My notes on Shelach

Parashat Shelach

Numbers 13

13:13          Of the tribe of Asher, Sethur the son of Michael.

Comment: This parashah (portion of the five Books of Moses) has several connections to me personally. Here is the first appearance of my Hebrew name Michael in the Bible. When I was not familiar with the Bible, I, previously only having a Chinese name, chose this name as my English name, since at that time I was a basketball fan of Michael Jordan who won championships for my local team. A postdoctoral researcher from Israel told me that this name Michael is a good choice, since it is also a biblical name. Michael is also the name of an angel in the book of Daniels. I am also happy to find that the name Michael in Hebrew is a praise of Gd formulated as a rhetorical question: Mi (who is) cha (like) el (Gd)? (Of course, nobody is like our Gd!) 

 

13:22          And they ascended by the south, and came unto Hebron; where Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the children of Anak, were. (Now Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.)

Comment: There is a brilliant Bible interpretation here recorded in Rashi. The verb “came” is (very oddly) singular here in Hebrew. Rashi derives that only one spy Caleb came to Hebron. Who is this spy? Gd promised to reward Caleb with the place where he visited (Deuteronomy 1:36), and later Caleb got Hebron (Judges 1:20). So it must be Caleb who visited Hebron. Rashi says that Caleb went to Hebron to pray for strength to resist the 10 pessimistic spies, near the burial site of Abraham and Sarah , Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah. Of course, prayers should not be directed to dead people, but there is a Jewish tradition to pray near the burial site of ancestors. I could understand that Caleb went to pray at Hebron specifically and not anywhere else, since there, a field was purchased by his ancestor Abraham, as the first and only acquired part of the promised land that Gd promised Abraham to give to his descendants. Caleb could then pray for Gd to fulfill His promise completely, to restore the ownership of this field to the descendants of its purchaser who is buried here, and also to give them possession of all the rest of the promised land.  A personal connection:  I was born on the day when Israelites reconquered Hebron after almost two thousand years of exile. So when I visited the promised land for the first time when I was 50 years old, I wanted very much to visit Hebron. However, the security there was still very problematic at that time and I was not able to visit Hebron.

 

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Numbers 14

14:1          And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night.

Comment: Jews say that this night was Tisha Bav (9th of the 5th month in Jewish calendar, usually in late July or early August), on which date both temples would be burned in the future. The season may be verified since this is during the summer season of grape harvest in Israel (see Numbers 13:20,23-25).  It may also be possible to verify independently by counting a total of 80 days since they left Mount Sinai on the 20th of the 2nd month in Jewish calendar (see Numbers 10:11,33; 11:20; 12:15; 13:25). 

An interesting coincidence: in each year, the day of the week for Tisha Bav (when so many tragedies happened to the Jews) is always the same as that for the Passover (when they were saved from Egyptian slavery). I think this alludes to the concept that the salvation from Egyptian slavery is not enough, a second and greater salvation is needed to free the Israelites from the slavery of sin and thwart its tragic consequences. In fact when the Jews experience this second and greater salvation, this date will remove its sadness and become a holiday (Zechariah 8:19).

A personal connection: I was baptized many years ago in a Chinese Christian church on Tisha Bav, unknowing of this special Jewish calendar date at that time. So this was my date of rebirth in the Messiah,  the date when I was saved from the slavery of sin. Ever since I realized that this day is also Tisha Bav, on which it was decreed that 603,548 out of 603,550 Israelites who experienced salvation from Egyptian slavery could not enter the promised land (see Numbers 14:30 later), a question started to nudge me again and again: What is the promised land for the Christians who experienced salvation from sin? Can all of them enter their promised land or only a few of them?

 

14:28          Say unto them, As truly as I live, saith the LORD, as ye have spoken in mine ears, so will I do to you:

Comment: Here Rashi interprets “as ye have spoken” to refer to the complaints in verse 2, that they preferred to die in the wilderness.  We see here how important it is to avoid complaints and to avoid saying negative words. 

 

14:30          Doubtless ye shall not come into the land, concerning which I sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun.

Comment: It is astounding that out of 603,550 Israelites who experienced salvation in exodus from Egypt and passing of the Red Sea, only 2 entered into the promised land! This cannot be interpreted to say that only 2/603,550  baptized Christians can go to the kingdom of heaven! So if the exodus from Egypt foretells salvation for Christians, then what does entering the promised land mean for the Christians? What is the Christians’ promised land? Surely it is not the proper geographic land of Israel since there are too many Christ from all nations to accommodate there! My answer is that Christians are children of Adam and children of Noah, whose promised land is the whole earth, as Gd blessed Adam in Genesis 1 and blessed Noah in Genesis 9. But if for Christians their promised land is the whole earth, then why does the Bible here say only Caleb and Joshua could enter the promised land, aren’t all Christians living on the earth already?

