Parshat Shelach Lecha

Shelach Lecha tells the story of the spies sent by Moses to survey the land. Ten of the twelve men return with an ambivalent and fearful report: the land is good but the people are giants and their cities impregnable. Two men, Joshua and Caleb, argue to the contrary – but their confidence is ignored and the people, fearful and demoralised, say, “Let us appoint a leader and go back to Egypt” (Num. 14:4).

God, angry, threatens to destroy the people and start again with Moses. Moses intercedes and succeeds in averting this fate, but God insists that the people will be punished by having to spend forty years in the desert. Their children, not they, will enter the land. There then follows a series of laws about sacrifices, challah, and forgiveness for sins committed inadvertently. This legal section is interrupted by a brief narrative about a Shabbat-breaker. The parsha ends with the law about tzitzit, the fringes on the corners of garments, a text recited daily as the third paragraph of the Shema.

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