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The Promised Land Is in Your Soul

When God calls to Abraham and instructs him to set out on a journey to the Promised Land, God commands: “Lech lecha—Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12)

This week when God instructs Moses to send scouts to survey the Promised Land, God similarly commands: “Shelach lecha—Send men to scout the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelite people.” (Numbers 13)

In both instances the Hebrew is unusual and perhaps untranslatable. God literally states, “Go for yourself” and “Send for yourself.” Commentators note the peculiar wording and imagine novel explanations to justify this Hebrew phrasing.

One rabbinic midrash suggests that the command to Abraham was more about him finding himself than discovering a new land. Its author writes: “Go forth to find your authentic self, to learn who you are meant to be.” Is a promised land about its geographical contours or instead about unearthing some, hidden inner promise?

Is a journey, whether undertaken at God’s command or out of inner desire, about exploring new vistas or about discovering oneself?

This week we are confronted with a new question. What could Moses possibly find out about himself when commanding others to set out on a journey? He has been leading the people for years. He has been through countless tests. The people are given to lots of complaining, and rebelling (more about that in the weeks to come). This moment appears to produce an unlikely crisis of faith for our leader.

The midrash once again makes plain what the Hebrew only implies. It imagines God saying to Moses that this reconnaissance mission is more about Moses’ needs, and perhaps the people’s, rather than God’s. Our ancient rabbis fill in the gaps, found in between the Torah’s verses and write, “God seems to be saying, ‘I have you told you already that the land is good and that I will give it to you. If you need human confirmation of that, go ahead and send scouts.’”

And I wonder. Is finding oneself, and setting out on any journey, about confirming what God already intends for us or about charting some, new undiscovered territory hidden within our own soul?