Parashat Shelach Lecha: A Call to Preserve the Jewish Identity at All Costs
In our desire to provide you with the teaching of Messiah Yeshua in a Jewish context, we provide in-depth teachings of the weekly Torah portions throughout the year. Below are various perspectives from various teachers and staff members from Netivyah Bible Instruction ministry.
Joseph Shulam: The Error of the Spies 
The reading on this Shabbat (in Israel) is from Numbers 13:1-15:41, Parashat Shelach. It begins with the words “shelach lecha” in Hebrew (“send for yourself”). From the prophets, the reading is from Joshua 2:1-24, and from the New Testament we read Luke 17:1-18:43.
One of the main episodes in this week’s Torah reading is the episode of Moses sending 12 leaders. These were not average joes being sent to tour the land of Canaan and bring back a report. As the text says, the 12 so-called spies were leaders of their tribes.
All the 12 men came back and basically told the same story, they described the land in true colors and spoke the truth. So, where was the problem? The problem is as always, the interpretation of the truth. What you do with the known facts.
This is also the problem of the Christian world. Almost everyone had the same bible, it can be this or that translation, but basically it is the same bible. If you go into the original ancient Greek text and Hebrew text it is even much more “the same” bible. The interpretation is what is in question.
One of the unholy illnesses of the majority of the Christian churches is the acceptance of the clear untruth that God is finished with Israel, and therefore the whole “Old Testament” is superfluous, not needed anymore, and has no authority today. All the scriptures that Christians today need is from Matthew to Revelation.
But this is not what the apostle Paul said:
“But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:10–17 [NKJV]
Normally when Paul is used and quoted from this text, the quotation starts from verse 16: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine…”
They skip the context where Paul is instructing Timothy, his disciple, to be careful and persevere because evil men and impostors will grow deceiving and being deceived. Paul’s instruction to Timothy is to continue in the things which he learned in his childhood from the holy scriptures, which are able to make Timothy wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ.
Here now comes the declarative statement of Paul: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable…” This “all scripture” is “all scripture”. The main scripture that the early church had when Paul was writing this to Timothy was from Genesis to Malachi, and maybe a few of Paul’s letters.
The New Testament as we know it today was not yet complete with all the books that we have today. So, to ignore the Torah and the prophets is to ignore the bulk of God’s revelation given by the Holy Spirit.
What did the 10 spies say that brought God’s wrath on Israel, the wrath that caused God to keep them in the wilderness for another 38 years until that whole generation that left Egypt, except Joshua and Caleb, died in the wilderness? This one statement that the 10 spies made is what cost all of Israel so much sorrow in the 38 years added by God to their wilderness wandering:
“But the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.’” – Numbers 13:31 [NKJV]
Why is this statement so serious, and why did it make God so angry with Israel?
These people were the leaders of the tribes. They all crossed the sea on dry land. They all were daily eating manna from heaven. They all stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai, received the Torah, and heard the voice of God speak from the cloud. They all drank water that was bitter and saw the hand of God and Moses make the water drinkable. They all had a hand in the building of the Lord’s tabernacle.
After all those experiences they still didn’t understand who God is, and what is His power over the universe and the forces of nature. Above all, they considered the people of the land of Canaan more powerful than the God who took them out of Egypt.
This was the big sin of Israel in the wilderness. It was even a bigger sin than Aaron and the children of Israel making the Golden Calf (an Egyptian idol) at the foot of Mt. Sinai. How do I know that it was a bigger sin? Because of the punishment that God gave Israel after the demoralizing report that the 10 spies gave Moses and Israel.
We measure the seriousness of the sin by the punishment that the Torah gives it. Sin is sin, but in the word of God, His punishment for some sins is very light and for others very heavy and harsh. So, the sins are not all alike, each has it’s degree of seriousness and is measured by the punishment that the Lord gave each sin in the Torah.
Faith in the bible is not defined by an agreement with this doctrine or another. It is defined how much you trust God with your life, and with your family, and with all that you are and possess. The lack of trust in God and His power, His love, and His guidance is the true lack of faith, even if you intellectually agree or accept this doctrine or another.
