Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Shlach (Numbers 13-15)Seeing Can Be Deceiving

Although seeing is believing, that’s not necessarily the case in the digital age. For years, the internet has been flooded with fake images, but recently, technology has been improved to create forgeries of videos. A recent famous example is the doctored video of Nancy Pelosi which appears as if she is slurring her words. There are tools to detect these “deepfake” videos, but often these videos have reached a large audience before it is discovered to be fake.Manipulating people is not a new phenomenon, and one doesn’t need advanced technology to convince people into seeing something that is not true. This week’s Parsha tells the story of the spies sent on a reconnaissance mission to the Land of Israel. Moses sent twelve spies to check out the Land. They returned forty days later carrying a huge cluster of grapes, a pomegranate and a fig, to report on a lush and bountiful land. But ten of the spies warn that the inhabitants of the land are giants and warriors “more powerful than us;” only Caleb and Joshua insist that the land can be conquered, as G-d has commanded. The people weep, saying they would rather return to Egypt. This land was promised to them by G-d but they were punished with forty years of wandering, during which time that entire generation died in the desert.Commentaries over the centuries have dealt with a basic question: what did the spies do wrong? They were asked to bring back fruit from the Land of Israel and they did so. Why then were they criticized for bringing back this fruit?  Long before today’s technology, the spies used a different tool to manipulate people into seeing something that was not true.  Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) is praised for seven species. Three of them are core food items used for survival – wheat, barley and olive oil. The other four are delightful but not necessary.They came to the Valley of Eshkol and they cut a branch with a cluster of grapes. They carried it on a pole between two [people] and [they also took] some pomegranates and figs. (13:23)The spies brought back three of the four-grapes, pomegranates, and figs, and spoke about dates saying “this is its fruit.”(13:27). Granted, these fruits did come from Eretz Yisrael, but they manipulated the presentation by implying that the other three, those needed for basic daily living, were not present in the Land. By not talking about the Land’s abundance of basic food items used for daily living (although many people have a low carb diet today, in the ancient world, bread was the staple.) By omitting the ease with which basic survival foods were available, they were attempting to show that the land was not inhabitable; it lacked basic necessities.Imagine a person being sent to interview a potential member of a company’s management team. The person sent for the interview has done her research but she is overly anxious because the woman she has been sent to interview, graduated from the top of her class at an Ivy League university and has impeccable employment and professional credentials. The interview goes well, for the woman interviewed, but when the interviewer returns to convey the results of the interview, she doesn’t mention her (the woman she interviewed) ability to communicate, her positive attitude, or her reputation as a team player, all of which are crucial in working with the company recruiting her. Instead, she talks about what a good driver this woman is, the nice neighborhood in which she lived, and other non consequential information. The people in management at the home office might think, if she (the interviewer) hasn’t mentioned any of the qualities needed for the leadership position in question, that must be a red flag-an indication that she does not fit the company’s needs.So, too, with the spies. By choosing to mention certain things and omitting others, a distorted picture was presented. We are a people who hold ourselves to a high standard of honesty and integrity. In an age where truth is distorted on a regular basis, we have to go the extra mile, not only to avoid the temptation of doctoring facts for a cause, but even withholding or hiding information in order to lead others to make an erroneous conclusion.Good Shabbos(Source: Maharsha, Sotah 35a)
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 Good Shabbos
Rabbi Oppenheim
Charlotte Torah Center