Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Sh’lach L’cha
As I pay attention to the daily news – or what purports to be news, I fear that the direction of our nation’s discourse will rupture the very fabric that holds us together. We have a constitution under attack. Many of us have spent generations working to enfranchise more and more people into the equitable distribution and protection of equal rights. Now, we find special interest groups proclaiming that they alone own our nation and, as its owners – they get to dictate who has rights and who does not.
Equal rights are not special rights. Our founding documents mandate that “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” are inalienable rights. How do people find justification in alienating people from the rights guaranteed by the very existence of our nation?
“Aen chadash tachat ha shamesh – There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). This societal devolution will, horrifically, not be the first time that the annals of history will record such a nightmare. At this pace, unless something happens to hold people at the extremes accountable, I fear that we may join some of the most storied empires in the ranks of “furthest fallen.”
We watched as Egypt fell apart over its fear of losing power over a people who never threatened them. In this week’s Torah portion, we stand at the shores of the River Jordan. Just across the river is the “Promised Land.” Freed from slavery and oppression, the people witnessed God’s miraculous redemption hosts of times. Instructed that the land across the water would be filled with the most luscious of everything – they should have been prepared to enjoy the fruits of freedom.
Nope, there must be something about the human condition that just refuses to accept the concept of feeling blessed. Moses wants to send spies into the land to check it out. God had to be concerned that the people did not trust that it would be fantastic, but – okay – they wanted proof. God approved Moses sending in the heads of the tribes to scout things out and return with a report. They all saw the fruit. Ten of the twelve decided to interpret what they saw as indicating that life there would be perilous. Who would eat fruit that size? Joshua and Caleb said, “People blessed by God.” The rest opined that giants must live in the land. Of course, no one said that giants hate Israelites, but the ten spies jumped to that conclusion.
The ten spies’ faith failed in their community, their own experiences, and God. Their failure cost everyone. They were not the only ones to suffer from their horrible behavior. The entirety of Israel had to wander for forty years to atone for their transgression. Over that forty years, the people faced wars, desolation, and devastation. Even while the timeframe ensured that only people born into freedom (excepting Joshua, Caleb, and a handful of supporters) would enter the land, the journey’s experience tainted the people; trained them in the arts of destruction. Please remember that they were not happy to see Moses show up in the first place. We certainly can bemoan their plight, but they were angry that he showed up and upset the “apple cart.” A few bad behavers took down the most blessed of societies.
Still, though, this is not the rest of the story. We are. One of the things I love about Torah is that it pulls no punches. The text includes all the great stories of success intertwined with the stories of our abject failures. The text provides the reader with the most complex and comprehensive study on human sociology. As we learn from the earliest of sages, there is no one answer as to what scripture can mean. For each person who reads it, there are thousands of permutations of possible interpretations. What is undeniable, though, despite the repeating stories of destruction, we have the privilege and blessing of being here to read, discuss, and learn how to grow in faith and age past even our worst behaviors – all of humanity’s worst behaviors.
As we grow through those eras, we should be learning to engage each other with a more open heart. It is a blessing to see what could be and know that we hold the power to make the phoenix rise from the ashes to restore hope and create peace. May we take a step back today – remember the lessons from old – one bad apple does rot the bunch. Before we find ourselves forced to destroy everything in the quest of starting over, let’s fix it now. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It really can be just that simple. This text will be my last commentary as the sitting Rabbi of this congregation. Let me leave us with this legacy charge: be more accepting, more loving, and much broader in the dignity with which we see and judge each other.