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The Long Way Around

The spies sent to scout the Land of Israel took an unusual approach with a universal message

At the center of Parashat Sh’lach lies the episode of the spies. Twelve “worthy men” were chosen and directed to scout out the Land of Israel. On the face of it, their assignment was military reconnaissance, but they were clearly not following military procedure. For a mission such as this, a group of spies would be expected to split up — this one scouting the north, this one the south, and so on, to avoid raising suspicion. But here, they traveled as a single group.

From a practical perspective, it’s a baffling decision. Splitting up would not only have reduced the risk of capture, but also saved time. Their unhurried approach forced G-d’s hand. Our Sages tell us that “G-d shortened their way” around the country, so that they returned to the Jewish people in only forty days. Were they wasting miracles? Couldn’t they have saved G-d the effort? On top of all that, as the leaders of the twelve tribes, it would have made good sense for each to scout out his own tribe’s portion of the land. 

Truth is, it was Moshe’s idea. Moshe instructed the spies to perform their mission in this peculiar way in order to reinforce the foundational importance of unity. It is fundamental to Jewish monotheism that underlying all of nature’s complexity there is but One G-d. By scouting out the land, the spies were entering a world that seemed to be brimming with competing powers. Moshe sent out the spies with a message — not to be misled by appearances.

In our own engagement with the world, we have a mission that parallels that of the spies. As Jews we are enjoined to “scout out” the world and find the divine unity within it. Of course, the world’s surface appears to be the domain of various natural forces, so it takes a deeper perspective to see G-d’s unity underneath.

In our own times, this awareness has begun to seep into the scientific community. In times past, each phenomena was viewed in isolation. Now however, there is a tendency to search out the unity beneath all the various forces. In this way, we are inching closer to the awareness that all the differences in the world flow from G-d, who is in perfect unity. The groundwork is being prepared for the era of redemption, when G-d’s unity will be apparent for the eye to see.

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