Yossi Feintuch: What went wrong with the espionage mission?

[Picture: Moses -- in this weekly Torah portion Sh’lach – finds it necessary to include 12 tribal leaders in the scouting-of-the-Promised-Land adventure for the sake of being politically correct, rather than be militarily correct... The original image is a free image for use at CC BY 2.0 level, uploaded by janwillemsen to flickr]

[Picture: Moses -- in this weekly Torah portion Sh’lach – finds it necessary to include 12 tribal leaders in the scouting-of-the-Promised-Land adventure for the sake of being politically correct, rather than be militarily correct... The original image is a free image for use at CC BY 2.0 level, uploaded by janwillemsen to flickr]

[For articles on the “Sabbath of Shlach " in Hebrew, click here]

Rabbi Dr. Yossi Feintuch was born in Afula and holds a Ph.D. in American history from Emory University in Atlanta. He taught American history at Ben-Gurion University. Author of the book US Policy on Jerusalem (JCCO). He now serves as rabbi at the Jewish Center in central Oregon. (JCCO).

Rabbi Dr. Yossi Feintuch was born in Afula and holds a Ph.D. in American history from Emory University in Atlanta. He taught American history at Ben-Gurion University.

Author of the book US Policy on Jerusalem (JCCO).

He now serves as rabbi at the Jewish Center in central Oregon. (JCCO).

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Sending off a bigwig from every tribe (except Moses' tribe, Levi) is where the mission starts to fail before it was even launched, with no one leader at whose desk the buck stops, to run it.

Moses -- in this weekly Torah portion Sh’lach – finds it necessary to include 12 tribal leaders in the scouting-of-the-Promised-Land adventure for the sake of being politically correct, rather than be militarily correct, (like Joshua will be 38 years later when he sent two real spies to Jericho as we can read in this weekly Haftarah). Moses must have done so out of his concern that if the mission failed, mud-slinging at those tribes that participated in the scouting squad by those tribes that had not been included in it, would erupt and trigger off a search for scapegoats that would result in a grave internal strife.

[Picture: Moses -- in this weekly Torah portion Sh’lach – finds it necessary to include 12 tribal leaders in the scouting-of-the-Promised-Land adventure for the sake of being politically correct, rather than be militarily correct... The image was created and uploaded to Wikipedia by Yair Haklai. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License: CC BY-SA 3.0]

[Picture: Moses -- in this weekly Torah portion Sh’lach – finds it necessary to include 12 tribal leaders in the scouting-of-the-Promised-Land adventure for the sake of being politically correct, rather than be militarily correct... The image was created and uploaded to Wikipedia by Yair Haklai. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License: CC BY-SA 3.0]

So far it was the ‘’riffraff’’ – the downtrodden non-Hebrews who joined the Israelite Exodus -- who were seen as responsible for either the disastrous golden calf incident or the-craving-for-meat debacle.  Notably, it was Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim of Lontchis in his 17th century Torah commentary Kli Yakar, who faults Moses for not including women in the mission; they would have made the Promised Land more likable for other fellow scouts, and consequently mitigate the calamitous results of the mission.

In sending off tribal politicians Moses doomed the mission to implode from within; he should have anticipated that they would form their own opinions – if they did not have them beforehand – though Moses had asked none of them to offer his personal take, especially since none of the 12 was a Mossad-trained secret agent, or an intelligence officer trained as an analyst at the Pharaoh’s military academy…

By deliberately requesting the scouts for military intelligence first, namely, whether the local populace was strong bodied or numerous, dwelling in fortified cities or in open settlements, and only secondly for information about the land and its flora -- even requesting to bring back fruit samples -- Moses must have known that a sanguine ‘’botanical report’’ would mitigate somewhat any harshness that might stem from the uncertainty about the military findings.

[Picture: Moses must have known that a sanguine ‘’botanical report’’ would mitigate somewhat any harshness that might stem from the uncertainty about the military findings.Free Image - CC0 Creative Commons - Designed and Uploaded by KELLEPICS to Pixabay]

[Picture: Moses must have known that a sanguine ‘’botanical report’’ would mitigate somewhat any harshness that might stem from the uncertainty about the military findings.Free Image - CC0 Creative Commons - Designed and Uploaded by KELLEPICS to Pixabay]

When the twelve tribes returned after forty days they tragically did not go to Moses’ tent, though it was Moses alone who had commissioned them. After all, they were public opinion consumers and as such they would only make their report on Main Street, to Moses and to the whole people, who were clueless about their findings, yet malleable and prone to quick impressionableness. As to why Moses agreed to receive the scouts’ report in the public one could only offer wonderment.

