Why did the Israelites wander in the wilderness for 40 years?
Because a man was leading them and he wouldn’t ask for directions.
Jokes are usually effective because they bear a grain of truth concealed within the joke’s interior. We might wonder why Moshe, the greatest leader in all of Jewish history, had such a difficult time leading a community along a route which would require three weeks of travel, even allowing plenty of time to stroll and stop for breaks. The answer is before us in this week’s Parshah.
12 scouts are dispatched from the main encampment and each scout surveils a specific region of the Promised Land. Upon their return the scouts announce their findings. “It’s a land flowing with milk and honey and here are some of the delicious fruits which we found there.” Ten scouts continue by describing the land as “inhabited by giants and Amalek is in the land.” The 10 scouts who deliver the negative report intentionally incite fear by name-dropping ‘Amalek’, the warrior tribe which had mounted a sneak attack against the weak and vulnerable Israelites shortly after the Exodus about year before. Terrified, the Israelites call out “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt”; in effect rebelling against Moses and blaspheming God. They are punished and wander for 40 years; a punishment of one year for each of the 40 days of the scout survey mission.
We mighty ask why the Israelites bought into the pessimistic report of the Ten Scouts and ignored the optimistic report delivered by Calev and Joshua. It’s simple- like any snake oil salesman there was a grain of truth in the report upon which lies were built. The 10 scouts who lacked self-confidence openly declared the land was “flowing with milk and honey” echoing sentiments of Moses and God. Only after gaining the trust of their neighbors did they ramp up the falsehood and plant fear in the hearts of others by coloring the truth. The most influential lie begins with a kernel of truth.
The entire community lost its way and wandered for 40 years until the people died out. Concealing lies within truth threatens us all and we all become vulnerable to losing our way. Even in the 21st century we are prone to the same vulnerability of being taken in by leaders who hide lies behind truths. Let us be careful to not to lose our way. Let us be confident in ourselves just as Calev and Joshua were.