The greatness of God is Coupled to His Attribute of Goodness, פרשת שלח לך, Parashat Shelach Lecha, Bits of Torah Truths


In This week’s Torah Portion, Moshe sends a delegation into the Promised Land to spy out the land of Canaan in order to see the kind of people and the kind of land they will encounter. Following the spies return examining the land for 40 days, the men gave a bad report which demonstrated their lack of faith in God to conquer the people. The spies said the following, Bamidbar / Numbers 13:32, לב וַיֹּצִיאוּ דִּבַּת הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר תָּרוּ אֹתָהּ אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְֹרָאֵל לֵאמֹר הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר עָבַרְנוּ בָהּ לָתוּר אֹתָהּ אֶרֶץ אֹכֶלֶת יוֹשְׁבֶיהָ הִוא וְכָל-הָעָם אֲשֶׁר-רָאִינוּ בְתוֹכָהּ אַנְשֵׁי מִדּוֹת: 13:32 So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. (ESV) It is interesting how they describe the situation saying the land devours those who dwell there (אֶרֶץ אֹכֶלֶת יוֹשְׁבֶיהָ). The spies did not believe God could deliver them from the people of the Land, and because of their lack of faith, the Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:3 states the spies have no portion in the world to come saying, “And those men that spread such calumnies about the land, died by the plague before the lord” (Bamidbar / Numbers 14:37): “'[they] died’ in this world, ‘by the plague’ in the world to come.” In addition, we are also told (by the rabbis) the generation that went through the wilderness also had no share in the world to come and will not stand at the last judgment to give an account to God, saying, “In this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die” The lack of faith here by the spies and the people is so significant, the Mishnah compares these men to the generation of the flood (Bereshit / Genesis 6) and to the men of Sodom (Bereshit / Genesis 18-19). Their wickedness was so great, they are described as not having a part in the world to come in context to not being able to stand before God, and the generation of Sodom and Gamorah, “They will not stand in the congregation of the righteous, but they will stand in the congregation of the wicked.” The false report led the people of Israel to rebel against God according to Bamidbar / Numbers 14, א וַתִּשָּׂא כָּל-הָעֵדָה וַיִּתְּנוּ אֶת-קוֹלָם וַיִּבְכּוּ הָעָם בַּלַּיְלָה הַהוּא: ב וַיִּלֹּנוּ עַל-מֹשֶׁה וְעַל-אַהֲרֹן כֹּל בְּנֵי יִשְֹרָאֵל וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֲלֵהֶם כָּל-הָעֵדָה לוּ-מַתְנוּ בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם אוֹ בַּמִּדְבָּר הַזֶּה לוּ-מָתְנוּ: ג וְלָמָה יְהֹוָה מֵבִיא אֹתָנוּ אֶל-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת לִנְפֹּל בַּחֶרֶב נָשֵׁינוּ וְטַפֵּנוּ יִהְיוּ לָבַז הֲלוֹא טוֹב לָנוּ שׁוּב מִצְרָיְמָה: 14:1 Then all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. 14:2 All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, ‘Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! 14:3 ‘Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?’ (NASB) The Masoretic Text states, וְלָמָה יְהֹוָה מֵבִיא אֹתָנוּ אֶל-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת לִנְפֹּל בַּחֶרֶב, “and why does Hashem bring us to this land to fall victim to the sword?” After all the Lord had done for the people, delivering them from Egypt, destroying the Egyptian army, providing food, etc, they still feared the people of the land of Canaan. They did not believe God had the power to deliver them. Because of these things, the people did not want to ascend to the land of Canaan, they wanted to return to Egypt. In the Talmud, there is an analogy of ascending and descending, to raising up to a higher spiritual state. Their refusal to ascend to the Land coupled to their wanting to return to Egypt was a serious sin. The Torah tells us how Israel’s conquest of the land of Canaan was never about their military might. It was a gift of God (see Bamidbar / Numbers 13:2) as the Lord God told Moshe, “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites.” Because this is a gift of God, there is a spiritual aspect to ascending that is coupled to faith in the Lord God and His mercy to receive the land. The Torah states,ולא אביתם לעלות, “and you did not want to ascend.” The point is the Lord God Almighty Himself was going to dispossess the Canaanites. He will wage the war against the peoples on their behalf. The reason there was a spiritual aspect to the ascending to take the land was due to their clear lack of faith in the Lord who had up until this moment overcome every obstacle that was in their path. The land of Canaan is an elevated (lifted up) land based upon a geographical spatial relationship relative to Egypt. Therefore, the Promised Land provides this imagery of drawing nearer to the Lord God in heaven. The people’s refusal to go up (to ascend) was a refusal to take upon themselves the holiness of God, they were rejecting God’s gift. The people did not want to ascend and so this was considered rebellion against God’s command. (Devarim / Deuteronomy 1:25-26)

