June 13, 2020 – Shelach Lecha

Shabbat Message from Cantor Eichaker

This Shabbat we are continuing the cyclic progression of the Torah with Parashat Shelach Lecha. Numbers 13:1-15:41 begins with Moses sending representatives of all the tribes to do field research on the Promised Land. When the group of tribal representatives returned, their intelligence and material evidence revealed a land “flowing with milk and honey”, yielding produce that was both substantial and varied.

There immediately emerged two narratives among the people. One narrative expressed concern over the vast amounts of food sources, thinking that the current inhabitants must be well-fed, deeply invested in the land thus being strong in body, mind and spirit. To compete with such a population would be disastrous for a people who are tired, hungry and fragile. The other narrative explained that it was God who instructed Moses to give the order to migrate toward this land and settle there; that God has not failed us up to this point even though we have appeared, many times, to be a “stiff-necked people”.

What I find important in this section, is that the first two significant words, that lend themselves to the name of the Parasha, “Shelach Lecha” sets the ground rules for how the Israelites should be engaging and arguing the topic of land acquisition for the sake of taking up residency. “Shelach Lecha” means to “send out, send away, let go, stretch out, let loose” … In order for the people to discuss the merits of the evidence and what this evidence means for the people and its future, the people need to “let go” of their biases first, then commit to listening to each other before coming to a consensus. This is easy to do in a controlled, academic or neutral setting, but when a people have been traveling for years under dire conditions and threatening circumstances (both inside and outside their camp), calm and methodical may not be the bedrock of civil discourse. For years, the Israelites were a roaming mass of stress, confusion and dependence on the word of one person representing an invisible but omnipresent God. This environment presents a well-worth of negative biases that wedge themselves between the leadership and the people. Yet, focus and discipline needs to be employed in the direst of situations. When the going gets tough, the tough get focused, then they get going.

At the end of this Parasha we can actually see a strand of resolution. Pun intended, we read about the “tzitzit” the fringes on the four corners of our traditional garment – the tallit. The “tzitzit” symbolize many ideas, one of them as a lifeline. When our world seems to be tearing apart, we can look at the tzitzit. In this context, the tzitzit represent the strong link that exists among all Jews. When we all pull together, we can lift up our struggling people and help them, and us to resolve our differences. The tzitzit connect us, not only to the generations that have gone before, but the people today, living in a challenging and, at times, dangerous world. The tzitzit also remind us that when we climb the mountains of despair and uncertainty, and when our foot slips along that climb, we are tethered to a history and heritage that will help us reclaim our foothold and give us confidence to continue the climb.

When you let loose the biases that inhibit your upward movement and wrap yourself in the tzitzit of civil Judaic discourse, you will be able to hear the voices of despair, listen to their concerns and pull together toward a more just, fair and equitable world.

Shabbat Shalom

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