The major thrust of this week’s portion is the famous story of Moses sending spies into Canaan, that land promised by God, a land “flowing with milk and honey”. They all report that the land is wonderful, but ten spies caution against invading. They see “giants” and a task way too dangerous. Yet, Caleb and Joshua return with the opinion that we must move forward, as God has promised us this land and God will be with us. The decision was to follow the advice of the first group. God calls out this group and the resulting punishment is the death of the Exodus generation and wandering for decades. I have no doubt that the decision to reject the “call” and “promise” of God will be the subject of debate this Shabbat, especially when we compare another spy story in Joshua.
What did these spies “see”? The spies saw the same land and the same people, but they “saw” things differently. Now, as we grow older and have the benefit of hindsight and life experience, we can sometimes ask ourselves how we “see” things so differently now. Notice how so many priorities have changed. Notice, for example, how many things that we thought were so critical in previous times now seem somehow so less important. Also notice something else that is equally, and maybe even more important; how we have changed in how we “see” our own self. Like the Genesis portion Lech L’cha, Shelach L’cha has that Hebrew that can be interpreted as sending, or going into one’s self (l’cha). Is the portion asking us to hold a mirror up to our own soul?
I think this can be one of the unintended consequences of this portion. Tradition spends time on interpreting the Israelites lack of faith in God. Yet, as we experience our own life journey, what Judaism also teaches us, I suggest, is that how we see our own self goes to the very heart of how we relate to the world. It is like asking us to look in the mirror and ask that reflection, who are you? What do you “see”? Too often, as we live, we define ourselves through a filter of how others see us. They define us. One of the gifts of elderhood, if we so choose, is to reject the definitions of others, and to have the courage to define our life by what we wish, by what our souls tell us. This is real faith, faith in our own self, and it sometimes takes a lifetime.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.