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Parashat Sh'lach

June 24, 2022
25 Sivan 5782
Numbers 13:1 - 15:41

Reading the weekly Torah portions through the lens of leadership while studying the prescient words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z’’l provides yet another way to respond to the text that speaks directly to the times in which we live. Rabbi Sacks describes this Torah portion as the most significant failure of leadership to be found in our Torah.

 As we continue reading the stories contained in the book of Bamidbar (In the Wilderness), we have stories that give us a glimpse into the Israelite journey. This week’s Torah portion is Sh’lach (send). It leads us to ask what to send through our actions in the world.

 It tells the story of the twelve chieftains sent out by Moses to spy out the land. Caleb and Joshua saw one thing and the rest, well it is not so much what they saw but how they reacted to what they saw. Interestingly the Torah portion only gives us a report of how what they made them feel; ten of the twelve felt like grasshoppers in relation to those lived in the land.

 Those who were sent out to spy the land were leaders and chieftains; they should have known better. They knew firsthand what the Divine was capable of, they had witnessed and experienced a great many things since leaving Egypt. So why did these ten respond so negatively? Why did they not trust in a successful endeavor? After all, they had already defeated the Amalekites and word of their might and power had surely spread.

 There are two different aspects at work here, one is a lack of confidence on the part of the ten and the other is a fear of success. What it comes down to is lack of faith in the capacity of the people to be successful. We can make a case that the ten understood Divine power, but they had no faith in themselves as leaders and in the community to be able to overcome the adversity that they would face once they entered the land.

 The word confidence in Latin mean “having faith together.” We, who are currently living through what Charles Dickens called “the best of times and the worst of times” have been buffeted over the last number of years in a variety of ways. Our trust in the institutions of government has been assailed and our isolation due to Covid has made us fearful. At this moment, we need to do what the spies failed to do, have faith in one another. The Torah portion ends with the mitzvah of tzitzit, a potent reminder that the way in which we behave in the world makes a difference.

As we read and study the fourth book of the Torah, Bamidbar (In the Wilderness), I am reminded of this quote by Michael Walzer:

“wherever you live it is probably Egypt…
There is a better place, a world more attractive, a promised land…
The way to the land is through the wilderness
There is no way to get from here to there except by joining together and marching.”

Let us be a community that joins together with others as we navigate these difficult times, knowing that we are stronger when we come together. 

Wishing you a good summer.  

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Fri, August 19 2022 22 Av 5782