Tag Archives: Shlach

Shelach: Going Up

Rising IncenseBut the men who had gone up with him said, “We cannot attack that people, for it is stronger than we.” Thus they spread calumnies among the Israelites about the land they had scouted, saying, “The country that we traversed and scouted is one that devours its settlers. All the people that we saw in it are men of great size; we saw the Nephilim there — the Anakites are part of the Nephilim — and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.”

Numbers 13:31-33 (JPS Tanakh)

Then the two men came down again from the hills and crossed over. They came to Joshua son of Nun and reported to him all that had happened to them. They said to Joshua, “The Lord has delivered the whole land into our power; in fact, all the inhabitants of the land are quaking before us.”

Joshua 2:23-24 (JPS Tanakh)

Have you ever wondered about these two events? What set apart one generation from the next? There’s actually an involved set of sociological, psychological, and experiential factors that come into play about why the generation who came out of Egypt couldn’t conquer the Land but their children could.

However, according to Rabbi Kalman Packouz’s commentary on Torah Portion Shlach:

The Kotzker Rebbe said that the mistake of the spies was in the words “and so we were in their sight.” It should not bother a person how others view him. (Otzer Chaim)

A person who worries about how others view him will have no rest. Regardless of what he does or does not do, he will always be anxious about receiving the approval of others. Such a person makes his self-esteem dependent on the whims of others. It is a mistake to give others so much control over you. Keep your focus on doing what is right and proper. Work on mastering the ability to have a positive self-image regardless of how others view you.

The Chofetz Chaim commented, “When you view yourself as inferior, you will assume that others also view you in this manner. The truth could very well be that the other person views you in a much higher manner. As the Yalkut Shimoni states, “The Almighty said, ‘Who says that you were not in their eyes as angels?’ ” (HaChofetz Chaim, Vol 3, p. 1060)

It has been said that “you are what you think,” or in other words, your “attitude” about a person or situation tends to dictate how you’ll respond. If you believe you are a “grasshopper” in the sight of others, often it’s because that’s how you see yourself in comparison to those others (or anyone). The result is what you do or what you fail to do.

Here’s another comparison:

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.

Mark 10:13-16

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”

Mark 10:17-23

camel-eye-of-a-needle-gateI suppose another way of putting it is how can a child be compared to a rich man when they attempt to enter the Kingdom of Heaven?

But what does that have to do with the generation with Moses who failed to enter the Land and the generation with Joshua who did?

It’s all a matter of perspective. What is the world a child sees as opposed to someone who is quite wealthy when confronted with bringing the Kingdom of Heaven near?

What did the rich person have to lose and what were the children being brought to Jesus experiencing? When we become secure in our situation for whatever reason, there’s a tendency not to want to leave that security. But children don’t worry about jobs, income, and wealth. They take it for granted that the adults in their lives who love them will take care of them. They focus on the matter at hand which for them is just being a child.

When Jesus said ‘whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it,” he wasn’t saying that maturity or education had no value. He wasn’t even saying that having wealth or material comfort was such a bad thing. He was saying that we must learn to trust and value the Master and the “gifts” of the Kingdom of Heaven most of all.

The first generation of Israelites who left Egypt in some sense never really left. Whenever they encountered trouble, they responded by longing to return to the only home they ever knew: Egypt. The fact that they lived as slaves and endured terrible hardships was what they found familiar. No matter how much more beneficial it was to be free and to be protected by the King of Heaven, that life was unfamiliar and frightening. They never really learned to trust God at the core of their beings, regardless of how many miracles they witnessed.

But their children grew up trusting God and Moses rather than the Egyptians. They learned to love God as children and continued that “child-like” trust into their adulthood as they faced the Land of Canaan across the Jordan.

No, they weren’t perfect people, but the Biblical record shows us that no one who obeyed God and followed His precepts was a perfect person. Noah wasn’t, Abraham, wasn’t, neither were Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, and so on.

And yet, some part of those people who spoke with God “face-to-face” and who were called people after God’s own heart all had a quality in common with the children who were being brought to Jesus. Those who did not obey thought they had too much to lose by following the Master, even if what they were clinging to was actually degrading, humiliating, and even agonizing.

conference2In my Torah commentary for last week, I discussed my hesitancy at attending the First Fruits of Zion Shavuot conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin. As much as I wanted to just step through the doors of the synagogue and immediately feel at home, I didn’t. I mainly live in a Christian world now, so re-entering a traditional Jewish prayer service was a rough transition. I eventually adjusted, but it was the people I encountered at the conference that finally made me feel at home.

But looking back, I understand that it was the story I told myself about who I am now and what attending a Jewish festival in a traditional setting means. In order to feel more “at home” in church and even to be comfortable in calling myself a “Christian,” I’ve had to put a lot of other stuff away and change my attitude about what it all means.

