When Joseph Heller published his novel, Catch 22, in 1961, he hadn’t realized how quickly his title would become a catch phrase. What started as an illogical rule in army bureaucracy, soon came to include any situation where a a person can’t escape because of contradictory limitations
Moses is faced with a Catch 22 situation at the beginning of the parasha. The Children of Israel are advancing to the Promised Land. In the book of Devarim (1:22) we read they approach Moses with a request: Can we send out spies to reconnoitre the land? Moses now faces a dilemma. He knew that the mission was not a good idea. G-d had told him so. Yet, if he denies their request, they would suspect that he had something to hide. Maybe there was something wrong with the land.
At one level, their request for a spy mission was eminently reasonable. The people knew that they would be moving from a cocooned existence in the desert to a more natural order in Israel. In the desert, G-d provided for them. In Israel, they would have to fend for themselves. It is normal to want to have information about the land’s defences and fertility for crops. Yet, precisely because they were living in a miracle bubble, they were not in a position to make the right judgements; to correctly evaluate the land.
G-d puts the ball back in Moses’ court. Commenting on the word, lecha, “dispatch for yourself,” Rashi comments:
“I am not commanding you. If you wish, you may send.”
What is significant is that although G-d advised against the mission, He does not ban it. Moses recognises this, and on reflection, he agrees to the request. There is the chance that the spies will see the positives in the land. A good report would raise the people’s enthusiasm even higher. If they reject the land, they will have to live with the outcome.
Ultimately, this is the way all of us have to live our lives. Very often, the choices we face are not between what is obviously right and obviously wrong. All we can do is assess the situation to the best of our ability. Decide, act – and then assume responsibility for the consequences.