To acquire immediately the reputation of being reliable and trustworthy, ten of the twelve scouts admitted – thank you very much! -- that the land was indeed flowing with milk (not of dairy livestock but of juicy fruit trees), and with honey (not of bees but of figs) — ‘’look at these samples’’!  Hence, having established their credibility as truth reporters, the ten scouts presented their tendentious military report as a finale to maximize its impact, thus reversing Moses' desirable order of presenting their reports.  Certainly, Moses – who had already acquiesced and received the scouts in the public -- had had to ask that they report first their military findings but he did nothing to make the ten men pivot.

The talmudic tractate of Pirkey Avot teaches us that wise ones reply according to the original order of the questions they are asked; only a golem --   a person that hasn’t matured to wisdom yet – reshuffles the order and presumes that he speaks the truth without understanding that truth is often hidden and is hard to get at.   The land is totally cool, the 10 tribes assert, only to shift from speaking truth, or ‘’emes’’, to saying ‘’Efes''; BUT, … it is inhabited by ‘’fierce’’ folks and ‘’giants’’ who dwell in ‘’very large fortified cities’’. And ‘’It is a land that consumes those who dwell in it’’.

[Picture: It is inhabited by ‘’fierce’’ folks and ‘’giants’’ who dwell in ‘’very large fortified cities’’. And ‘’It is a land that consumes those who dwell in it’’... The copyright holder in this photo has not been found. Therefore, the use is made under section 27A of the Copyright Law. The main rights holder, please contact: yehezkeally@gmail.com]

[Picture: It is inhabited by ‘’fierce’’ folks and ‘’giants’’ who dwell in ‘’very large fortified cities’’. And ‘’It is a land that consumes those who dwell in it’’... The copyright holder in this photo has not been found. Therefore, the use is made under section 27A of the Copyright Law. The main rights holder, please contact: [email protected]]

The truth of the matter, however, was that those so-called fierce people sheltered themselves behind fortified city walls not because they were mighty, but because they were rather worried and fearful of an imminent Israelite invasion.  Indeed, somehow, they allowed 12 Hebrew politicians to move about the land for forty days, while carrying a huge cluster of grapes tied to a branch that required two of them to carry it openly, without an incident.

Forty years later those ‘’fierce people’’ were still dreading the Israelites, ''and all the inhabitants of the land [were] quaking before’’ them, as Rahav, Jericho’s ‘’Madam’’, intimated to Joshua’s two anonymous bona fide spies whom she sheltered in her house of ‘’ill repute’’.

The ten scouts did not only misread the findings on the ground; from their half true report about the goodness of the land -- half-truths are worse than a whole lie; a lie is easier to detect than a lie that is preceded by true facts -- they moved to tell a lie – ‘’We can’t do it’’.

[Picture: half-truths are worse than a whole lie; a lie is easier to detect than a lie that is preceded by true facts -- they moved to tell a lie – ‘’We can’t do it’’... The copyright holder in this photo has not been found. Therefore, the use is made under section 27A of the Copyright Law. The main rights holder, please contact: yehezkeally@gmail.com. Announcement: Knowledge Production]

[Picture: half-truths are worse than a whole lie; a lie is easier to detect than a lie that is preceded by true facts -- they moved to tell a lie – ‘’We can’t do it’’... The copyright holder in this photo has not been found. Therefore, the use is made under section 27A of the Copyright Law. The main rights holder, please contact: [email protected] Announcement: Knowledge Production]

Without any credibility as intelligence analysts, or being asked to by Moses, they quickly inferred and exclaimed that the Israelites stood no chance to wrest the land from its current inhabitants, and that a return to Egypt was the only plausible option. Eleanor Roosevelt, by the way, would not consider any of these ten tribal chiefs as a great leader. To be one, she said, you need to inspire people to have confidence in themselves.

And yet, the worst woe that those ten scouts committed as their coup de grâce for that night of Tish’ah b’Av (the 9th of Av) -- besides misrepresenting and slandering the land – was telling the people of their fright of the giants: “And in our eyes we were like grasshoppers, and likewise in theirs’’.

How did they know what the giants thought of them? And if they did see them, they, the giants, were those who had dodged an encounter. And besides, why should anyone care how others see them? Why, the truly important matter is how one sees himself. And perhaps here the ten tribes were sadly right; when one projects self-inferiority, others who see him are likely to share such a self-estimation. Outsiders will adopt whatever image one broadcasts for them, or as Eleanor Roosevelt put it: ‘’No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

[Picture: Eleanor Roosevelt. The image is in the public domain]

[For articles on the “Sabbath of Shlach " in Hebrew, click here]

מצאת טעות בכתבה? הבחנת בהפרה של זכויות יוצרים? נתקלת בדבר מה שאיננו ראוי? אנא דווח לנו!

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Yossi Feintuch: What went wrong with the espionage mission?

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