Shelach-Lekha: It’s Too Late

The Israelites rose early in the morning and went up to the heights of the hill country, saying, “Here we are. We will go up to the place that the LORD has promised, for we have sinned.”  But Moses said, “Why is it you are overstepping the LORD’s word, when it will not succeed.  Do not go up, for the LORD is not in your midst. . . . ”  But they presumed to go up to the heights of the hill country . . . .Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that  hill country came down and struck them and shattered them all the way to Hormah.  (Num 14:40-45)

There is a Rebbe Nachman story “The Lost Princess” about a man who seeks to free a princess who had been banished to an evil place because of a hasty curse her father had uttered.  The man is told that in order to free her he has to keep vigil in a secluded spot for a year.  But he violates the terms of the vigil on the final day, and the princess remains shut up in the fortress.  It doesn’t take a wholesale moral collapse to open the door to evil and failure, just a single error, even a casual slip.

This motif is common in folk tales, but is also characteristically Jewish.  In this week’s Torah portion, God had commanded the Israelites, through Moses, to take possession of the land of Canaan.   Put off by the fears of some of the scouts, they backed out.  In the above verses, they repent, but Moses tells them it’s too late.

This failure has more serious consequences than the Golden Calf.   In both cases, Israel repents, but here, the repentance comes only after God had already vowed that “none of the people who . . .  have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their ancestors” (Num 14:22-23).   The door that was open is now shut.  It will re-open in time, but not for them.

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