Sh’lach L’cha

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God says to Moses:
Sh’lach l’cha anashim
Send – But “For Yourself”

The opening words of this week’s portion are commonly translated as, “God spoke to Moses, saying, Send men to scout the land of Canaan … “.  But the key phrase – sh’lach l’cha – literally means”send for yourself.”

What are we to make of this particular phrasing?

Some commentators look to Deuteronomy (1:22) where Moses says it was the people who asked that scouts be sent. But our portion says it was God who commanded Moses – the “for yourself” part notwithstanding.

To reconcile the two seemingly conflicting accounts – and explain “for yourself” – our sages say it was the people who initially made the demand. God wasn’t interested (“they should have faith” I can hear God saying) but acceded to a request from Moses to satisfy the need of the people to find out about the land with their own – or at least their leaders’ – eyes.

Rashi suggests God knew the result would not be good. After hearing from the people, Moses consulted with God, who told him “I already told them it was good, when I promised them I would take them to a land flowing with milk and honey. Now, I swear, I will give them a chance to be steered wrong by these spies and not possess it.”

The episode of the scouts is identified as the event that led to 40 years of wandering. After all, the decree came after the spies negative report and seemed to be God’s compromise with Moses from the original decision that the people would be destroyed.   (Numbers 14:11-24).

But the midrash recounted above suggests it was a sort of ploy by God to provide an excuse for a decision that had already been made. Does God really need such excuses? Or is this story intended to help us understand God’s punishment?

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