On the ship over from Hungary to America, my wife’s grandmother encountered a banana for the first time. It may seem strange to us, but she did not even know to remove the peel before eating the fruit inside.
Still, for the rest of Grandma Olga’s life, she loved bananas — not just for the taste, but also for the sweet memory of the early days of being in a new land of freedom and opportunity.
In this week’s Torah portion of Shelach, Moses told the spies to bring back some of the land’s fruits. He did this in order to demonstrate that G-d had blessed the land with extraordinary fertility.
The Torah tells us that the spies did as Moses requested. “When they came to Nachal Eshkol, they cut a branch and a cluster of grapes, which two men carried on a frame” (Numbers 13:23). In other words, it took two grown men to carry this enormous bunch of grapes.
Unfortunately, the spies did not convey to the people this message of fertility and blessing. Instead they distorted it from a message of blessing into one of curse. Just as these fruits were freakishly huge, unlike any they had ever seen, so too were the inhabitants of Canaan and impossible to conquer.
The spies and the Israelites fell short. Hadn’t they seen how G-d defeated the mighty Egyptian army? Didn’t they remember the splitting of the Red Sea and hear the voice of G-d from the mountaintop of Sinai? If G-d could do these great, open miracles, why would the Jewish people ever think G-d was unable to defeat a handful of Canaanite kings? All they needed to do was to have emuna (faith). Unfortunately, that element was precisely what was lacking in the report of the spies.
We can learn a lesson from the narrative of the spies, and always put our trust in Hashem. For whenever we do so, our prayers are always answered.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)