I was cleaning out my closet recently and came across the box where I have stored my tallitot, tefillin, and other items I previously used when I had adopted a more “Jewish” worship style. I’ve become more comfortable not employing those holy objects in my prayers but I’d be lying if I said that part of me didn’t miss them.

“One who romanticizes over Judaism and loses focus of the kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a carpenter who is infatuated with the hammer, rather than the house it was meant to build.”

Troy Mitchell

At the conference, someone at the synagogue asked Rabbi Carl Kinbar to let them know if their services could be improved in any way. As I recall (so this is hardly word-for-word), Rabbi Kinbar had no complaint and indeed, had a compliment. He said he’s been in other synagogues and the services were technically very correct, but the prayers were horizontal. That is, the services seemed “flat.” There was excellent form but no substance or quality that ascended to Heaven.

Rabbi Kinbar said that the prayers at Beth Immanuel were “vertical.” They ascended up to the Throne of God.

In my own life (and probably in the lives of most people of faith), we have a tendency to let the context in which we worship define who we are as servants of the Most High. That first generation out of Egypt allowed their slavery to define themselves, even after they were free, and slaves cannot conquer a nation. The only difference between them and their children, was that they knew their master was God, not an Egyptian slaver.

looking-upChildren tell themselves one story about life and rich people tend to tell themselves a different story. As a result, it is easier for the former to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than the latter. The story I tell myself about who I am, at its core, cannot be a “Jewish” story (and certainly not, since I’m not Jewish) or a “Christian” story (even though I am a Christian). Who I am must be based less on religous ritual and context than on a child’s trust and faith that regardless of circumstance, knows God is always there, providing, protecting, and loving, just like any good Father.

I can be praying in church, in synagogue, at home, or even in a desert, but it is not where I am that defines me, but who I am in Messiah. And then, like sweet incense, my prayers go up.

Children live in a natural state of awe. To reclaim that energy, identify what fascinates you the most about life. Set goals for living and pursue them with relentless fascination.

Rabbi Noah Weinberg

When G‑d told Noah to build an ark before the world would be destroyed, Noah built an ark.

But when G‑d told Abraham He was about to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah—cities corrupt and evil to the core—Abraham argued. He said, “Perhaps there are righteous people there! Will the Judge of All the Earth not do justice?”

Abraham felt a sense of ownership for the world in which he lived. If there was something wrong, it needed to be changed. Even if it had been decreed by the will of G‑d.

Moses took ownership of the dark as well as the light. He argued not just for the righteous, but also for those who had failed.

When the people angered G‑d with a golden calf only 40 days after the revelation of Absolute Oneness at Mount Sinai, Moses had to admit they had wronged. Yet he did more than plead for them: he put his entire being on the line for them.

“Forgive them!” he demanded. “And if you do not forgive them, then wipe me out from Your book that You have written!”

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Noah and Abrahamand Moses
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Good Shabbos.

117 days.

God Waits in the Desert

The Talmud also writes there that the mouth of a fetus is compared to a strand of hair. This teaches that one’s spiritual level depends on what he says. In Tehillim we find, “I believed as I speak” — words of emunah build one’s emunah and bitachon and draws him near to God. But speaking profane words distances one from the purpose of creation. How much more so do words of slander and falsehood! The verse commands, ‘‫ — מדבר שקר תרחק‬ Distance yourself from falsehood.’” Rav Zusia of Anapoli, zy”a, interpreted this phrase in a novel way: “If you speak falsehood, you will be distanced from God!”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“The Eyes, the Nose and the Mouth”
Niddah 25

“They went down to the pit alive” (Bamidbar 16:30) – even in the grave they think they are alive. There is a blessing contained in “They went down to the pit alive,” as with “the sons of Korach did not die,” (Ibid. 26:11.) – “a place was established for them (In Gehinom “the pit,” Megilla 14a.) and they repented.” For teshuva, repentance, is effective only while one is still alive. This, then, is the blessing – that even in the pit they will live, and they will be able to effect teshuva.

“Today’s Day”
Tuesday, Sivan 26, 5703
Torah lessons: Chumash: Korach, Shlishi with Rashi
Tehillim: 119, 97 to end.
Compiled and arranged by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, in 5703 (1943)
from the talks and letters of the sixth Chabad Rebbe
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

I sometimes get kind of cranky about a life of faith. I sometimes forget about what I’ve already learned about faith and trust. I’ve recently been reminded of something I first read on Derek Leman’s blog, but the reminder didn’t come from Derek:

The call of faith is hard, the task seems impossible, the place we are called to seems desolate, the day of regeneration seems far in the future, but this faith is its own reward during the long delay.

I’m reminded that we’re to have faith in the desert. But while it’s easy to declare that the desert represents the faithless world we live in, in fact, the desert is inside of us each time we doubt.

