Overcoming Obstacles - based on Parashat Shelach

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Overcoming Obstacles

A Study Based on Parashat Shelach

With Rabbi Reuven Ben-Avraham.

Wandering in the desert for forty years was not Elohim’s original plan for the Children of Israel. Personally I have actually travelled all around the Sinai from Jerusalem back to Jerusalem overland, in just five days. Although, that was on an ultra modern luxurious fully air-conditioned coach and sadly that was obviously not available to Moshe and B’Nei Yisrael. However even on foot, and with a forty-day detour at Mount Sinai, the journey should not have taken more than several months. And so we find ourselves beginning to remember that horrid time back at Mt. Sinai and those sinful ones who created that golden calf and worshipped it and then what happened at the ‘Wilderness of Paran’ when the spies were sent in to survey the land! Thus, much later at ‘Kadesh Barnea’ Elohim refused all that generation to pass and only Yahushua - Joshua and Kalev – Caleb and the new generation was permitted to enter the Promised Land.

“And spoke unto Moshe, saying: ‘Send thou men, that they may spy out the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel; of every tribe of their fathers shall ye send a man, every one a prince among them.' And Moshe sent them from the wilderness of Paran according to the commandment of ; all of them men who were heads of the children of IsraelBe’midbar - Numbers 13:1-3 (JPS version of the Tanakh).

Thus we found the Israelites at ‘Wilderness of Paran’ and they were finally ready to conquer the Promised Land. And they believed that, Elohim, blessed be His Sanctified Name, would provide military might. Still, Elohim sought the people’s partnership. Elohim and Moshe was asked to deputize twelve spies, one “prince” from each tribe, to scout out the Land. The spies were given two charges: First, they are to report about the Land itself: If it was a good and a fertile land, flowing with milk and honey as promised? Then, the spies are to assess how the Israelites should go about conquering the Land of Elohim’s promise. That's where the partnership comes in: The people are to strategize based on facts they find on the ground; Elohim, as always, will assure victory. And off they went;

“And they came unto the valley of Eshcol, and cut down from thence a branch with one cluster of grapes, and they bore it upon a pole between two; they took also of the pomegranates, and of the figs” Be’midbar - Numbers 13:23 (JPS).

Forty long days later the twelve men returned from their journey into the land and two men were bearing a long pole with large cluster of grapes as well as pomegranates, and of the figs.

“And they returned from spying out the land at the end of forty days. And they went and came to Moshe, and to Acharon - Aaron, and to all the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the wilderness of Paran, to Kadesh; and brought back word unto them, and unto all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. And they told him, and said: ‘We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it. Howbeit the people that dwell in the land are fierce, and the cities are fortified, and very great; and moreover we saw the children of Anak there. Amalek dwelleth in the land of the South; and the Hittite, and the Jebusite, and the Amorite, dwell in the mountains; and the Canaanite dwelleth by the sea, and along by the side of the Jordan.’” Be’midbar - Numbers 13:25-29 (JPS).

Thus they certainly reported that it was a good and fertile land, flowing with milk and honey just as it was promised? “‘We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it”.

Yet the spies also returned with a mixed report. Even though they all agreed that the Land was magnificent, but on the other hand, ten of these spies reported that the land could not possibly be conquered, for they also stated;

“‘… the people that dwell in the land are fierce, and the cities are fortified, and very great; and moreover we saw the children of Anak there. Amalek dwelleth in the land of the South; and the Hittite, and the Jebusite, and the Amorite, dwell in the mountains; and the Canaanite dwelleth by the sea, and along by the side of the Jordan.’” Be’midbar - Numbers 13:28 (JPS).

They claimed that Canaan was populated by giants. The cities, they indicated, were well fortified that the walls reached up to the heavens.

The Israelites, hearing the report from these spies, became very disheartened. They sulked in their tents and they refused to enter the land promised to them. The fact is that they lost their nerve, but more to the point, they had also lost their faith. They no longer believed that Elohim would assure their safe passage into the Land of Israel.

“Caleb stilled the people toward Moshe, and said: ‘We should go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it.’ But the (ten) men that went up with him said: ‘We are not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we.’ And they spread an evil report of the land which they had spied out unto the children of Israel, saying: ‘The land, through which we have passed to spy it out, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of great stature. And there we saw the Nephilim, the sons of Anak, who come of the Nephilim; and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight’” Be’midbar - Numbers 13:30-33 (JPS).

And sadly just like before in the wilderness, even having seen Elohim’s great miracles, B’Nei Yisrael rebelled against Moshe’ and they continually angered Elohim greatly and this time He reacts swiftly to the people's crisis of faith!

