Shelach Lecha - weekly Torah portion

They Toured the Land

The tale about the men who were sent by Moses with an instruction to “Go up there into the Negev; then go up into the hill country. See what the land is like, and whether the people who live in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many. How is the land in which they live, is it good or bad? And how are the cities in which they live, are they like open camps or with fortifications? How is the land, is it fat or lean? Are there trees in it or not? Make an effort then to get some of the fruit of the land.” The end result is a fiasco. On one hand they report, “We went in to the land where you sent us; and it certainly does flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit” showing the fruits that they brought back with them. However, there is a ‘but’ to this story. They say that “the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large; and moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak there. Amalek is living in the land of the Negev and the Hittites and the Jebusites and the Amorites are living in the hill country, and the Canaanites are living by the sea and by the side of the Jordan.” In other words they are simply saying that it may be a nice place but not worthwhile the sacrifaice.

Caleb and Joshua try to motivate the Israelites to no avail. The other ten tourists, as they are referred to in the bible, and assigned to gather information, insist, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.” The facts are laid out before the people, they are the very same facts with a very different interpretation of their meaning and even more than that, what are the risks and rewards that are available in taking one route or another. It is quite easy to be critical of the ten spies who came up with their dampening conclusions, we tend to judge them based on the final outcome rather than based on the facts lying before of them. The problem was not with their fact finding mission but rather in the manner in which they handled the situation. They were unable to see outside of the box, they could not envision any other solution to the problem; therefore they give up. They resort to using ever increasing superlatives in attempt to support their point of view.

In many ways Israel faces these kinds of approaches today, some more extreme than others. Many are unfair, demanding from our country standards of conduct not expected or demanded from any other country in the world. This is not to say that we do not expect and should not endeavor to be the best of the best, a light to nations. We must speak the truth of the country, but it must be the truth. This may be illusive, biased, fall prey to interpretation and foul interests, and it is our duty to check, to investigate, to suspect, and think critically. When visiting here, the fruits of the land are presented before you, it is an opportunity to see for yourself, assess by yourself, come to your own conclusions in addition to what you read or see in the media. It is very easy to fall for the spies, then ten or the two, and as we have to make choices, they better be the correct ones.

For that matter I want to go one week back June 1, 2018 when some 1,500 of us gathered in Shefayim for the IMPJ biennial. The fruits of two years of intensive work lay there before us. Not all were good but the evidence of decades of investment and hard toil in Israel on behalf of the Reform Movement were clearly visible. Joyful faces, from a baby two years old to that of 93 years old author and writer Sami Michael, who received the Yotser Or (the creator of light) Award, were all around us. Joining Michael in accepting the Yotser Or Award were Rina Shainfeld, a world renowned dancer and choreographer, and David Broza a composer and performer. The international track mostly in English but also in Russian, had over one hundred participants, with some interesting sessions to attend and simultaneous translation in the joint plenaries. What a joyful sight it was to see so many Reforms praying together under the skies of Israel during the Friday evening service. These were all fruits of hard work and celebrated with great joy.

Everyone attending the IMPJ biennial in a sense had a concentrated tour of the Israel Reform Movement, a tour that displayed Jewish thinking, writing, music and worship. It was a great opportunity to see the thriving communities of our congregations and groups of prayer. An outstanding chance to get to know our youth movement, Noar Telem, our Shinshinim (serving a year of community service), our Mekhina participants (pre-military institution) from Jaffa and Holon, and the young adults of Tlamim (the group age of immediately after military service until about 35 years of age). I tried to sample it all, to take it in, to grasp the enormity of the occasion, talk to some, listen to others, and observe many. Now, the tour is over. Each participant has toured our land. Many have sent us their comments.

One told me on a phone call “I was inspired of our youth, how much enthusiasm and how polite”; another wrote, “It was really worthwhile the long trip over to Israel, I felt at home”; yet another sent me a message, “The Veida was a great success – very interesting lectures on the English track” and even added a favorable comment about the food, which was not, admittedly, one of our strong points in previous gatherings, so we even got better on this front. One of the rabbis wrote to me: “It makes me proud to be part of this Movement!!!” Of course all of this is not possible without the dedicated work of many dedicated women and men, professional and volunteers alike, who make it a priority for this to be successful.

We displayed the fruits of our work in this Veida. I do hope that all who have attended will share with you their particular experiences. The conclusions from what one has seen rests on the shoulders on each and every one as besides our achievements we also discussed our challenges. Some of them are gigantic, tough, and potentially seemingly insurmountable. In this week’s portion of the Torah Caleb quietens the crowd and said “We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it.” Every one of those difficulties standing is merely a challenge to be tackled, awaiting for a better plan or execution of an existing plan. We can surely overcome them, step-by-step, day-by-day, year-by-year. Even when there are setbacks we should not despair, rather get better, invest more, prepare more carefully and diligently, move more people on our side. When we see what we have today just imagine where we are going to be tomorrow.

Shabbat Shalom and wishes for Chodesh Tov.

Reuven Marko

26 Sivan 5778, 8 June 2018

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