Each time I doubt.

Ironically, the desert is a good place to be when I’m in doubt. There are few distractions. I imagine a sandstorm. The wind is hot. I have coverings over most of my body including around my eyes so I’m not blinded by the sand. The sun is obscured from my vision as a hazy, blurry ball of yellow and white but the power of its heat is oppressive.

And there is only me and the wind and the sand and the heat and somewhere beyond, the vast reaches of the desert, all but lifeless.

And there is God.

He’s not actually apparent. I talk to Him, though. I complain to Him. I wonder where He is. I imagine that He’s contracted Himself; He’s withdrawn from the part of the universe where I live, He’s left me to swing in the breeze or in this case, the wind and sand.

Not really, of course. The reality of His existence is that He’s always “standing at my shoulder” so to speak, never far away at all, no matter how transparent He seems to be to my failing perceptions. But it’s as if He has withdrawn, like a silent lover who has backed away in order to give me time to process some sort of quarrel between us.

Not that He’s ever argued with me. I do all the arguing. That is, until I realize He has left me and I am utterly alone and abandoned in the desert of my soul.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest. –Psalm 22:1-2 (ESV)

The wonderful thing about being alone is that you have time to think. There are no distractions, not even the presence of God (though He is still present). The desert is comforting, even the heat is welcome; the sweat, the smell of dry things. There is still rock beneath my feet so my footing is sound.

The quote from Derek’s blog says in part, “but this faith is its own reward during the long delay.” Faith is a companion in the desolation, a faint voice I can just barely hear over the banshee winds. Though I feel as if the God in whom I have faith is “far off and the road to reach him is long” and arduous, I am also reminded that my desert can be watered and flourish, but only when I’m ready to return. Only when I want to begin the journey again (or is this part of the journey?).

He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me. –Psalm 23:2-3 (ESV)

But that’s only a mirage which has yet to arrive; an oasis that will only come when the Messiah does, or when my faith in the Messiah returns.

This week’s Torah portion records the failure of the Children of Israel to realize the promise and the dream. They lack faith and do not take possession of the land of Canaan. They are condemned to wander the vast wilderness for forty years, dying one by one along the way. Miriam, Aaron, and even finally Moses all perish. Only Joshua and Caleb from that generation survive and only because of steadfast faith and trust.

The very last verses of the Parashah say this:

The Lord said to Moses as follows: Speak to the Israelite people and instruct them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout the ages; let them attach a cord of blue to the fringe at each corner. That shall be your fringe; look at it and recall all the commandments of the Lord and observe them, so that you do not follow your heart and eyes in your lustful urge. Thus you shall be reminded to observe all My commandments and to be holy to your God. I the Lord am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I, the Lord your God. –Numbers 15:37-41 (JPS Tanakh)

The commandment of tzitzit is directly connected back to failure because man needs tangible reminders of an intangible God. Faith and trust are shadows in the mist as well, but the tzitzit are real enough. They are not faith, but for the Children of Israel, they serve as a visible reminder that God is as near as the four corners of their garments.

Christians don’t wear tzitzit since, among other things, the failure to possess the land and the subsequent possession of Israel by the Jewish people are commandments for the Jews, not for us. However, our need for faith and trust is the same. Our need to be reminded of God is the same. Where is God when we need Him? He’s standing apart, giving us time to realize we need to return to Him; letting us stew in our graves while we decide to repent and live.

A life of faith isn’t all that easy. It’s not even so much that the world around me thinks I’m a superstitious fool for believing in the providence of a God that I cannot see and touch and who allows horror and tragedy to abound on his earth while we believers declare His undying love for humanity. It’s the desert inside where the battle is fought. It’s where I fight with God. It’s where I fight with myself. It’s where I have one lover’s quarrel after another with the One who is the lover of my soul.

So He periodically leaves me alone in the desert with the wind and the sand and the heat. But he provides me with solid rock to walk on so I won’t lose my footing or my way.

The desert is a good place for me to ponder my lot and my fate. Occasionally the wind dies down a bit and I’m temporarily given a small sheep to tend, so I have something else to care for. This is God reminder that He cares for me in the same way.

And God waits at a distance, but always watching me, ready to return to my side in an instant should I but say the word.

And He waits.

Shlach: The Miraculous Messenger

The Torah portion of Shlach relates how the men sent to spy out Eretz Yisrael returned and reported that the country was unconquerable. The Jewish people, they said, would be unable to enter the land, since “The inhabitants of the land are mighty.” (Bamidbar 13:28.)

Furthermore, say our Sages, (Sotah 35a.) the spies went so far as to say that even G-d would not be able to wrest the land from its inhabitants. Their words caused great consternation among the Jews, who feared that they would be unable to enter Eretz Yisrael.

