As the news outlets are busy looking for signs of foreign interference in our election process, the Torah reading process is following a story of espionage as well. 

We're currently reading the story of twelve men, scouts appointed by Moses to find the best way for the Jews to enter the promised land three millennia ago. They were sent out from the Jewish camp in the Sinai desert after the Exodus and explored the Land of Israel for over a month - forty days total. Upon their return they had a riveting report of what they saw in their promised home. They spoke of insurmountable dangers, giant warriors, powerful enemies and a hostile terrain. These spies (aside from two, Joshua and Caleb) did all they could to scare the Jews away from the very idea of entering the Land of Israel.

They spies had good reason to do so. They were scared that the Jews would find it very hard to remain as devoutly Jewish as they had been in the desert. The challenges of building a country, settling the land, finding jobs and being exposed to the cultures of their pagan neighbors led the spies to fear that Judaism wouldn't survive the test. 

Much of these fears came true as over time some 75% of the Jews in the Land of Israel became heavily entrenched into the surrounding pagan cultures, erecting temples of idol worship and erasing much of the Jewish religion. And so these spies did all they could to convince the Jews to rebel and refuse to leave the desert before the problems could begin.

But the story doesn't end there. Far from the spies' opinion being accepted, they were penalized for their actions and were treated harshly by the Jewish leadership. Ultimately the people refused to be convinced by their dire predictions.


Let's take look at a well known Mitzvah that can be found in this week's Torah portion: the Mitzvah of Challah.  While Challah is commonly known as the traditional bread that we eat on Shabbat, the original Mitzvah of Challah is to take a small piece of dough off every batch of bread and give it to charity. This Mitzvah might just help us understand why the spies were so wrong.

Just as with the Challah, even though it is only a small piece of the dough that we give to charity, the entire loaf of bread is called 'Challah'. That one piece makes the whole loaf one big Mitzvah. So too is it with us. Every time we do a Mitzvah, whether it be lighting Shabbat candles or helping a poor man with a dollar bill, those good deeds go far beyond that moment or that person. A Mitzvah is like a candle. If you put a candle in a dark room, it doesn't just provide light for itself. It lights up the whole room, just like that small piece of Challah dough transforms the whole loaf into one big Challah. 

The spies thought that the Jewish experience was meant to be exclusively spiritual. They saw no place for it in a normal society and saw Judaism and settling a land as two diametrically opposed ideas. They could not see how moving the Jewish people from desert living, where all their material needs were being taken care of by G‑d, into the Land of Israel which they would need to build on their own would have any positive impact on their identities as Jews and connection to G‑d. And so they rebelled.

Challah gives us a clue as to where the spies erred. When our attitude in life is to always be on the lookout for an opportunity to do a Mitzvah and lend a helping hand, then even when we are busy with other things our whole life becomes one big Mitzvah. Just like the little piece transforms the whole loaf.

The Torah's very purpose is to bring light to the world, not shut the world out. Judaism is meant to be practiced in the real world. It's meant to give meaning, light, purpose, beauty and peace to life in the real world. The Jewish message is to bring heaven down to earth, not to try and make us escape to heaven. Had the Jews remained cloistered in the desert they would averted exposing themselves to external challenges and remained in a lofty spiritual state. But they would have defeated the purpose of life itself, which is to make our world a better, kinder, holier place through acts of kindness, Torah and Mitzvot.


Rabbi Avrohom