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Bemidbar - Shelach

Here’s a fun text study exercise if you get a chance over Shabbat or before - compare the beginning of our parasha, Shlach (follow this link to Bemidbar 13:1 until whenever in chapter 14 you get too demoralised) with the account in the book of Joshua of the spies he sent 40 years later (Joshua 2:1-24).

Here we see two attempts at reconnaissance of the land of Canaan - one which fails so miserably that our ancestors were condemned to traipse through the desert for 40 more years until “in this wilderness shall your carcasses drop. Of all of you… who have muttered against Me”

In Joshua’s attempt, a very different outcome. The spies return, report to Joshua, and the following day the people march into the Promised Land.

What was so different between these two spy missions? Moshe’s spy mission was a bombastic, public, representative endeavour. 12 “anashim” (men), representing each tribe, publicly walk through the land for 40 days, collecting huge samples of produce. On their return, they report to the entire people, giving a pessimistic picture and causing panic and revolt.

Joshua’s spies in contrast are two unnamed “anashim meraglim” (spy men in contrast to just men), sent with חֶרֶשׁ, secrecy. They spend three days in hiding, gathering the information they need, and then report directly to Joshua with the words: “The LORD has delivered the whole land into our power; in fact, all the inhabitants of the land are quaking before us.”

One mission public and representative, the other covert and private. A second key difference is what Carol Dweck would call the “fixed mindset” of Moshe’s spies, their “we can’t do it”, compared with the “growth mindset” of Joshua’s with their “oh yes we can”.

Wide scale consultation and democratic decision making are often, undeniably, the right course of action. But sometimes, when a big or urgent change is called for, and the stakeholders are divided, the best way to achieve change is just to go ahead and do it. Act now and discuss later.

Knowing the right time to employ which method - consultation or unilateral decision making - is a tough call for any leader. Once they have settled upon the right path, the next puzzle piece for successful change-making is - whatever the odds they face - to have the growth mindset of Joshua’s spies. With belief in the process and self-belief, amazing changes can unfold.

Shabbat shalom


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