This kind of “faith” is the classical Christian Catholic faith, but not the biblical faith. There is no list of doctrines that we are obligated to believe or accept other than two things, belief in one God who created the heavens and the earth, and the belief that Yeshua is the Messiah and the Son of the living God.
But everyone had to love God enough to trust Him, who made all things, that He will be faithful to care for His children. The 10 spies actually put doubt in the hearts of God’s people. They said that they, Israel, the people who daily experienced God’s power, love, and miracles, could not have a victory over the pagan idol-worshiping Canaanites.
Because the 10 spies were the leaders of the tribes, all the tribes, all of Israel, paid the price of this lack of faith (trust) in God. Let us learn to trust God. He is the only one who is forever and 100% trustworthy to keep His promises to Israel and to the whole world.
Yehuda Bachana: A Call to Preserve the Jewish Identity at All Costs 
Read the teaching below, or watch a video of the teaching by Yehuda Bachana.
This Shabbat we read and study the weekly Torah portion, Parashat Shelach Lecha. From our portion, we read about the Israelites and how they spent 40 years wandering in the desert.
If you stop and think about it, they were on the verge of entering into the Promised Land. The Israelites were close enough to send out spies and prepare to conquer the land. They thought that in just a few more days, they were finally going to be able to make it.
However, shortly after that, the sin of the spies occurred. In fact, it was the sin of that entire generation, the desert generation, which suddenly caused them to move away from the Promised Land for 40 years.
They were so close that they could have touched it, and at the same time they were years away. This distance depended on two parameters: the first one is God and His timing. The second parameter was us humans and our level of readiness.
The Sin of the 12 Spies
I would like to relate to the body of Messiah and to our level of readiness as believers to absorb the Jewish people into the local community and to faith in Yeshua as the Messiah. It’s a bit of a heavy subject but nonetheless important.
Our parasha begins with sending the 12 spies into the Land of Israel, and later talks about their horrible mistake. The sin of the spies is one of the most severe sins of the people of Israel during their journey in the desert.
In the wake of this terrible sin, God punished the people of Israel, in that all of the men age 20 or older, who came out of Egypt, were to perish in the desert. Only the new generation would be allowed to enter and settle in the land.
What was the sin that was so terrible that it caused the people of Israel not to enter the Promised Land for 40 years? How do we avoid repeating the same mistake today?
The answer is spelled out in the Torah:
“And they [the spies] spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored…” – Numbers 13:32a [NIV]
The general impression was that they said the enemies were too strong. They gave a bad report about the land.
Bringing a Bad Report
Before we close the story, I want to remind you that the spies acted exactly according to the orders they received from Moses before they left for the mission:
“…he said, ‘Go up through the Negev and on into the hill country. See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many… What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified?” – Numbers 13:17b,18,19b [NIV]
A spy’s job is to bring back the most accurate information possible. He is expected to focus on the difficulties, in order to be able to provide a solution for them in advance. The job of a spy is to give accurate information regarding the combat abilities of the enemy.
The sin was that the spies leaked the bad report out to the people, telling them that the land of Canaan is a land that devours its inhabitants. They instilled fear and panic in the people, and caused a rebellion and attempt to overthrow their government.
The people went along with this and actively rebelled. They sought to stone Caleb and Joshua, and rose up against Moses and Aaron.
At that moment, the glory of the Lord was seen in the opening to the Tent of Meeting, in front of all the people of Israel. The situation was saved at the last possible moment.
How Do We Connect Between Yeshua and Israel?
Here I believe that especially today, it is necessary to preserve the dignity of the state. It’s not our job to bring a bad report about Israel. There are professional organizations, like BDS, that work hard to give Israel a bad reputation.
Our job is to point out the blessings and the good things that Israel has – and there is much to boast about. Our job is to declare that Israel is blessed, “A land flowing with milk and honey.”
If we return to the days of Moses, we will see a group of slaves who fear, or do not understand, their purpose. We see those who fear or do not understand the future and are unwilling to enter the Promised Land.
Therefore, God waited until the old generation was replaced. He waited for a new generation to inherit the Promised Land.
