The verb in question is “latur.” In the future plural tense (13:2, word 4 in the Hebrew), it means to spy, to investigate, or to explore. At the opening of the parsha, G-d gives his admittedly reticent permission to have twelve spies be given the authority (“vayaturu”) to explore the promised land. We know the end of the story. 10 out of 12 deliver a report in which the positive is not accentuated, and the negative is not eliminated. G-d’s decree of 38 more years of wilderness wandering follows, as well as the death of the nay-sayers.
But wait. The parsha closes with what we now know as the concluding paragraph of the Shema. We are commanded to tie the tzitzit, fringes, onto our garments as a reminder of all of the commandments. And why? “V’lo taturu…” so that you will not explore after your heart and your eyes after which you may stray (15:39).
Two forms of the same verb are used by the parsha in very different contexts. The opening paragraph grants a begrudging permission to allay the fears of a nation. The closing one is a warning against the lure of idolatry.
As Chazal teach us, the truth lies in between. Looking, searching, studying, and spying are all part of our nature. It is absolutely human to try and figure out the fundamental reality of any situation. Our weakness, however, is revealed when we search with the expected outcome in mind. If we search for failure, we will doubtless find an opportunity to create it. Investigate and learn, and we will find nothing but opportunity.
“Tayarim,” from the same word-root, are ‘tourists’ in modern Hebrew. Just like our ancestors, we are tourists searching old places for new meaning. Let’s make sure that, as we dig into the past to inform our present, that we don’t decide what we’re going to uncover before we actually see it, feel it, study it, and learn from it. The opening of Sh’lach L’cha teaches us to learn without preconceived notions of what we want to learn. It’s closing teaches us that avoiding the allure of what we think may be true has some ‘fringe’ benefits.
Shabbat Shalom, and Chodesh Tov, a good month!
Rabbi/Hazzan David B. Sislen