In our own lives, many times we ask the Lord “why have you brought me to this point in my life?” Or “why is this happening to me?” One answer may be for the sake of faithfulness, for growth, for increasing our faith and trusting in the Lord, etc. In Parashat Shelach Lecha, the people received the good news regarding the promises of God along with some of the fruit from the land. They were told their inheriting the Land is because it is a gift and they were commanded to go up and possess the Land. The people however were waiting for the fulfillment of the good news. This meant they heard what the Lord was going to do but had not yet received that promise. In order to receive what was promised, they had to be faithful and do as the Lord commanded them to do! The concept of faith and faithfulness creates tension in our relationship with God. This tension of faith and faithfulness is also what we find going on in our lives today, we have the good news of the Lord God sending His Son Yeshua having laid down his life on our behalf, creating the opportunity to partake in the kingdom of God, we are invited into the God’s kingdom through faith. In a parallel fashion, we live in a time where the hearing of the promises, and the fulfillment of those promises about God’s Messiah had already taken place, and now we are called to act in accordance to our faith, to be faithful such that we may enter into the peace God gives us. Again, in parallel fashion, we too live in the tension of faith and faithfulness due to the stresses, hardship, and troubles of daily life by maintaining our faith and remaining faithful before God. The beauty and power of creation is found in the pages of the Scriptures by our always being told how the Lord God of Israel is going to do a new thing. (Shemot / Exodus 34:10, Isaiah 43:19) This is how the nation of Israel struggled to have faith and be faithful in the midst of the report the spies gave going against the command of God. The spies demonstrated a lack of faith to trust in God. Note how faith is confirmed by our being faithful! This means the people would have demonstrated their faith by being faithful and going up (ascending) to take the land. Today, do we to have a similar imperative in the command of God, to have faith, to be faithful, and to trust in God to do what He has promised!

After the people rebelled against the command, we read Moshe praying to the Lord asking for forgiveness and mercy according to Bamidbar / Numbers 14:17, וְעַתָּ֕ה יִגְדַּל־נָ֖א כֹּ֣חַ אֲדֹנָ֑י כַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר דִּבַּ֖רְתָּ לֵאמֹֽר׃ 14:17 Therefore, I pray, let my Lord’s forbearance be great, as You have declared, saying, (NASB) A Midrashic approach based on Midrash Rabbah on Bamidbar Parashat 16 Part 22 states “The words ‘let Your strength be magnified’ means that Moses pleads that the attribute of Mercy should prevail over the attribute of Justice at all times in the future.” In Ginsburg’s Masoretic Text this idea is emphasized where the letters א-ד in the word א-ד-נ-י and the letter י in the word יִגְדַּל are enlarged with a circulus over the top indicating a note in the marginal Masorah. The Masoretic text uses the enlarged letter י in the word יִגְדַּל as an allusion to emphasize that attribute of Mercy indicating that Mercy should always be preeminent or in ascendancy. The phrase וְעַתָּ֕ה יִגְדַּל־נָ֖א כֹּ֣חַ אֲדֹנָ֑י “now let the power of HaShem be great” Moshe asks that God’s mercy be greater than His justice. This is an important Torah based perspective. Remember how the theology of Dispensationalism leads to the idea that the Law of God is harsh and cruel. This theology is inconsistent with what we are reading in both the Torah and the Midrashic literature. The idea here is Moshe called upon the honor of the Lord imagining the nations as speaking against the God of Israel due to the disappearance of Israel and being destroyed because of her sins. Moshe challenged the Lord to prove all those who do not believe in God’s ability to help Israel conquer the land of Canaan and to dispossess them. (Chizkuni, Bamidbar / Numbers 14:17 Part 1) In addition to this, the rabbis discuss in the Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin 60 and in Midrash Rabbah on Bamidbar Parashat 21 Part 6 how the word ועתה “and now” invariably means that the Lord God provided an oportunity for man to do תשובה (repentance). This is another example of what the Torah teaches us about the grace of God, and His love for us! This Torah based perspective is how God is always providing us a way that leads to repentance and to turn from our sinful ways. In Midrash Tanchuma Buber on Parashat Shelach 14:1 the rabbis comment upon Moshe’s plea to God concerning the golden calf.

