Back to the Wilderness

When the Israelites decide they are not strong enough to conquer the Land of Israel, God decides they won't even try

This week, we read the Torah portion Shelakh--literally, "Send," thedirective of God to Moses concerning spies that will reconnoiter thePromised Land. Of course, more decisive will be God's later command to Moses, "Turn and get into the wilderness," which sends the Israelites wandering in the desert for another 40 years, starting just as they stood ready to enter the Promised Land. So close and yet so far. Moreover, those over the age of 20 are sentenced to die during these 40 years in the desert, never at all to reach the Land of Milk and Honey. According to the text, what was the sin of the spies that merited such harsh punishment?

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Until now, the travels and travails of the Israelites since theirdeparture from Egypt were part of the greater sweep of the Exodus event--God's redemption of the Jewish people from slavery and, in effect, their return to a history of their own. While there are setbacks, most notably the sin of the Golden Calf, most of Israel's time in the desert is dedicated to imbuing the fledgling nation with a collective consciousness and outfitting them for its religious duties to God and each other. Their movement toward the Land of Canaan is symbolic of their movement in history.

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