This week’s Torah portion, Devarim (Deut. 1:1-3:22) begins the book of Deuteronomy, the fifth and last book of the Torah. In this book, Moses reviews the events of the forty years in the wilderness, and the laws that God gave to the Israelites.
Moses begins by recounting the story of the scouting of the land, which had taken place 38 years earlier, to these young Israelites, the generation that will enter the land. He says that he told the people that the land was theirs for the taking and that God was inviting them to take possession of it. But they insisted that Moses send scouts first, and when they heard the report of the scouts, that the land was good but the inhabitants were numerous and powerful, they panicked and refused to enter the land. Then God grew angry with them and ordained that the people would stay in the wilderness until all the generation that were slaves in Egypt had died. (Deut. 1:19-33)
But wait a minute. That’s not how it was told in the book of Numbers, chapter 13. There, it was God who ordered Moses to send the scouts, and the panic came at least partially from the report of ten of the twelve scouts themselves. In the original, the people were not nearly as much to blame as Moses makes out in the retelling.
Events happen and facts are facts, but feelings color our memories of those facts and events. Had the Israelites been ready to enter the land the first time, Moses would have triumphantly led them there. Now, he is old and going to die in the wilderness as the next generation takes over. The way he remembers things is not necessarily the way they happened.
The land of Israel has always been and still is the subject of conflicting desires, feelings, memories and hopes. If even one as great as Moses lets his feelings get in the way of accuracy, what of the rest of us? We would do well to set our feelings aside and try to learn the facts.