Parsha and Haftara SHLACH: Grasshoppers Locusts, Seen from Inside and from Outside
In the Parsha Shelach we read of the men sent out to scout the Promised Land who returned claiming that “we were but grasshoppers” compared to the inhabitants of Canaan. The sense of their weakness compared to the great “giants” of Canaan caused the people of Israel to weep in fear the whole night. “If only we had died in the land of Egypt or in this wilderness; if only we had died! Why is the LORD bringing us to this land to fall by the sword?” Despite affirming the inevitability of success if He, HaShem, desires it, Caleb and Joshua are about to be pelted and stoned when Kavod Adenoi, the Glory of The LORD appeared in the tent of meeting. Furious at the continual lack of faith among the Israelites despite witnessing miracle after miracle, only Moses is able to dissuade Him not to destroy His people Israel.
The Haftara for this Parsha is in “Joshua”. It is obvious why this is the associated reading; both deal with scouting missions, and the reports of the scouts. But I have often read the Haftara with an additional connection in mind. As we know, the “Innkeeper” protects and hides the Israelite scouts. In return she asks that her family and herself be protected when the Israelites conquer and ravage the city of Jericho. She, like all of Canaan, is frightened and quaking at the approach of the people of Israel. “I know that the LORD has given to you the Land, and that your terror has fallen upon us, and that melted have all the inhabitants of the land because of you….” And, the spies agree to do so, in fact they swear to do so if she clearly marks her home and keeps all her family inside during the attack. She is to mark her house with a bundle of scarlet (threads?).
The absolute symmetry with the Passover story is clear. God through Moses has the Israelites mark their homes with the blood of the pesah lamb. Like scarlet, blood becomes a dark red. And the Israelites were warned not to venture outside their homes that night, just as the “Innkeeper” is warned to keep her family within her walls to avoid death. With the parallel of the Exodus story in mind, the scouts’ report that compared with the inhabitants of the Land they were “like grasshoppers”, might lead one to consider the curse of the Locust swarm upon Egypt.
A superficial Wikipedia search on “locusts” was rewarded by a very interesting fact. Copied from Wikipedia: “Locust is the swarming phase of short-horned grasshoppers of the family Acrididae. The origin and apparent extinction of certain species of locust—some of which reached 6 inches (15 cm) in length—are unclear. The Acrididae are the predominant family of grasshoppers, comprising some 10,000 of the 11,000 species of the entire suborder Caelifera. The Acrididae are best known because all locusts (swarming grasshoppers) are of the Acrididae. The subfamily Oedipodinae is sometimes classified as a distinct family Oedipodidae in the superfamily Acridoidea. Acrididae grasshoppers are characterized by antennae relatively short and stout, and tympana on the side of the first abdominal segment. Research at Oxford University has identified that swarming behaviour is a response to overcrowding. Increased tactile stimulation of the hind legs causes an increase in levels of serotonin. This causes the locust to change color, eat much more, and breed much more easily. The transformation of the locust to the swarming variety is induced by several contacts per minute over a four-hour period. It is estimated that the largest swarms have covered hundreds of square miles and consisted of many billions of locusts. “ Grasshoppers physically morph into locusts under certain conditions!
God causes the grasshoppers to become a vast swarm of locusts to enact the eighth plague upon Pharaoh. And it is on this plague that God states that pharaoh’s heart has been hardened just so as to allow this plague to be unleashed. “..and that you may recount in the hearing of your son’s and your son’s sons how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I displayed my signs among them—in order that you may know that I am the Lord.” The preceding plague, the one just before Locusts, was Hail. It destroyed the barley and the flax! We recall the apparently unnecessary detail that the innkeeper hid the spies under the flax bundles on her roof.
And now we come to our Parsha, how they went up into the land and came back trembling and spreading panic through the camp. They compared themselves to grasshoppers, even having seen with their own eyes the Locust Swarm that God unleashed upon Egypt “in order that you may know I am the Lord! “ Despite that dramatic event, merely a month or so ago, the people still did not believe that the Lord, the God of Israel was one and the same as the God Who Creates The World and that He has power enough to bring Israel to the land He promised them.
Because of their fear and lack of faith God cursed that entire generation that none of the adults would live to see the conquest of the Land, except for Caleb and Joshua.
So, after forty years and the last of that generation died in the wilderness, it became time once again to enter into the Inheritance. This time there was success. What was the difference?
I believe the difference was one of point of view. I don’t mean merely being braver, or having more faith or not being born in slavery, though all were true. I mean actual point of view. We typically think of the Objective as opposed to the Subjective. Our minds construct a picture of “the world” which we consider to be objective, in other word we always are assuming that the world that we are sensing is unchanged by our presence as the sensing consciousness. Actually, in reality, all we know is via our senses. Therefore every thought or sensation we have is necessarily subjective! It is a necessary tacit agreement we make with each other to presume to share the same access to the real stuff of the world. It is our sense of seeing the big picture that is the way in which we are made in God’s image. But I do not see the God’s Eye view of the universe, or even the room I am in. I have a mental image that the rest of the world exists even when I am not observing it directly.
