This week’s Torah portion is Numbers 13:1 to 15:41. The narrative covers the episode of the twelve spies. Twelve appointed leaders went to Canaan to scout the land and its inhabitants. Moses gave them very specific instructions. They were to enter the land through the Negev desert and journey up to the hill country in the North. They should take note of the fertility of the land, its trees, and its produce. Also, the scouts needed to assess if the people in the land were strong or weak, numerous or sparse and if the towns were fortified.

After forty days, the spies return and they are carrying a cluster of grapes so large that they have to drape them from a pole held between them. They report that the land is indeed flowing with milk and honey. Its not the land that gives them angst. They announce that the people are too powerful and their towns are fortified.

Caleb and Joshua are the only two of the twelve who stay optimistic, believing the land can be conquered. But it’s too late. The other ten scouts spread rumors among the camp that the land would surely devour them. The punishment for their fears could not be greater.

When I read of the spies account, I can’t help but think of the early struggles of Zionist leaders in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.