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Parashat Sh'lach

June 16, 2023
27 Sivan 5783
Parashat Sh'lach
Numbers 13:1 - 15:41

Dear Friends,

Once more we find ourselves at a crossroads, rather like the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. The possibilities of which way to go seem infinite. We are at a place where what you see depends on where you stand and whether you are motivated by fear of the unknown or hope for the future. The Wizard of Oz is filled with hope for the future in the face of terrible odds; the protagonists keep going no matter what, facing their worst fears.

This illustration brings us to this week’s Torah portion. The power of hope is undeniable, while fear has the capacity to completely immobilize us. We continue reading the stories contained in the book of Bamidbar – In the Wilderness – the stories that give us a glimpse into the Israelite journey. This week’s Torah portion is Sh’lach, meaning “send” (Numbers 13:1 - 15:41). It tells the story of the twelve chieftains sent out by Moses to spy out the land. 

Although ten see the potential of the land, “a land flowing in milk and honey”, their point of view is formed by the trauma that was Egypt.  Just last week we read of their longing for the produce and meat that was available in Egypt, however they know that they cannot go back, but they cannot seem to go forward either.  They are stuck, frozen, unable to trust the lessons learned, hold onto the miraculous moments since leaving Egypt. 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 saw made them feel: ten of the twelve felt like grasshoppers in relation to those lived in the land. Meanwhile Caleb and Joshua, much like Dorothy and company. persisted and moved forward.

It is interesting to note that when one has companionship, it is easy to go in either direction -- fear and complacency or hope and courage. When one is alone, too often one is totally isolated.

In this moment once more Moses steps forth as defender of the people, making sure to remind the Divine that it wouldn’t build God’s street credibility if the people were destroyed.

It is because Moses stands up on the people’s behalf that the people are told they will wander in the wilderness for forty years and only Caleb and Joshua will be able to enter the promised land. This Torah portion goes from the people almost being destroyed, with Moses standing up for them and averting their destruction by God, to an injunction by the Divine telling the Israelites that when they get to the land they must make sure there are foreigners and converts in their midst, all abiding by the same law and accepted as a full part of society.

We are only strong if we stand together, creating one society where all are welcome. Going back to The Wizard of Oz, the little girl, the Scarecrow, the Tinman and the Lion are a motley crew, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. They could not have survived without one another, just like us at this moment. We need one another and all our differences.

Without question, the Book of Bamidbar is a text for today. We too are in the wilderness without a clear sense of where things will end. The choice of how to engage in this moment is ours.

Parashat Sh’lach is a warning about the dangers of the fear of moving forward. Let us work on coming together and be reminded that we too were once slaves and strangers in a strange land and we were a mixed multitude that left the land of Egypt.

The Torah portion concludes with the following injunction:

“Adonai said to Moses as follows: Speak to the people of Israel and tell them to make for themselves fringes, tzitzit, on the corners of their garments throughout their generations; let them attach a cord of blue to the fringe at each corner. That shall be your fringe; look at it and recall all of Adonai’s commandments and observe them so that you do not follow your heart and eyes and be seduced or led astray. Thus you shall be reminded to observe all My commandments and to be holy to your God. I, Adonai, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I, Adonai your God.” (Numbers 15:37-41)

We humans need that which is tangible to aid us in going forward. The tzitzit provide that. Hold on to whatever you need to hold onto and let us find a way toward hope and possibility, knowing full well that we need one another to get there. Dorothy would never have made it home without her friends.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Tue, October 3 2023 18 Tishrei 5784