From 1993 until 2007 a significant part of every summer revolved around RSY-Netzer and the programme of events they offered (Shemesh,IsraelTour and Kayitz-Netzer). I was a chanich (participant), a madrich (leader), a rosh (head of camp), and then I spent several more years filling any role which was needed. It therefore might come as something of a surprise that I threw something of a fit the night before my first RSY-Netzer experience. I had said previously that I wanted to go on summer camp, but as it became real I was less than enthusiastic about the prospect of spending two weeks away from home with a group of strangers.
It wasn’t the summer camp specifically; it was more about a fear of doing something new. I’m one of those people who doesn’t like change, isn’t keen on surprises, and would quite happily stay at home (or at least within a 5 mile radius) most of the time. In my family my sister is the adventurous one, travelling all over the world and searching out new experiences; while I am much happier going to places I already know.
I can therefore sympathise with the Israelites in this week’s Torah portion, who were petrified about the prospect of advancing on theLandofIsrael. After the spies gave their account of the land: ‘the whole community broke into loud cries, and the people wept that night’ (Numbers 14:1). They were so frightened by the prospect of the inhabitants of the land that ‘they said to one another, ‘Let us head back forEgypt’ (Numbers 14:4).
The ten spies gave an account of the land which terrified the people, warning them of the ‘giants’ living there, and the futility of any attempt to conquer the land. However, with or without the spies report, it is likely that the people would still have been fearful of this unknown land and the mysterious inhabitants within it. They were so frightened that they preferred the certainty of slavery inEgypt, rather than the mystery of the land promised by God.
It was only Joshua and Caleb, who stood up before the people and offered an alternative report: ‘The land we traversed and scouted is an exceedingly good land. If pleased with us, Adonai will bring us into that land’ (Numbers 14:7-8). They were not concerned about the inhabitants of the land, they had faith that God would deliver them into the land, which had been promised to them.
When people step into the unknown it is important to remember that God is with us wherever we travel. With a little faith in God, Caleb and Joshua were confident that the people would be able to conquer the unknown land, and at the same time conquer their fear of the unknown.
This community was unable to overcome their fear and so they were never able to enter the Promised Land, dying in the wilderness. They serve as a cautionary tale for all of us. With a little bit of faith in God the unknown can become a little less scary, and we can reach our own Promised Land.