We read in the portion of Shelach about the leaders from each of the 12 tribes that were sent by Moses and G-d to scout the land of Cannan – Israel. They scouted the land and, after 40-days, they brought back grapes and other fruits. They reported to Moses and the entire community that although the land “flowed with milk and honey”, the land was fortified, their enemies lived nearby, there were giants and the “land would consume them” – creating fear and uncertainty amongst the people. The people rallied against Moses and threatened to appoint another leader and return to Egypt. G-d threatened to wipe out the entire community for their loss of certainty right before entering the “Promised Land”, but instead caused them to roam the desert for 40 years before they could return. We learn from the Zohar and Talmud that the consciousness of 10 of the 12 tribal chieftans who were sent to scout as “spies” was filled with ego. They believed that if the community became integrated in the Promised Land they would lose their power and prestige as the heads of their tribes. They also believed that it would be easier to maintain spiritual lives in the desert, without having to engage in the lowly physical, material world. We can learn from this story one of the basic principals of spirituality and Torah – G-d is in everything and we should strive to find Holiness within our day-to-day lives. When we try to become our highest selves in the material world, we can see how the infinite inhabits the finite. Instead of being fearful of being “consumed by the earth and materiality”, we must remember that G-d is within every human interaction and the highest connection is found within our daily toil. True spirituality cannot be attained on a mountain top or in isolation.
Prior to sending the spies, Moses added the Hebrew letter “yud” to Hoshea’s name and renamed him Yehoshua. By adding the first letter for G-d’s Holiest name (the “Yud Kei Vav Kei”) to Yehoshua, Moses connected him to G-d and provided him with tools to achieve the highest level of consciousness. Accordingly, Yehoshua was not blocked by his ego and did not report negative stories of Israel to the community. Rather, he advised that the land was exceptionally good and we read in the portion that all of the other spies, except Yehoshua and Caleb, subsequently died of plague. We can learn from this that a simple act of connecting to G-d (in this case the addition of a yud to Yehoshua’s name) can enable us to make better decisions and empower us to instill confidence, as opposed to doubt, in others.
As we’ve read throughout the Torah, the nation of Amalek is an enemy to the Israelites and a universal energy that needs to be overcome and stomped out in order to achieve true freedom. The word Amalek has the same numerical value (240) as the Hebrew word “safek” which means doubt. The existence of Amalek is a connection to uncertainty which must always be overcome in order to achieve our highest potential. The spies tell the people that Amalek lives in the South of the land and we read how Amalek thwarts the Israelites who subsequently entered Caanan. The lesson here is that when we recognize the presence of Amalek or doubt in our lives, we must do our best to maintain certainty throughout all situations and try to connect to the energy of freedom and miracles.
The portion describes how G-d told Moses to instruct the community to “set aside” a portion of the bread (challah) that was to be eaten from the land. The importance of setting something aside is a metaphor for creating a separation or distinction between the Holy and the mundane, including setting aside time for Shabbat or money for tzedakah. Also, by setting aside a piece of dough from challah, we have an opportunity to focus our intention on the act of preparing the food and more easily recognize that G-d is in everything. From the growing and harvesting of the wheat to the creation of the final product, we can see G-d’s hand in the entire process. The simple act of separating the dough allows us to connect to the spiritual aspect of the preparation and elevate the physical act of eating.