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Moses said to Spies… "See the Land for what it is… you shall make yourselves strong and bring from fruit of the Land" (13:17-20).
The words: "You shall be strong and bring from the fruit of the Land" are puzzling. Why should bringing fruit from the Promised Land be associated with strength? Why should the Spies literally have to strengthen themselves to bring samples of produce from the Land that ultimately was to be theirs?
Rashi to 13:23 appears to put the emphasis on the enormous size of the grapes. Using mathematical relationships, he implies their miraculous dimensions by working out how colossal the size of the grapes would have been in order for a single cluster suspended to a pole to have needed the strength of two men.
The only other place in the Torah where the Hebrew words for being strong - ve-hitchazaktem - are used in that form are in matters spiritual. "You shall strengthen yourself and be holy" (Lev. 20:7). The context of that verse is Molech-worship - a particularly virulent form of Canaanite idolatry involving sacrificing children through fire.
Indeed, the main - though not the only - offence the Israelites were to be involved during the First Temple period was idolatry. The Prophets repeatedly emphasize that their persistence in idol-worship was crucial for the eventual exile of the ten tribes and ultimately the destruction of the First Temple and the exile of the tribe of Judah.
With this background, it may be possible to suggest a double-meaning to the word: ve-hitchazaktem - "you shall make yourselves spiritually strong". Firstly, do not be sucked into the idolatrous culture of the Canaanites - "remain loyal and 'holy' to your task". In addition, be strong in faith that you will conquer the Land with G-d behind you. And also be physically strong - bring enough clusters of grapes to give a sample to all the Israelites (using the Hebrew word eshkol,- meaning a 'cluster' in a generic sense) - enough grapes so that all may sample the Holy Land on the tongue, so to speak.
For the Torah accepts that people are irrational. Detailed military planned operations were not in place at that moment. What was wanted was motivation with a "smile" and a sample for all to back it up. Instead of which the Spies gave an accurate account in such a way as to incite panic in the population. The sin was one in presentation rather than content.
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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Also by Jacob Solomon:
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