Schlach: And the land had rest for forty years….

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Send men to spy out the Land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelite people; send one man from each of the ancestral tribes, each one a prince of his tribe. So Moses sent them out from the Wilderness of Paran….”

–Num. 13:1-3

As I recall it—though it happened only last month, it feels like a year ago—Moses did not ask whether we wished to cross the Jordan River—more like a rivulet, actually; one of us, Gaddiel ben Sodi, was a tall, strapping fellow, and he was able to straddle the river from side to side. “Mighty Jordan,” indeed! Well, from that inauspicious beginning of our spy mission, things got only worse.

My name? Oh, since you asked—I am Shammua ben Zacur, of the Tribe of Reuven. Yes, that tribe. Our forebear’s reputation was never sterling, especially after he seduced his own aunt, Bilhah, in a failed attempt to gain control of the tribes after Jacob’s death. Jacob was then very much alive, and, angry against his eldest son, he banished Reuven for a time.

But I digress: what of our mission? It did not begin well. We were hungry; Moses had virtually chased us out of the camp, so eager was he to fulfill the Lord’s prophecy of conquest. And so, when we discovered a field of berry-bushes, we fell upon them with a will. That was foolish, and dangerous: we all suffered from a griping of the guts soon after—the berries were not for human consumption; we later on saw wild pigs and kites scarfing them down, while we lay in hiding from the Canaanites. We all groaned from our stomachs—Geuel ben Machi, of the Tribe of Gad, cried out so loudly with pain, that we threatened to leave him there.

Moses had enjoined upon us the task of seeing whether the Canaanites lived in open or in walled cities, but, I admit, we feared to go near, and so could only estimate the size of their castle-dwellings. We later reported to him that it would take our entire military strength to conquer such thickly-walled bastions as Jericho and Ai—it turns out that the walls were three feet thick! Our rabbi-leader—he was then old and weak— just looked down at the ground, disappointed, and mumbled something like, “The Lord will protect His People; the Lord will bless His people with peace.”

Well, you know what you can do with such prayers—give me a sword and shield any day, and I will formulate some scheme to make the inhabitants open their gates of stone and pursue my platoon, while our other infantry race inside and set the grain-stocks afire. Stampede the donkeys, slay their fighters, and kidnap the women and children—yes, that will win us the city, more quickly and efficiently than prayers to the Lord.

Mind you, I was not one of the croakers who told the people of imaginary giants or city-walls reaching up to the heavens. It is true that the Amalekites dwelt in the Negev Desert. Grr—they are a shifty, treacherous people—I yearn to eradicate them from the face of the earth! But that never happened. They are here to this day, a constant thorn in our side.

Caleb, bless him, took my part—he believed with all his heart, and, with help from God, that we could conquer the land. But, you know what happened in the end? Rather than storming across the Jordan and battering the walled cities to dust, we instead filtered across slowly, slowly—so that, one day, the locals looked out their windows and doors and saw us there, settling in. That was when they fled: their own prejudice and hatred of us Israelites drove them away.

And the land had rest for forty years….

Rabbi David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance.

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