A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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D’var Torah: We are equipped to resist fear, face challenges of tomorrow

Rabbi Josef Davidson serves Congregation B’nai Amoona and is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association, which coordinates the weekly d’var Torah for the Jewish Light.

Despite the miraculous journey on which the people had been traveling, when faced with deciding on whether to continue going forward, the people were afraid.

They looked back on the halcyon days when a strong authority figure determined the course of their lives, providing them with food, shelter and clothing in exchange for their labor.

They enjoyed full employment, and everyone knew his/her place in a very stratified society with a few very wealthy individuals bolstering the leader in exploiting the rest of the society. They had been an oppressed minority. However, now that seemed even better as the people felt they were wandering aimlessly.

Life was certainly more difficult now that they had choices to make, were encouraged to be inner directed, and there were consequences to their choices. Now faced with a large challenge, the people were afraid.

This is the situation as this week’s Torah portion, Shlach Lecha, begins. The Children of Israel are near the point of moving on to the Promised Land, the goal for which they had been striving for nearly two years. They had faced seemingly insurmountable challenges, and yet those challenges had been met and overcome.

This next challenge, that of entering the Promised Land and of the possibility of conflict with people inhabiting it, was the one on which the people were the most divided. Was this land worth the cost of entering it? Who were the possible foes whom they would engage in the process? Did they have the resources to meet the challenges ahead?

Wisely, Moses sent 12 spies, one from each of the tribes, ahead on a reconnaissance mission. These 12 were to enter the land clandestinely, to bring back samples of the produce and to estimate the degree of difficulty that the people would face upon entering and settling the area. All 12 agreed on the richness of the area, the variety and abundance of its produce. They demonstrated this with a huge cluster of grapes, such as the people had never before seen. However, that was the only point on which the 12 could agree.

Ten of the spies mirrored the fears of the people in their descriptions of the cities and of the inhabitants. They described fortified, walled cities, barriers that seemed insurmountable. The inhabitants were characterized as giants, strong and well-armed. The most frightening report that they gave was “in [their own eyes], they seemed as grasshoppers” in comparison to those they encountered.

Their report reenforced the fears of the people and exacerbated them. The 10 spies were convinced, and they convinced the Israelites that they were facing certain and swift defeat if they were to enter the Promised Land.

The two remaining spies, Joshua and Caleb, on the other hand, brought back an entirely different perspective. The cities were fortified, and the people residing there were well-armed. However, the Israelites possessed all the resources, physical and spiritual, necessary to enter and to settle the area and to meet and overcome the challenges in doing so.

With courage and the will to succeed, the Children of Israel would be able to reach their goal. They would be able to live as a free people and enjoy the fruits of their labor rather than have their labor exploited, as had been the case in Egypt. They would determine their future, rather than leave it to a dictator and the wealthiest caste in society.

The people, divided between the two opinions and unable to appreciate how far they had come since Egypt, ignored the report of the two and elected to follow that of the 10 spies. They begged Moses to take them back to that time and place when they “enjoyed” the “benefits” of a life determined for them by another human being, when they had a place in society, albeit at the very bottom.

They voted against their better interests for the devil that they knew rather than for the devil that they presumed awaited.

The story of the spies is one that is played out time and time again in human history. Challenges will always lie ahead, and people will be too fearful to meet them. And there will always be those “leaders” who will follow the lead of the fearful and exacerbate their fears to take control of them.

Vus ist gevehn, ist gevehn” (what has been, has been) is a Yiddish expression that encourages people to embrace the future with all of its challenges and perils in favor of the hope of a better future.

The Children of Israel were doomed to continue to wander aimlessly in the wilderness for 38 more years until a generation arose who was not bound to the past, who could and did meet the challenges in unity and with purpose.

May we learn from them and resist the temptation to retreat to a romanticized past that never really existed, when we have all the resources we need to continue forward.

Shabbat Shalom!

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