“And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night. And all the children of Israel murmured against Moshe and against Acharon - Aaron; and the whole congregation said unto them: ‘Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would we had died in this wilderness! And wherefore doth bring us unto this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will be a prey; were it not better for us to return into Egypt?’” Be’midbar - Numbers 14:1-3 (JPS).

Elohim, blessed be He, announces a new plan: B’Nei Yisrael will wander in the dessert for a total of forty years. Those who fail to trust Him, an entire generation will die in the wilderness. Only their children will enter the Land of Israel redeeming the ancient promise.

As we will well know there were only two men who were the exceptions. You will recall that ten of the twelve spies had told the people about unconquerable giants and unassailable city walls, etc. The remaining two Yahushua - Joshua and Kalev - Caleb attempted in vain to calm the people, to assure them that they could enter the Promised Land after all, with Elohims help.

But, sadly they were not successful and they did not achieve their desired outcome: The Israelites remained hunkered down in their tents, petrified of moving forward into the Land. Elohim did not intervene to help Yahushua - Joshua and Kalev - Caleb persuade the Israelites. Nevertheless, they were richly rewarded. Unlike their entire generation, for they would survive the forty years of desert wandering and be the only two to enter the Land of Yisrael with the next generation.

Some rabbinical commentators argue that Yahushua - Joshua and Kalev - Caleb are blessed because they tell the truth about the Land, while the other spies lie. A closer reading of the Torah itself, though, suggests a different scenario. They did not actually ever deny the presence of gigantic enemies in the Land. Neither do they insist that the cities fortifications can easily be breached or scaled. Instead, Yahushua - Joshua and Kalev - Caleb insist that, whatever the challenges that lie ahead, they can be met successfully with Elohim's help. Elohim, who has redeemed Israel from slavery with ten plagues and a parting of the Sea can surely also overcome the people of the Land and their city walls, no matter how tall a wall!

What can we Learn from this event?

This study asks the question, are you willing to be like Yahushua - Joshua and Kalev - Caleb? Living a life full of faith and trust, regardless the obstacles that may lie before us? These two great men of faith has certainly taught me that “Bitachon” - - ‘real trust’ does not require us to believe that everything will always go perfectly. Instead, with “bitachon”, ‘true faith’, we can be optimistic that we will be O.K., regardless the outcome.

PS: The Ivrit word - Bitachon means ‘TRUST’, and it has been defined as relying on Elohim, thus fully trusting Elohim, blessed be His Sanctified His Name! It is a sense of depending on Him to watch over and protect us.

Elohim forbid, we may be faced with a devastating diagnosis and realise that we are faced with a bad situation and told that this severe health problem is incurable. The question is; how will we respond will we blame someone else, or will we be like Kalev - Caleb and Yahushua - Joshua and stay firm and not lose our faith, but always acknowledging That Elohim is always is with us! Yes, the full weight of the deck may seem to be stacked against us, yet we can marshal the forces available to us, from medical care to our strong faith in our beloved Elohim, blessed be He, and seek healing. Even with state-of-the-art treatment and the most profound trust in Elohim, we may not overcome the illness. Still, with bitachon and true trust, we can live with the faith that we and our loved ones will be O.K., even if no cure is to be had.

Not every significant challenge is life-threatening. Many may have lost a job at one point or another, especially during these recent years of Covid-19 and the many other tragic times the world has, and is still seeing! There are those who have lost their careers, thus their livelihoods, and futures are threatened.

Again, we are only human but do not let anger and denial be the only part of our response. I am well aware how difficult it might be to choose to be like; Yahushua - Joshua, for myself am the person who is mentioned when I wrote the words “faced with a devastating diagnosis” but we must recognize the real obstacles and trust our beloved Elohim, blessed be His Sanctified Name, for He will never ever allow us to be alone. I have been ill for many, many years, but He has been my strength and my comfort each and every day!

We can always go and wander in the wilderness for forty years, but better still we can quiet those defeatist voices inside ourselves, just as Kalev - Caleb tries to do and hush our complaining brethren. With ‘bitachon’, ‘true trust’, but they just did not want it! We must look forward and face the future towards better days, and believe me they will come!

With ‘bitachon’, ‘true trust’, may we all follow the example set by Yahushua - Joshua and Kalev - Caleb: Let us never deny the challenges before us. Let us always live with the kind of faith that will tell you, that even the Greatest Obstacles can be Overcome. Thus why not trust that, and with Elohim’s help, we can reach the Promised Land, together, Come Mashiach, come!

 

 

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Rabbi Reuven Ben-Avraham.

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