Shabbat-Table Talks: Qorah

To read last year's Table Talk  click here.

By: Rabbi Ralph Tawil <>


Value: Having the faith in Hashem to do what’s right even when it appears risky. Generally, we teach our children not to get involved in behavior that is too risky. We try to minimize the risk of any activity. Taking proper precautions is a good habit to adopt. Yet, sometimes we have to act, even though there is calculated risk, because the benefit is so great. This especially applies when there is a missvah associated with the activity. When we know what we are doing is the right thing, even though it has some risk, if the action is very important we must take the risk and act. When we do this, we pray to Hashem and have faith in him that He will help us accomplish this “right” thing.


Background: The perasha begins with Hashem’s commandment to send 12 people to “tour” the land (notice that the word “spy” is not used; NJPS translates “scout”). Most of these first “tourists” return with a mixed opinion of the land. They say that, although, the land is very good, the people of the land are very strong. In their initial report, they do not give an opinion about whether Bne Yisrael should attempt to conquer the land. When they start to mention the strength of the land’s inhabitants, Caleb ben Yefuneh, one of the 12 people that scouted the land presented a very forceful opinion that Ben Yisrael should try to conquer the land. The other scouts disagreed. This disagreement continues later in the portion when the people start to bemoan their fate and Yehoshua and Caleb stand strong in their faithful position.


Text: Numbers 13:30-31; 14:1-9

Caleb hushed the people before Moses and said, “let us by all means go up, and we shall gain possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it.”


But the men who had gone up with him said, “we cannot attack that people, for it is stronger than we.”


The whole community broke into loud cries, and the people wept that night. All the Israelites railed against Moshe and Aharon. “If only we had died in the land of Egypt,” the whole community shouted at them, “or if only we might die in the wilderness. Why is Hashem taking us to that land to fall by the sword? …And they said to one another, let us head back for Egypt.”


…And Yehoshua bin Nun and Caleb ben Yefune, of those who scouted the land, ripped their clothes. And exhorted the whole Israelite community: “The land that we traversed and scouted is an exceedingly good land. If Hashem is pleased with us, He will bring us into that land, a land that flows with milk and honey, and give it to us; only you must not rebel against Hashem. Have no fear, then, of the people of the country, for they are our prey: their protection has departed from them, but Hashem is with us. Have no fear of them.

[The people then tried to pelt them with stones, and Hashem saves them.]


Discussion: Why were Bne Yisrael and the other spies afraid? Did they have anything to fear? (Yes, but…. True, the people of Canaan were very strong. Yet, Bne Yisrael should have overcome that fear to do what was right, especially when Hashem commanded them to enter the land.)


Eventually, Hashem punished Israel by decreeing that they would have to roam in the wilderness for forty years. Why did Hashem punish Israel? Weren’t they justified in their fears? (Although, there was some risk involved, when Hashem is guiding you, you should have nothing to fear. This applies especially when the benefits are so great.)


Are you ever afraid to do something that you know is right and important? Why?

Name some situations where this applies: Are you afraid to risk giving an answer in class for fear that it might be wrong? Are you afraid to ask a question because people might think that you are ignorant? Are you afraid to visit Israel, (or lower Manhattan, for that matter) for fear that there will be a terrorist attack? All of these things are right to do. Our fear must be overcome and we must learn to take somewhat of a risk, because of the high benefits that could accrue to us, and because it is the right thing.


One way to overcome the fear and take the calculated risk, is to think of the “worst case” scenario. What would happen if you said the “wrong answer” in class. 


Another way is to have faith in Hashem that he will help you do what is right.


Many actions have risks attached to them. For example, there is a greater risk of being killed in a car accident when you drive, yet very few people refrain from driving because of this risk. Most take that risk because the potential benefits are great (mostly in convenience and saved time).


Only when we risk failure, do we have the chance to succeed. You cannot hit the ball, if you don’t swing the bat.


Bne Yisrael in the wilderness, were not able to take the “leap of faith” necessary to conquer the land. Only Caleb and Yehoshua demonstrate the right attitude of willingness to go forward, despite the odds, knowing that it was Hashem’s will and that He would protect them. There was no going back, only forward.


What would you do if you were there?


Story: Risking


Two seeds lay side by side in the fertile spring soil.


Then first seed said, “I want to grow! I want to send my roots deep into the soil beneath me, and thrust my sprouts through the earth’s crust above me.. I want to unfurl my tender buds like banners tot announce the arrival of spring…I want to feel the warmth of the sun in my face and the blessing of the morning dew on my petals.


And so she grew.


The second seed said, “I am afraid. If I send my roots into the ground below, I don’t know what I will encounter in the dark. If I push my way through the hard soil above me I may damage my delicate sprouts. What if I let my buds open and a snail tries to eat them? And if I were to open my blossoms, a small child may pull me from the ground. No, it is much better for me to wait until it is safe.”

And so she waited.

A yard hen scratching around in the early spring ground for food found the waiting seed and promptly ate it.


(Patty Hansen, From Chicken Soup for the Soul p.220)


To read last year's Table Talk click here.


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