This week, in Parasha Shelach, we learn why the Children of Israel wandered 40 years in the desert.
It’s because of the scouts.
Not the Boy Scouts, but the meraglim, the “scouts” or “spies” who went to see Canaan and gather information about it to prepare the people for entering, conquering and settling the land. Moses asks God if he should send out men to scout out the land before the Israelites enter it, and God responds that Moses can do so “if you please”. Moses has each of the 12 tribes send one of its princes to form an elite squad to go see the land. Among the distinguished leaders are Caleb, who is married to Moses’ sister Miriam, and Joshua, who is Moses’ assistant.
The men come back with examples of the wonderful fruit that grows in Canaan. They also report that the people living there are giants. They say the Israelites cannot conquer the land, and convince the people they should not even try. Some of the people even say they should return to Egypt. Caleb and Joshua dispute the report of the other scouts and remind the people of God’s promises that the land would be theirs, but the people ignore their advice.
The people’s disbelief angers God, and Moses asks that they be forgiven. God punishes the ten meraglim who disparaged the land with a plague, leaving only Caleb and Joshua. God also decrees that the entire generation of adult Israelites then alive – except the loyal Caleb and Joshua – will wander in the Wilderness until they are all gone, so that only a new generation will enter the land.
The parasha teaches us that sometimes even leaders will take the wrong path. The mergalim were all princes of their tribes. But they did not understand their job as scouts.
The founder of Scouting, Lord Baden-Powell, explained that in the army or hunting, a scout was someone who went ahead of the group to find out what lay ahead of them and report back. But their job required them to keep their basic goal in mind. For an army scout, the goal was to keep the army moving toward their next position. For a hunting party, the goal was to find animals.
The goal of the Children of Israel was to fulfill God’s promise of a life of Torah in the land of Canaan, which would become Israel. If the meraglim found conditions in the land that suggested they would fail in attaining their goal, they should have discussed these conditions with Moses and other leaders to understand how to overcome the obstacles. They should have remembered all the miracles God had performed for the Israelites on the journey out of Egypt and in the Wilderness, and realized that God would help them attain their goal.
As Scouts, and especially when we are leading others, when we encounter obstacles along our path, we should think about our goals, and try to understand how to meet them despite the obstacles.