D'vrei Torah by Rabbi Ellie Shemtov
Faith is spelled a-c-t-i-o-n
One way to define faith is as an expression of hope for something greater or better to come. Another definition is having a lot of trust or confidence in something or someone. The popular phrase, “take a leap of faith,” means that you believe in something even though you don’t have enough irrefutable evidence to back up this belief.
In this week’s Torah portion, Sh’lach’lecha from the Book of Numbers, the Israelites are poised to enter the Promised Land. But first, God tells Moses to send out one scout from each of the twelve tribes to explore the land. As part of his instructions Moses tells the scouts to pay attention to their surroundings. For example:
וּרְאִיתֶ֥ם אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ מַה־הִ֑וא וְאֶת־הָעָם֙ הַיֹּשֵׁ֣ב עָלֶ֔יהָ הֶֽחָזָ֥ק הוּא֙ הֲרָפֶ֔ה הַֽמְעַ֥ט ה֖וּא אִם־רָֽב: יט וּמָ֣ה הָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־הוּא֙ יֹשֵׁ֣ב בָּ֔הּ הֲטוֹבָ֥ה הִ֖וא אִם־רָעָ֑ה וּמָ֣ה הֶֽעָרִ֗ים אֲשֶׁר־הוּא֙ יוֹשֵׁ֣ב בָּהֵ֔נָּה הַֽבְּמַֽחֲנִ֖ים אִ֥ם בְּמִבְצָרִֽים:.
See what kind of country it is. Are the people who dwell in it strong or weak, few or many? Is the country in which they dwell good or bad? Are the towns they live in open or fortified? (Num. 13:18-19)
The twelve spies return after forty days of exploring. Ten of them report that although the land itself is all we could ever hope for, the people living there are powerful giants and the cities much too fortified for us to overcome.
Only two of the spies, Caleb and Joshua, believe the Israelites could overcome whatever obstacles they might face by simply having faith that God will deliver them into the land. But, the people refuse to listen to Caleb and Joshua and even talk about stoning them. In the end, God punishes the people for their lack of faith and the Israelites are left to wander the wilderness for the next forty years. Of all the Israelites who left Egypt, including Moses and Aaron, only Caleb and Joshua would be allowed to enter the Promised Land.
The basis of Caleb and Joshua’s faith was God’s promise to rescue the Israelites from their enemies. While both understood that faith requires taking a risk, they also knew that with God’s help it was possible. Joshua and Caleb just needed to take that first step. They just needed to recognize that faith is spelled A-C-T-I-O-N.