Shelah Lekha – Thoughts on the Perasha

Shouting fire in a crowded theater” is a popular metaphor for speech or actions made for the principal purpose of creating unnecessary panic. The phrase is a paraphrasing of Justice Oliver Wendell Holme’s Jr.  opinion in the United States Supreme Court. As Justice Holmes wrote:”The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.

This week’s Perasha Shela Lekha relays the story of the 12 spies that Moshe sent to see the Land of Canaan as the People of Israel were at the threshold of the Land of Israel. A decisive incident took place. Twelve of the leaders of the nation, one from each tribe, went to assess the Land and came back with a report that disheartened and discouraged the people and caused them to lose faith in themselves and their ability to conquer the land.  This incident resulted in delaying the entry to Israel for another 39 years until the entire generation would pass on in the Wilderness.

The spies were clearly irresponsible in their approach to reporting their findings. They shared their fears with the multitudes, and evoked panic in the hearts of Bene Yisrael.  Their role changed the destiny of the people for forty years.  Their worst offense, which led to the catastrophe, was first and foremost their lack of self-esteem, as they described themselves as grasshoppers in their own eyes, and so they became as such in the eyes of the local inhabitants. Secondly, it was their interpretation of events in a way that would conform to their own notions of that lack of faith in themselves and in G-d by saying “we cannot ascend to the land…” that created a national hysteria.

The whole episode is actually a model and a lesson for all of us as a nation and as a people. The need to appoint proper leadership, that has self-esteem, strong in their faith and mission, yet humble and understanding of the need of the people.  The role of a leader is to carry the burden of the flock with responsibility and determination. His or her words, his or her actions will they create a sense of empowerment and strength or will they create a national hysteria and demoralization?  People and nations are quick to forget a victory, as soon as a disappointment and criticism occurs. Hashem expresses it to Moshe perfectly; “How long will this people… not have faith in Me despite all the signs that I have performed in their midst?”  It is a sad reality of human kind. We must be strong in our faith, strong in ourselves and in our charge.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Elie Abadie, M.D.

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