The recent TV adaptation of Catch 22 is receiving good reviews. Joseph Heller, in his original 1961 novel, coined the term, Catch 22, to refer to a paradoxical situation where a person can’t escape because of contradictory limitations. The phrase very quickly entered public discourse.
Moses is faced with a Catch 22 situation at the beginning of the sidra. The Children of Israel are advancing to the Promised Land. As is apparent from the account in Devarim 1:22, they approach Moses with the request that they send out spies to reconnoitre the land. Moses is faced with 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 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 where 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 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 doesn’t ban it. Moses recognises this, and on reflection, he acquiesces to the request. There is the chance that the spies will see the positives in the land and the people’s enthusiasm would, thereby, be raised 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 assume responsibility for the consequences.