When Moses sent the spies, he changed Hoshea’s name to Joshua. The rabbis understand that he prayed for him. The name Joshua means, ‘God should save you’. Moses knew that there was trouble brewing with the spies and prayed for Joshua to be saved from the social pressure he would face.
I have always wondered, however, why did Moses not pray for any of the other spies? It’s not that the others were already misguided, and he wanted Joshua saved from their bad intentions. We are told that at the time they left, they were all great and righteous men. It also can’t be that Moses felt Joshua was his best bet to come through the experience well because another of the spies, Caleb, also remained true to God without Moses praying for him.
So why did Moses only pray for one of the twelve spies?
I’m going to go out on a limb with a suggestion here. This is my take on it…..
In simple terms, I believe that you pray for someone that you care about. And you don’t for someone you don’t.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that there is any harm in praying for someone you don’t feel connected to. It’s certainly a sign of care for humanity. But, in my mind, prayer is about heartfelt feelings, not hocus pocus words. The rabbis say that ‘words from the heart enter the heart’. And that’s true with God also. Words from our hearts, so to speak, enter his. With that in mind, I’m not sure how heartfelt you can be about someone you don’t know or who doesn’t mean a lot to you. And I don’t mean that callously. It’s just very human of us that the vast majority of people in the world don’t mean that much to us. We don’t know them and have no relationship with them. We can love them in theory, but it’s hard to do so in genuine feeling.
And so, for prayer to mean something to us, the person must mean something to us. That’s just a fact of life.
In my mind, Moses knew Joshua very well. He was a close and beloved student of his. The other spies, he knew as a leader of 2.5 million people, but not personally. It’s hard to pray for someone you don’t know. And Moses didn’t. For me, our prayers are only as meaningful as they are heartfelt. Yes, it seems to me that there are those deep lovers of humanity who can pray for anyone – because they care about everyone. But that’s not me. Perhaps it was not Moses either.
In Judaism, there is a concept of regular prayer – whether you mean it or not – to keep in the habit of praying. And that makes sense. But, for me, if I’m going to pray a personal prayer – if it’s not going to be heartfelt and genuine, I’ll find something else to do instead.
By the way, I’ve just published a book on prayer called, ‘Mean What you Pray’! If you are interested in buying a copy, you can easily do so on our website here.
Parsha in a Nutshell
This week’s portion focuses on the story of the spies who are sent by Moses to check out the land of Israel. They return with a negative report – it is a land that eats its inhabitants. It cannot be conquered. A land of giants…… While the women, as usual, stand strong and insist on entering Israel nevertheless, then men are terrified. In spite of the miracles they have witnessed, they are unwilling to put their trust in God and refuse to enter. God responds that they are most welcome to spend another 40 years in the desert instead. Only their children will inherit the land. This is not a punishment, merely a granting of that which they requested – that they should not have to enter the land of Israel. God always leads us in a way that we have chosen.
The portion talks of other bits and bobs, but the spies’ story is the main event.