We live in an age of action. Even so, obviously, there are times when we have to stop and think. Action has more meaning and power when it is preceded by preparation - although sometimes in this process itself mistakes can be made.

The story of the Spies1 presents an example of this concept: the need for preparation, and also the personal, individual and creative aspects of this. Beyond the specific historical event, which took place over three thousand years ago, this account offers useful guidance for our lives in any age.

It is telling us about the past and also guiding us in the present The Jewish people were about to enter the Land of Israel. In other words, they were about to undertake a major project, something central and crucial, which they were clearly commanded by G‑d: it was the fulfilment of the entire course of the Exodus from Egypt. Before taking this major step they sent a group of twelve men into the Land, in order to investigate the situation.

The Sages stress that the sending of the Spies was not a command from G‑d. It was something the Jewish people decided to do themselves.2

This story has two parallel dimensions: it is telling us about the past and also guiding us in the present. As explained by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Torah is telling us that there is a real need to pause, to think and to prepare before undertaking significant actions in our lives. These actions include the performance of everyday Commandments. "Entering the Land of Israel" represents everything important in Judaism and in life. Before the action one needs to investigate and to reflect.

As in the case of sending the Spies, this reflection has a personal and individual quality. It is not "commanded" to reflect. There are no simple instructions. One needs the power to use one's own mind and to think creatively in order to make the right kind of preparation. The person who can only follow rules will not be able to think clearly about all the issues.

One needs the power to use one's own mind and to think creativelyNow, here there is a subtle balance. The rules do have to be followed. In fact this was the mistake of the Spies. In the course of their investigation they decided that there was no point in trying to fulfil G‑d's command to go into the Land. It would be impossible. Hence, they said: Give up.

This meant that in their case, the preparation took precisely the wrong turn. Instead of creatively investigating how to fulfil G‑d's command, it became a discussion about whether to fulfil G‑d's command.

The disastrous effect in their case was a forty-year delay in entering the Land; in effect, this was the loss of an entire generation. Despite this, the Rebbe comments, the positive teaching remains for us.

Good actions require preparation, and that preparation needs a personal and creative dimension, combined with the faith that if G‑d has commanded us to do it, we can do it and it is the right thing to do. The question is how to do it in the most effective and meaningful way.

Through this pause for reflection, keeping the balance between structure and creativity, each individual can enter his or her Promised Land, and ultimately help the rest of humanity to do so as well.3