I think that the body of Christ does not understand its purpose. I do not think it is fear, but rather a lack of understanding. Our purpose is to make a connection between Yeshua and the people of Israel.
The question is, how do we do this? We believe that one day the people of Israel will be saved. How do we see this happening? What is our vision?
God Has Kept the Jewish People Alive
For nearly 2000 years, the Gentiles tried, on one hand, to destroy and get rid of us, and on the other hand, to “open” our eyes to the “truth.”
Let us begin with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. After that, in 1099, we suffered from the Crusades and the massacre of the Jews.
In 1348, Jews suffered persecution against the backdrop of the Great Plague. 1478 was the beginning of the Inquisition.
1492 was the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. In 1648, the massacre of Jews in Ukraine begins, along with the history of the pogroms in Europe, until the Holocaust in 1939.
This a brief summary to show that the Gentiles tried to get rid of and destroy us; however it did not work! Against the impossible, God kept the embers of the Jewish people burning.
Instead, we lit our Shabbat candles hidden in a closet, and we baked the Pesach matzos in the storeroom or in the cellar below the house.
Why Does Israel Reject the Truth?
On the other hand, the Gentiles also tried to show us what is good and beautiful. They tried to show us the beauty and love that Christianity has, the idea of being “born again” Christians.
Why do we, the people of Israel, refuse to see and accept the truth?
This is because, throughout history, every Jew who has come to faith in Yeshua has ceased to be part of the Jewish people. He has left the tradition, the customs, the nation. He has become something else – he lost his identity.
The biggest challenge comes the moment we find the true answer and solution. I emphasize that this is the true solution – not just a band-aid, but rather open heart surgery. When we find the solution to this problem – I believe that the people of Israel will be open to Yeshua.
The challenge is identity and its preservation; when our identity is to be preserved at all costs.
When we suffered during the Inquisition in Europe – those who kept the embers burning were those who risked their lives and their families to keep the tradition and identity at any price.
When the Jews kept their identity, it was with an emphasis on tradition. Like the separation between milk and meat, the lighting of the Shabbat candles – these commandments are not from the Torah, therefore the body of Messiah today does not see the importance of such commandments.
These homes in Europe, which had a sink for milk and a sink for meat, are the ones who kept their Jewish identity, and did not assimilate. They were not destroyed.
Preserving the Jewish Identity
When we develop strong Messianic Judaism, that is unaffected by the foreign winds that blow into the country, when it is clear to us that we must preserve our Jewish identity at all costs, then we will see the Promised Land.
Therefore, we must invest in developing the next generation. For the next generation is our future.
Our generation is the desert generation, the generation that came out of Egypt, the next generation must be the one who will enter and inherit the Promised Land.
This is assuming that we will be ready. If not, we will wait for another generation, and another generation, until we are ready to absorb and preserve our identity.
If we slip up, like many before us, God will set up others in our places whose job will be to find the solution to the question of identity and its preservation, until Yeshua returns.
We need to start with the congregation; it cannot look like a Hebrew-speaking foreign church. The way we pray, our worship, the literature, has to be local and authentic.
God entrusted Israel with His book. Therefore, it’s our duty to preserve it and maintain its relevance from generation to generation. We need to understand that assimilation is not an option, and God will not allow the people of Israel to do so.
Our Jewish Identity in Messiah Yeshua
That’s what we do in our community, we preserve identity. Do we have all the answers? Far from it.
But here, however, the importance of investing in the youth in education, in enrichment, in familiarity with the scriptures, in strengthening their personal ability, and in the acquisition of identity, is revealed. Exactly the same can be said about investing in Messianic university students.
What does this mean for us? We are the first example. We must show, above all, that one can preserve the Jewish identity in an authentic way through Yeshua the Messiah.
I know that we briefly touched upon many important subjects that deserve more attention. Please feel free to write us, call, or even drop by with any questions you might have.
Published June 10, 2018 | Updated June 27, 2019
Netivyah is an Israeli non-profit organization that teaches God's Word and helps those in need. We present the teachings of Messiah Yeshua in a Jewish context, both in Israel and worldwide. We also feed the poor in Jerusalem, and invest in the next generation through youth programs and scholarships.