Sometimes it’s hard to tell how much collective integrity we have. We hear stories all the time about corporations putting shareholders’ interests above customers and employees or about people in positions of power using that power to take advantage of others. On the other hand, more people are standing up for their rights and making their voices heard. How often is your integrity called into question or into action? Have you had to speak out against an injustice, or if you needed to, could you? We try to teach our children that the right way is not always the popular way, but it can be a long road and a difficult lesson.
We find one such lesson in the Torah this week with Parshat Shlach Lecha and the story of the spies. The parshah begins with Moshe sending 12 spies, one from each tribe, into the land of Cana’an to bring back an accounting of the land. The spies return with mixed reviews. Two spies report back with positive findings, but the negativity of the other ten reports instills so much fear in the nation that they decide they do not want to make the journey into the Promised Land after all. This infuriates God, who then decrees that anyone who went out from Egypt at age 20 or older will not be allowed to enter the land of Cana’an. This generation will purposefully die out so that a new generation, unfettered by the destructive mindset of their predecessors, can start anew.
We don’t know the motive behind the negative report, but clearly Moshe and Aaron, as the leaders of the people, must have felt defeated. After having led the Israelites out of Egypt, making promises of a great new land, the very same group decides they want nothing to do with the land anymore, and we’re left to guess whether it was fear of change or a lack of courage on the part of the spies. What we do know is that when Joshua and Caleb come back, they offer a different report. In chapter 14, verses 6-10 we hear of all the good in the land. As they finish their report, they leave with a powerful message:
“Only you must not rebel against the Lord. Have no fear then of the people of the country, for they are our prey: Their protection has departed from them, but the Lord is with us. Have no fear of them!” As the whole community threatened to pelt them with stones, the Presence of the Lord appeared in the Tent of Meeting to all the Israelites.
Joshua and Caleb had the courage to speak the truth. They held integrity to their story and their belief in God in the face of a nation ready to rebel (again). Ultimately, Joshua and Caleb are right. They speak the truth, and as the Christian Gospel of John will instruct in a different context and 600 years later, the truth is literally what sets them free. The misguided majority dies out in the wilderness, and those with courage and integrity (Joshua and Caleb) live on to see their dreams realized. The lesson of Parshat Shlach Lecha is that certain truths don’t vary according to how many people agree. Shabbat shalom.