Maurice A. Salth | June 4, 2010
This week’s portion, Sh’lach L’cha, is as Cantor Buchdahl has recently taught, among the most well known of the Torah portions that are not very well known.
One of the core lessons the portion teaches is that we humans are quick to evaluate situations based upon our personal perceptions of ourselves. In addition we often judge without having quality information to help us determine our verdict.
In the portion, a group of leaders, one from each Israelite tribe, is selected by Moses to enter Israel to bring back information about the Promised Land. These scouts, these tribal cheiftans, return praising the land for flowing with milk and honey and bring back large grapes for the people to snack on. In honor of this, we have grapes, though not as large, for our oneg tonight.
Ten of the twelve report to the entire Israelite community that the inhabitants of the land are men the size of giants and they say that “we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves and so we must have looked to them.” (Numbers 13:33) This is one of Torah’s great lines…“we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves and so we must have looked to them.”
The Israelites, listening to their trusted leaders, panic. The Torah describes them as breaking into loud cries and weeping all night.
Yet, there are two leaders, Caleb and Joshua, who are sophisticated and positive and explain to the people that entering the land will be entirely possible. Their minority report is largely ignored and the Israelites, in their fright, even suggest heading back to the land of Egypt.
This year the portion falls during a week when modern day Israel has constantly been in the news. The varied descriptions of what occurred on Monday off the coast of Israel seem to me as imbalanced as the reports from our portion’s ten tribal leaders—based upon previously held perceptions of Israel and not on the events themselves.
Only a minority of the coverage has focused upon facts that are corroborated by video documentation along with a historic perspective on the recent history of the Middle East.
For those people, like myself, who love Israel and pray for peace among Israel and its neighbors, it has been difficult to see this situation used to foment hatred and violence. Just like in the Torah portion, there are those who have gotten out of control based upon reports that have not been fully examined.
Who will be like Joshua and Caleb in this situation? Who will be the voices saying that, despite setbacks and the complex challenges that face Israel and its neighbors, peace is possible?
Millions of Israeli citizens still retain this position and are doing what they can to bring it to fruition.
Here in the United States we too can be voices of reason and peace. This is especially true if we commit to remaining educated on the difficult issues that face our brothers and sisters in Israel.
This afternoon Cantor Buchdahl emailed the entire congregation about the flotilla incident and provided some thoughtful articles and video links regarding the events of this week.
In addition, Rabbi Friedman will be speaking more about Israel in his sermon tomorrow at Shabbat morning services. I strongly encourage us to stay informed so that we can discuss this and future situations from a position of knowledge.
The lessons from this not-so-famous/famous portion are as true today as they were three thousand years ago. And I pray to God to give us strength in the face of adversity and challenge; God help us be as Caleb and Joshua were in days of old.
I’ll close with selections from a poem written by Rabbi Naomi Levy in response to this week’s events:
We are tired of praying for “The Day”
When this conflict will end.
Rise up, God, let “That Day” be now!
Give us the eyes to envision it,
The heart to believe it,
The will to fight for it,
And the hands open wide to receive it.
May we be blessed as our father Jacob was,
To stand before an enemy and embrace him as a brother.
God in heaven, who brings peace to the heavens,
Bring peace to the earth,
Spread peace over Israel,
Peace over all people,
And let us say,
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