 I believe the promised land represents the ideal earth in the future, in the 1000 year millennium predicted in the book of Revelations. Only relatively few strong Christians with good deeds can resurrect early and live on the earth again for the entire 1000 year millennium (Revelation 20). All saved Christians with less good deeds will only resurrect later and they can live in the eternal new Jerusalem  (Revelation 21)  that is between the heavens and the earth, together with those strong Christians who were resurrected earlier and merited 1000 year earthly life during the millennium. Those strong Christians include martyrs who were persecuted and had their earthly lives shortened in this world. Their sufferings and shortened earthly lives will be more than compensated by 1000 year earthly lives in the world to come, reigning together with the second coming of Christ, teaching Gds word to the new generations of people who were naturally born and are still alive on earth during the millennium. Jews’ waiting for the coming of Messiah,  corresponds to Christians’s waiting for the second coming of Christ. The Christians’ millennium is the same as the world to come (ha olam haba) which the Jews wait for, which is also the ideal earthly world described in the Old Testament (e.g. Isaiah 65), where animals and mankind live peacefully with each other. Salvation itself is by faith, but reward is related to deeds. Hebrews says that (Heb 4:11) “Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest,” which refers to the promised land that the 603,550-2 Israelites missed after the exodus of Egypt. For Christians, this rest or promised land alludes to the world to come, the 1000 years of ideal life on earth.

The land is of three increasing degrees of holiness: whole earth, land of Israel (promised land), and Jerusalem.

The time is of three increasing degrees of holiness: weekdays, sabbath (rest), and day of atonement (which is both a rest day and a holiday).

The human history also will have three increasing degrees of holiness: the current world, the 1000 year millennium, and the eternal age of new Jerusalem.

The ideal earth during the 1000 year millennium, unifies the middle degree of holiness for both the concept of the land and the concept of time. It both corresponds to the promised land and to the rest. That is why Hebrews 4:11 and the cited Psalm 95 there both connect the concept of rest to the concept of the promised land. 

Jews treat the current world as the six weekdays and the world come / 1000 year millennium as the sabbath. That is why on each sabbath they pray for inheriting the “yom shekulo Shabbat” (the day which is completely Shabbat), symbolizing the world to come / 1000 year millennium. 

In our Bible passage, all who say bad words of the promised land are punished in the incident of spies. Likewise, we shouldn’t belittle the biblical concept of the ideal earth in the 1000 millennium. This is the promised land of the Christians from all nationalities of the human kind. Let us be strong and courageous and eager for our promised land; Be like Caleb and Joshua, and not like the other 603,548 Israelites!

 

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Numbers 15

15:10          And thou shalt bring for a drink offering half an hin of wine, for an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD.

Comment: Here Rashi mentioned that the wine is not burnt,  and therefore “an offering made by fire” here only refers to the meal offering with oil, not the wine. I connect this comment on different kinds of offerings to 2 of the four ways of Bible interpretation (listed in a reversed order). 

  • (4. Sod or secret) The wine (yayin יין ) in Hebrew has the same numerical value 70 as the “secret” (Sod סוד). So wine offering corresponds to interpretation of “secret” in the Bible (like what I am doing now). Abuse of “wine” (or interpretation of “secret” in the Bible) can be dangerous. Proper use of “wine” (or interpretation of “secret” in the Bible) can be spirit-enhancing but is still not essential to our faith, so in this verse correspondingly,  wine is not consumed as an essential “food” by fire.
  • (3. Darash or moral) The meal offering corresponds to the “moral” (Darash דרש ) level of Bible interpretation. The meal offering consists of the most basic food source- flour, and flour-based food can be made in many varieties, which corresponds to various moral teachings that can be applied to different life circumstances, which can be derived from the Bible and form the basic energy source that believers need to consume (as symbolized by being consumed in fire here in Numbers 15:10).
  • (2. Remez or hint) The other 2 of the four ways of Bible interpretation are both related to the burnt offering, which involves a step of skinning and a step of cutting the flesh into pieces (Leviticus 1:6). Cutting into pieces involves the verbal root נתח,which can also mean “to analyze” (the Bible, so that one can understand the “hint” underneath the surface). So I think flesh-cutting of the burnt offering corresponds to the “hint” (Remez רמז) level of Bible interpretation.
  • (1. Peshat or straightforward) Skinning of the burnt offering is related to the “straightforward” (Peshat פשט) level of Bible interpretation. Skinning involves the verbal root פשט, a root which can also mean “straightforward”.

The initial letters of these four levels form PRDS, which is the origin of the English word PaRaDiSe, which symbolizes that the Bible is like a beautiful garden. See, e.g., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pardes_(Jewish_exegesis)