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Sh'lach 13:1 - 15:41

Dear Friends,

Here we are at that famous moment where what you see depends on where you stand, and whether you are motivated by fear of the unknown or hope for the future. I am referring to this week’s Torah portion.

We continue reading the stories contained in the book of Bamidbar (In the Wilderness) that give us a glimpse into the Israelite journey. This week’s Torah portion is Sh'lach (Numbers 13:1 - 15:41). 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 reacted more than they observed. Interestingly, the Torah portion only gives us a report of how what they saw made them feel; ten of the twelve felt like grasshoppers compared to those lived in the land.

Rabbi Asher Lopatin ascribes their response to groupthink and the dangers thereof. It is because of their response that the people are told they will wander in the wilderness for forty years and that 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 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 -- a full part of society.

If ever there was a moment when this injunction needs to resonate with us, it is now. Through diversity, the people will then be better insulated from the groupthink that grips them in the sin of the spies. Diversity and difference is the key to survival; homogeneity is a recipe for the downfall of a society. Without question, the Book of Bamidbar is a text for today. We too are in the wilderness, not having 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 too much unity of thought and of 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.

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)


Wed, January 27 2021 14 Shevat 5781