“When Israel made the calf, Moses stood up to him. At that time he made a plea on their behalf. He said to him: Please, make known to me by what principle you run your world. Thus it says this (in Exod. 33:13): PLEASE MAKE YOUR WAYS KNOWN TO ME THAT I MAY KNOW YOU…. The Holy One said to him: It is by the principle of mercy (grace, chesed) that I run my world, as stated (in Exod. 34:6): AND THE LORD PASSED BY BEFORE HIM, AND PROCLAIMED: THE LORD, THE LORD IS A MERCIFUL AND GRACIOUS GOD, SLOW TO ANGER AND ABOUNDING IN KINDNESS AND TRUTH.” When Moses saw that the Holy One had said to him; SLOW TO ANGER, he began saying to the Holy One” (Midrash Tanchuma Buber on Parashat Shelach 14:1)

Moshe wrote according to Bamidbar / Numbers 14:18, יח יְהֹוָה אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וְרַב-חֶסֶד נֹשֵֹא עָוֹן וָפָשַׁע וְנַקֵּה לֹא יְנַקֶּה פֹּקֵד עֲוֹן אָבוֹת עַל-בָּנִים עַל-שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל-רִבֵּעִים: 14:18 ‘The Lord is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations. (NASB) The imagery we are given here is of the mercy of God being brought to the people through the intermediary, Moshe. The Lord God Almighty used the example of Moshe through the Torah as an intermediary between God and the people to bring peace and forgiveness. A similar thread of thought is brought out in the book of John on the mercy of God being brought through the Messianic intermediary Yeshua the Messiah.

John 1:12-20
1:12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 1:13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 1:14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. 1:15 John testified about Him and cried out, saying, ‘This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’‘ 1:16 For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. 1:17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. 1:18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. 1:19 This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ 1:20 And he confessed and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’ (NASB)

What John is describing here is of the promised one, whom God would bring as the Anointed One of God who would help the people receive mercy and forgiveness from God. This parallels what we find going on throughout the Torah between Moshe and Israel. John 1:13 states “Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” This is a reference to the Lord God providing a way into the kingdom of heaven outside of birthright (being Jewish) opening the door for men from all peoples to become the sons of God. John the leads into the discussion in John 1:17 which states that it was by Moshe that the Torah was given, and by Yeshua that grace/mercy and truth had come. This statement parallels what we find here in this week’s Torah portion on Moshe, as the intermediary of God, who brought peace, mercy, and forgiveness for the people. This statement does not place the Torah in a negative light by the statement “the Law was given by Moshe.” This is a Torah based conclusion showing us how Yeshua taught the correct interpretation and application of God’s Word in our lives. This also demonstrates how the Torah wrote about Him in His role as the Anointed One of God leading His people in God’s ways of righteousness and truth. It is through faith in Yeshua the Messiah that we receive the mercy and grace of God, His forgiveness, peace, and truth! In light of these things, John chapter 1 is a pro-Torah text! These Scriptures from the Torah describe the greatness of God according to Sifrei on Bamidbar / Numbers 134:5:

Sifrei on Bamidbar / Numbers 134:5
… You wrote in Your Torah (Shemot 22:19) “He who sacrifices to a god shall be condemned.” Yet your children served idolatry and I sought mercy from You, and You forgave them. (Devarim, Ibid.) “to show Your servant”: miracles and mighty acts, viz. (Shemot 3:3) “I shall turn aside and I shall see, etc.” (Devarim, Ibid.) “Your greatness”: This is the attribute of Your goodness, as it is written (Bamidbar 14:17) “And now, let the power of the Lord be made great.” (Devarim, Ibid.) “And Your (mighty) hand”: This is Your right hand, which is stretched out to all who enter the world, viz. (Shemot 15:6) “Your right hand, O Lord, is exalted in power,” and (Psalms 44:4) “Your right hand, and Your arm, and the light of Your countenance.” (Devarim, Ibid.) “mighty”: For You subdue with mercy the attribute of justice, viz. (Michah 7:18) “Who is a God like You, forgiving transgression and passing by offense,” (19) “He will return and be merciful to us, He will subdue our transgressions,” (20) …

The idea that the Torah is emphasizing for us is about the great compassion that God shows to us through forgiveness. The rabbis say this is the meaning of the right hand of God being magnified. The greatness of God (gadlecha, גָּדְלְךָ) is coupled to His attribute of goodness, as Moshe said in Bamidbar / Numbers 14:17 יז וְעַתָּה יִגְדַּל-נָא כֹּחַ אֲדֹנָי כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתָּ לֵאמֹר: “And now, let the power of the Lord be magnified (yigdal, יִגְדַּל)” and Bamidbar / Numbers 14:18 (יח יְהֹוָה אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וְרַב-חֶסֶד נֹשֵֹא עָוֹן וָפָשַׁע וְנַקֵּה לֹא יְנַקֶּה פֹּקֵד עֲוֹן אָבוֹת עַל-בָּנִים עַל-שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל-רִבֵּעִים:) “The Lord withholds wrath and He is abundant in lovingkindness/grace/chesed (חסד).” The rabbis say this is the prototype for all “gadlecha” (גָּדְלְךָ, greatness of God) in the Torah. Thus, the gadlecha (power) of God according to the Torah is found in the greatness of His mercy/grace (ְרַב-חֶסֶד). This is the context being drawn out in the opening chapter of the book of John, the power of God to bring forth His Messiah by His Word, and by faith in His Messiah all have received grace for grace (mercy for mercy) (John 1:16). This is how the Torah and the Gospel Message work together, they are not diametrically separate as some would have us believe!