It is meaningful that of all possible symbols to comfort humanity after the flood, God used the rainbow. The rainbow is a special thing, and I do not mean that in a Hallmark way. I have a picture of there being an actual universe made of stuff, and on top of that we have a thin transparent sheet of paper upon which we trace the outline of our surroundings. Laying one upon the other it is impossible to see any difference between the two (because actually the first words of my explanation “I have a picture…” reveals that even that which I call objective is still only a picture.) But, assuming there is a universe outside of my mind, the one difference between its appearance and my representation of its appearance would be a Rainbow. Because a Rainbow is not in the drops of rain, not in the light refracting through the raindrops, not in my eye where only photons are discernable, and not in my brain (in neuroanatomy you can dissect and magnify to any level and not find one rainbow!) but it does exist, as a purely mental phenomenon.
When there occasionally is a late afternoon thunderstorm in Simsbury and you look east over Talcott Ridge with the sun lowering in the west a magnificent rainbow appears as if emanating from the mountain ridge. But if I ask anyone where is the rainbow, they will of course point to it. But, in reality, the rainbow’s existence is in the minds of each individual who has eyes to see, and optic nerves and optic pathways and occipital lobes and parietal lobes all in good order, and who is looking in the right angle from the right position at the right time. If each individual in town was wearing a GPS devise and we could bring up a computer-generated map with the GPS locations of everyone and arbitrarily assign, say, blue for those not seeing the rainbow, and red for those who do, then we can get an image of where the rainbow is. I bet that the shape of the red band is itself in the shape of a rainbow! (A meta-rainbow!)
OK down from the clouds and back to the two outcomes of the scouting parties. The first scouts (other than Joshua and Caleb) claimed, “we saw the Nephilim there—the Anakites are part of the Nephilim—and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves and so we must have looked to them”! We know of course that the Nephilim were destroyed by and in fact were part of the reason for The Flood! Yet, there might have been unusually tall men. And so what? They had just seen God destroy Egypt with Ten Plagues and the drowning of Pharaoh’s army in the Sea of Reeds!
This scouting party was well defined, with twelve, individually named members. They went out to get an Objective view of The Land and its inhabitants. Now, as I attempted to show above, humans do not have access to a truly Objective World View. We only have particular knowledge about particular things and only when viewed from a particular place and time. The perception of a rainbow is dependent on being in a particular place at a particular time and gazing in a particular direction at a particular angle to the sun under particular atmospheric conditions all while in a conscious mental status with functioning visual perception. In essence a rainbow is an artifact of particularity. (On a side note: The Rainbow was a sign that God would not destroy the world with a flood ever again. By that He was affirming that as particular individuals, or perhaps as nations we will be judged, but not as the entire species of Humanity, as a whole.)
Back to our twelve individualized scouts who were all well respected men of their tribes, that is why they were picked. What went wrong? Because of their grave concerns to be objective, they forgot that Objectivity is merely an arbitrary agreement amongst actual Subjective individuals. They attempted to create an accurate and objective image of the Land. But, that which we call an objective view, is one in which we, the observer have no effect ourselves upon the view. Lets call this view the Pseudo-Objective View. This Pseudo-Objective View works extremely well lets say 99.9% of the time. It allows us to function as moral agents with free will with a mental construct of the world that is “good enough” most of the time. Since the presence or lack of presence of an observer only becomes a factor in quantum physics, we tend to ignore it. But in this case to dismiss for the Observers to dismiss the presence of the Observers was to result in a major error!
Since the Scouts were reporting from the Pseudo-Objective View, they discounted the fact of their very presence in the Promised Land. These men who were slaves a mere few weeks earlier and who through a series of incredible displays of God’s power were now exploring the land to which that same God had promised them, did not take the fact of their very presence in the Land to be relevant! “We were in our eyes like grasshoppers and so we were in their eyes.” Their choice of words reveals that they were presuming to see through “our” eyes. Like a rainbow, we see anything and everything that is visible only through our individual senses. There is no objective “view through OUR eyes”. Because we typically create “God’s Eye Views; Ps-Ob Views” almost constantly, it is difficult to shrink our consciousness back down to True Subjectivity. We are like fish in the water of the Ps-Ob View, which cannot conceive the concept of water. Seeing only through one’s own eyes is the only way we see. Yet, we presume to create a Generalized picture. The Grasshopper sees through grasshopper eyes, even when it is part of the Locust swarm. So although each individual’s view was True, the Truth was missed. Israel was a plague upon the Canaanites! YHVH had allowed them to wait in Egypt until the fullness of the Canaanites’ sin was completed. At that time, Israel was whistled for, just as much later Assyria was whistled for to exile the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
The word Nephilim has as its root the Hebrew letters nun, pe, lamed. It relates to falling, fallen etc. The Nephilim lived in the time before the Flood. They seem to be fallen angelic beings that took mortal women to wife, and their progeny were “the mighty men of old”. One of the reasons for the Flood was to destroy this abomination. (All the writings about Noah being pure in his generation and what is meant by that is just so much ink spilled. Noah was pure, in that he did not have any Nephilim in his family tree.)
