for the length of their tzitzit (23:5) while in Luke 8:44 as in Mark 6:56, it appears that healing was realized just by toughing Yeshua’s tzitzit. While the mitzva of wearing the tzitzit is important – what is more important is HaShem’s stated reason for the mitzva, that “you will remember all the mitzvot of ADONAI and do them and not go spying out after your own hearts and your own eyes, prostituting yourselves.”

Traditionally, the fulfillment of this mitzva is accomplished in two ways. First, is the wrapping of one within their tallit, a four corned garment worn at specific times of prayer and other life cycle events. As one wraps their tallit around them, it is almost as if they are putting on a uniform (think whole armor of God, Ephesians 6:10-18) or we are like Mordechai when the king had him wrapped in his own robe to honor him (Esther 8:15). When we wrap ourselves in the tallit, with the intension of focusing our thoughts, praises, and prayers upon the LORD, it is as if we transcend our mundane reality and enter into His very presence. But there is another way of observing this mitzva, that is the wearing of a tallit katan (a small tallit) which is worn under your shirt with the tzitzit tucked in, unseen by others. Rabbi Sacks describes this as

…the most inward, intimate, intensely personal aspect of faith whereby in our innermost soul we dedicate ourselves to G-d and His commands. There is nothing public about this. It is not for outer show. It is who we are when we are alone, not trying to impress anyone, not wishing to seem what we are not. [ii]

The tallit katan is not for the world to see; it is an intimate reminder of not only the LORD’s commands but also of His awesome power and His intense care and concern for each of us. In the same article mentioned above, Rabbi Sacks notes that customs and styles have changed, the observance of the tzitzit is no longer obligatory but in wearing the tallit katan, as well as the regular tallit when we pray, we are by an act of our will, freely accepting the covenantal duties of Jewish life – to be holy as He, HaShem, is holy.

This week’s haftarah is Joshua 2:1-24, which deals with the second incursion of spies into the land promised as an inheritance to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Interestingly the report of the two unidentified spies was quite similar to that of Caleb, (Joshua 2:23-24 & Numbers 13:30).

The reading from the Besorah, Luke 18:31–43 records the beginning of Yeshua’s final journey up to Jerusalem. Along the way, He encounters a blind beggar, who when he realizes Yeshua’s presence, loudly intercedes on his own behalf. Earlier in the narrative (Luke 18:15-16) those with Yeshua tried to quiet the beggar, so he wouldn’t bother the Master, but as with the little children, Yeshua called the beggar to Him, then granted the beggar’s request for healing. Yeshua was not burdened by the people but for the people. Isaiah said that one of the signs of the Messiah would be,

…to proclaim Good News to the poor. …to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound… (Isaiah 61:1)

Yeshua did these things and more, as He did the work of His Father who sent Him, (John 5:19). Yeshua expects His followers to emulate His actions.  He proclaimed

…he who puts his trust in Me, the works that I do he will do; and greater than these he will do, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)

Doing the works of Yeshua, is in essence doing the works of His Father, (John 5:19), and in doing this we obey His commands thereby we walk out the command to be holy as He is holy.

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

[ii] http://rabbisacks.org/covenant-conversation-5769-shelach-lecha-beyond-the-fringe/

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