Shelach (Numbers 13:1-15:41) Our Perception, Our Reality


            This week we encounter a portion with one of the more interesting stories. The Israelites are camped close to Canaan and Moses is instructed to send scouts to see what this land looks like. (13) One group reports back that the land is beautiful, but the inhabitants are fierce, Amalek and others are there and it is too dangerous to go. (13:31) Joshua and Caleb return with the opposite. It is a land flowing with milk and honey and God will protect us as God has promised. (14:5ff)  The Israelites reject the Joshua report and are “punished” by God for abandoning their faith. The Exodus generation must die, and the wandering continues. Two groups of people “see” the same thing and their perceptions are radically different.

            This raised, for me, the question of how we “see” things as we get older. Does the passage of time and the accumulation of life experience impact the way we see things? I think many of us would say yes to that. Did you ever return to a house you lived in when you were a child and remark how small it is now and how big it seemed to be when we were younger? How does our perception change as we get older and how much of that is due to our own experience? What do we bring to each day that is so different that when we see something now many of us know how to “see” what this is in a very different light.

            The spies’ perception was reality. Often ours is as well. A challenge, as we get older, is often how to reflect on what we see in the light of past experience. We often realize that there are few things that really matter now, really matter in a primal existential way. We come to understand that relationships become primary and the spiritual takes precedence over the material. The wisdom we hope we acquire is partly because we see things so very differently now. Perspective gives texture and context to perception.

            As the portion ends, there is a command to have the people “make fringes on the corners of their garments”. (15:39) The tallit with its fringes comes from here and we see it again in the paragraphs of the Sh’ma. There is a view that these fringes are there to remind us of our connection to the sacred. Let me suggest that when we look at these fringes, or touch them, we are reminded of our own past experiences. Memory is a key aspect of who we are as a people. Let the fringes be a sign or symbol of where we all have come from, our lives, our deeds that have borough us to this moment, and as we remember our own experiences, we can use that as a filter to examine our own current life through the filter of our own life experiences. That is wisdom. That is how our own perspective of our past can impact our perspective of the present.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Richard F Address


  1. Rabbi Address- As often, your thoughts provoke deep reflection…
    How do we see ourselves differently now, than years earlier? And taking it a bit further, what experiences and what people may have influenced our transition (for better or worse). So much to ponder. Thank you, as always.

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