But these three letters are found in other places and contexts in the Parsha and Haftara. “Why is the Lord bringing us to this Land to fall by the sword?” “To Fall” here is lamed (to), nun, pe, lamed, same as in “Nephilim”.
The rest of the Parsha in essence shows the Israelites now mourning their lost opportunity to follow God that very day into the Promised Land. Despite God’s clear command and prophecy that no male older than twenty years old will live to enter the Land some make the belated attempt anyway. A day for a year is repeated, for forty days the scouts were out, now for forty years the whole generation of men who trembled in fear despite God’s displays of power and loyalty towards His people Israel, will wander the wilderness, until that entire generation has died. And seemingly just to tick off God a little bit more, some of them decided to go on ahead and conquer the Land any way! And since God was not with them they were massacred by the Amalekites and Canaanites. Finally, and mercifully God tells Moses to tell the Children Of Israel the details of some of the rites they are to perform when they eventually and most assuredly will enter into their Inheritance. This gesture is intended to keep hope alive and real.
The Haftara is almost a mirror image of the Parsha. In the Parsha there were eyes seeing and weeping. They saw the Fallen, the Nephilim. They were sent to look, to see. In the Haftara there is hearing of the God Of Israel and the terror falling (from the same root; Nun pey lamed), upon the inhabitants and the melting of their hearts with fear. The spies learn all they need by hearing the innkeeper speak. The forty years are over, and the whole generation other than Caleb and Joshua has died in the wilderness. Joshua, now the leader, in the place of Moses, again sends out a spy mission. This time however, he sent but two men who remain unnamed. The first party, of twelve men, each a leader of his tribe, had been ordered by Moses to “See the land, what is it like? And the people who dwell in it, strong or weak? Few or many? And what of the Land that they dwell on: good or bad? And what about the cities they dwell in: open camps or fortified? And the land: fertile or lean? Trees? And strengthen yourselves and you shall take from the fruit of the Land.” These were questions that would be of concern to a nation that was going to conquer by war, and not by following God. Yet, these are the questions that Moses asked of the scouts. The commentators shift the blame from Moses, and put it on the people. It was the people and their lack of faith that compelled God to order Moses to “send off for your self the men and let them investigate the Land I am giving to the Children Of Israel.” Joshua sent only two men with the simple order “Go view the Land and Jericho.” The first scouts merely observed and did not apparently speak with any of the inhabitants. Joshua’s spies seem to have done just minimal observing but learned much more by listening to the “Innkeeper”.
Rahab, the “Innkeeper” kept an inn, literally in the wall of the city of Jericho; the first hole- in –the- wall in recorded history! A woman “Innkeeper” needed the quotes around her occupation, no doubt. She reported to the searching guards that indeed the two men had been in her establishment earlier, but took off just before the gate closed. Meanwhile she hid them on the roof under flax stalks that were arranged on the roof. Why did she show mercy? Because she sought mercy. She and all of the inhabitants of the city are in dread at the approach of Israel. “I know that HaShem has given the Land to you and that your terror has fallen on us.” Here, it is not Israel falling in fear before the presence of the Fallen “Nephilim” in the Land, but it is the inhabitants of the Land falling at the approach of Israel and The God Of Israel! Same three letters: nun, pe, lamed, in “your terror has fallen”. And as discussed above, she is promised protection from the God Of Israel and from the Israelites if she displays a sign that identifies her; a scarlet bundle in her case; and like on Passover, the blood of the pesah lamb on the doorposts in Egypt when the Angel Of Death went forth destroying the firstborn of Egypt.
The two spies return with the news that “HaShem has given into our hands all the Land, also the inhabitants are melted with fright before us.” These spies did not seek the false “Objective” view that the twelve respected men of the twelve tribes sought. No, the two humbly heard what they heard and freely admitted the subjectivity of their opinions.
Flax? Why the mention of hiding the spies on Rahab’s roof, under the flax? That seems an unnecessary detail. So, “flax”, is based on the three letters Pe, Shin, Tav. Strong’s lists several other citations: Ex. 9:31; Is. 42:3 43:17; Ezek. 40:3; Judges 15:14; Hos. 2: 4 (7 Stern), 2: 11 (9 Stern).
Just as we noticed the eight plague involved Grasshoppers morphing into the Locust swarm, the seventh plague mentions flax. In the first scouting mission, the same men who had seen the Locust Swarm discriminate Egyptian crops from those of the Hebrew, fell in fright like grasshoppers compared to the “Nephilim”. And in the second mission, it is the inhabitants that are falling with terror at the approach of Joshua. In the Seventh Plague, Hail, “Now the flax and barley were ruined, the barley was in the ear, and the flax in the bud”. But like the Locusts where the Hebrews dwelt there was no hail. Flax was destroyed to free Israel. Flax was used to save the Israelite spies! Locusts attacked Egypt, but fear of being grasshopper-like delayed the Conquest for forty years. Strange, funhouse-like mirror images abound.
Ezekiel 40:3 He took me there, and behold, there was a man whose appearance was like the appearance of bronze. He had a line of flax and a measuring rod in his hand, and he stood in the gateway.
Here, the Flax will be used to make linen cordage to measure out the Third Temple, the Temple of the Messianic Age.