This week, parsha Shelach teaches us lessons about memory. It opens with the Children of Israel very close to reaching the goal of the Exodus – entering the Land of Israel. God gives Moses permission to send out the Meraglim (“spies” or “scouts”) to investigate the Land and report back on its conditions before the Israelites enter to drive out the Canaanites. The Meraglim are recruited from the 12 tribes, each sending one of its most distinguished leaders, including Miriam’s husband Caleb and Moses’ student Joshua.
The Meraglim travel throughout the Land learning about its people, geography and crops. They return and give a report that the Land is good, but the people are giants. They give their opinion that the people cannot be conquered and discourage the Israelites from entering the Land, and the people agree.
Caleb and Joshua disagree with the report, and encourage the people to believe in God’s promise that they would inherit the Land. But the people have forgotten the many signs, wonders and miracles that showed God’s love for Israel. God understands that this generation is not ready to enter Israel, and tells them that, except for Caleb and Joshua, none of them will enter the Land. At the end of the parsha, God instructs the people that they are to attach tzitzit – special fringes – to the corners of their four-cornered garments. The tzitzit are to remind people of the mitzvot.
How can it be that the Israelites would recall the commandments by seeing the fringes on their garments, when they had forgotten God sending the Ten Plagues and splitting the Sea of Reeds? Sometimes the ordinary and familiar can jog the memory more easily than a past miraculous event. Your parents have done wonderful things for you – cared for you when you were sick, helped you learn difficult subjects, taken you on great vacations. But when they expect you to do your chores around the house, a note on your job chart on the refrigerator reminds you that things are expected of you.
©2014 Nelson R. Block