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Parashat Sh’lah L’kha

June 18, 2008

By Cantor Kathy Barr


“How long will this people continue to mutter against me?” Deja vu. How many times so far in the Torah have we read this complaint from the Eternal? We seem to be a people of kvetching, easily swayed to follow the crowd, constantly needing to be reminded of promises; to be reassured that the chosen path is the correct one.

We all know the story: Moses sends 12 spies to check out the land that they are to inhabit. What kind of food grows there? Is the soil arable? What of the people, are they strong or weak? Are the cities fortified?

The spies return with a huge cluster of grapes, and pomegranates and figs; but ten of them warn that even though it is a good land, the inhabitants are giant and formidable, and if we attempt to enter the land, we will be crushed. Only two, Calev ben Y’funah and Hoshea bin Nun (whose name was changed to Yehoshua right before they leave on their mission), insist that nevertheless, it is a good land, and that we should enter it, remembering G-d’s promise that we are to inherit the land, and that its inhabitants will be delivered into our hands.

Do the people listen to Calev and Yehoshua? Of course not! Fear is a very strong influence. It has been used by leaders throughout the ages to manipulate their citizens to support them in their agendas. The people, driven by their fear of what they have been told, and their continued reluctance to trust in the Eternal, once again renew their usual litany of complaints. Why is the Eternal leading us into a land where we will be put to the sword, and our wives and children carried off? We should turn back to Egypt!

The Eternal is ready once more to smite them and just give the whole enchilada to Moses, but Moses once again intercedes. The Egyptians will say that You were unable to deliver the land that You promised to the Israelites, and that You slaughtered them instead. They will tell that as well to the inhabitants of Canaan.

Sound familiar? It is reminiscent of Moses’ plea on Sinai, when he returned after witnessing the golden calf. He begs G-d to have great patience (actually the word in the Torah is koa`h – strength) and he reminds G-d of G-d’s own words on Sinai: Adonai, erech apayim v’rav chesed, nosei avon va-feshah v’nakeh . . . ‘Lord, ever patient and abundant in lovingkindness, Who bears with iniquity and transgression and cleanses . . .’ (Num. 14:18). Then he begs, s’lach na la-avon ha-am hazeh . . . ‘Please forgive the sin of this people’ (v. 19) And the Eternal replies, “Salachti kidvarecha” I have pardoned as you have asked. (v. 20)

We repeat these words every year during the Days of Awe, recalling Moses’ fervent plea, and G-d’s pardon. After all, we are still the same people, aren’t we, wandering in the deserts of our own making, following the crowd like sheep, believing what we read in newspapers and on the internet; what we hear on TV news; swallowing the rhetoric, spin and the blatant, out and out lies we are told by our “leaders” and members of the media.

But back to our story (before I launch into a political tirade.)

The people are saved from slaughter, but the generation of whiners that knew slavery is condemned to die in the desert, never to enter the land. The only exceptions are Calev and Yehoshua, and, at this point, Moses (Moses loses that privilege in Parashat Huqqat, when he strikes the rock.) The ten spies die of plague.

The important message here is one of trust. The Israelites did not trust that the Eternal would deliver them. And it seems that Moses does not trust G-d to cause water to flow from the rock. We must trust that the Eternal will deliver us. Trust that our enemies will be conquered. Trust that the Eternal will catch us when we fall. Above all, trust that the ways of G-d are the ways to live our lives. We must never forget: of all the peoples of the ancient world ‘ we are still here . . .

May we learn to remember and learn to trust. Ken y’hi ratzon.


Cantor Kathy Barr (AJR ’96) is the cantor of Temple Shalom, Succasunna, NJ.