Previously in Shelach l’cha, we read about “The Spies”. The people are amassed on border, ready to enter the Land. Basically, God tells Moses to gather one man from each tribe and send them in to scout it out. “Check out the cities, the people, the fields, the land, and let us know what to expect,” he says, “and oh yes bring back some fruit.” The twelve go on out, spend a few months walking the length and breadth of the Land, and come back saying, “Yes, just like You said, it is flowing with milk and honey.” “But,” say ten of them, “we’re gonna die.” The people are huge and we’re gonna die.” Caleb and Joshua disagree, God gets really, really annoyed, threatens to destroy everyone, Moses talks God down, and God says, “That’s it…everyone except Joshua and Caleb are going to die out here, and never see the Land. I’ll just wait for another generation that actually has some faith. Get back out there for another 38 years.” (That’s why we ended up wandering for 40 years, btw)
When this all dies down, God goes about telling the Israelites (via Moses, of course) what to do when they enter the Land, what offerings to bring, etc. that can only be done inside the Land, not in the wilderness.
Wait. Didn’t God just say that none of these people are going to enter the Land? That the existing generation was condemned to die out in the wilderness because of their lack of faith in believing the other 10 spies and not Joshua and Caleb? Why give instructions to people who are never going to use them?
Optimism. Hope. Faith. Tradition. God’s saying, “Even if you can’t enter the Land, your children will, and you need to teach them how to behave once they get there and you’re not around anymore.” Perhaps the Israelites needed to hear that there will be a future in the Land, even if they weren’t going to live to see it. And they had better know how to carry on what their parents had started.
That’s really it, isn’t it? The whole point. It’s not about curfews and getting grounded. It’s about the lessons we’re trying to instill about responsibility and respect. About what’s out there that can be dangerous or hurtful. About how to handle temptations and when things go wrong. It’s about leaving behind the most important principles by which to build a life, long after we’re gone. It’s the ultimate act of faith; teaching our children what’s important to us. When we are at our best, we want to be that voice in their ears that encourages them to be their best.
When God started telling the people about how to act once they got into the Land, knowing that they would never be in the Land, God was charging the people with a task: teach it to your children. Teach about what you did wrong, and what they have to do right. The milk and honey is waiting for them; make themselves worthy of the gift God has waiting for them.