How was it possible for the spies to mislead the Jewish people and convince them that even G-d could not help them, when the Jews themselves had constantly witnessed the miracles performed on their behalf, e.g., G-d provided their daily food and drink in a miraculous manner — manna from heaven and water from Miriam’s well.

Commentary on Torah Portion Shlach
from “The Chassidic Dimension” series
Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XVIII, pp. 171-174
and the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson

Like the logic applied in our initial conundrum, the spies argued that after God created the laws of nature, He ruled that even He Himself would not be able to change those laws. God bound His own hands, as it were, by means of the laws that He Himself instituted. Until now, God’s leadership in the wilderness had been one of supernatural miracles that defied the laws of nature again and again. It was clear though that entering thelandofIsrael, for all its holiness, meant entering the confines of nature and living by its laws. This was why the ten spies thought that the Jewish people could not overcome the giants who lived in the land. They believed that God had indeed created a rock that could not be lifted. Moses himself used this argument in his prayer asking for God’s forgiveness, saying that destroying the Jewish people, God forbid, for their sin, would be proof for the surrounding nations of the erroneous claim that “God lacked the ability to bring this nation to the land which He swore to them…” (Numbers 16:14-15).

Joshua and Caleb, the remaining two spies, also saw that conquering the land was a supernatural task, but they said, “Yes, God can create such a rock that He cannot lift, but He can still decide to pick it up if He wants to.” They realized that on entering theHoly Land, God could paradoxically empower the Jewish people themselves with supernatural powers and this would become their very nature.

-Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh
“The Rock that God Can Carry”
Commentary on Torah Portion Shlach
Wonders from Your Torah

I hadn’t heard this particular perspective on the “sin of the ten spies” before and that they believed that there was “a rock that God Himself couldn’t lift,” so to speak. I did however, realize that anyone who is “sent out” for a particular purpose is called “shlach,” including us.

I know it doesn’t sound like these two things are connected, but I can explain.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” –Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)

WalkingThat command was originally given by the Master to the “eleven disciples (who) went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.” (v16) However, it has been inherited by every disciple who is called by his name, Jew and Gentile alike, and we have carried that mission upon us for nearly 2,000 years.

How are we doing so far?

Actually, not that bad. But we could be better, especially in the present age. It’s not so much that the Good News of Jesus Christ isn’t being spread to the four corners of the earth and that the vast, vast majority of the human race hasn’t heard of God, the Bible, and Jesus. They certainly have heard the Good News, however many of those people; perhaps most of those people, don’t see it as “good news” at all. Many people experience Christianity as “bad news.” They see us as superstitious, as old fashioned, as out of touch, as bigots, sexist, racist, anti-gay, anti-political correctness, anti-progressive.

Some of that is true, whether we intend it to be or not. Where have we gone wrong?

In the days of Moses, the ten spies gave an “evil report,” not because they were dumb or evil or cowards, but because they believed that the supernatural power of God would not go with them when they entered the land of Canaan. They believed that without the power of God, in terms of mere human strength, they would have no chance at defeating the mighty giants of the land. They felt abandoned and afraid.

Every time I read the words of “the great commission” as recorded in Matthew 28:19-20, I always puzzled over Christ’s final statement:

“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Now I realize what he was trying to say. He was trying to say that his disciples would not be alone in the enormous mission of taking the word of the Jewish Messiah to the nations of the world. Remember, nothing like that had even been dreamed of before let alone attempted. In a world full of false gods and polytheistic idol worshipers, how would the Word of the One God of Israel and the Messiah King of the Jews be received by the Gentiles? Would they listen to the Gospel message at all, or listen and then merely incorporate God into their panthenon of other gods, worshiping the God of Heaven as if he were just another idol of stone, wood, or bronze?

The Bible didn’t record the reaction of Christ’s “great commission” but it would be another fifteen years or so before any one of them would attempt to respond. Even then, Peter needed the prompting of not only a vision on a rooftop (Acts 10:9-16), but that of a messengers sent by the God-fearing Roman Cornelius with an unusual request. (Acts 10:17-23). The rest of this chapter in Acts tells the tale of God showing just how possible it was to carry the message of the Messiah to the Gentiles and how indeed, many Gentiles were eager to hear it.

Receiving the SpiritAnd in seeing that the Gentiles could receive the Holy Spirit, even as the Jews had already done (Acts 10:44-48), it was confirmed that the supernatural power of the Spirit of Messiah was with them “always, to the end of the age.”

That age hasn’t expired yet and neither has our calling. Not all of us enter what the church calls “the mission field” in a formal sense, but in truth, we are all “missionaries” or “sent ones.” We are shlach in the way we live our lives. Every word we speak and every action we take tells the tale of our Lord and Master, for good or for ill. Every deed of honor and praise glorifies the Name of God, and every mistake and mean-spirited act we commit drags that Name through the mud.

Joshua and Caleb understood that God would enable the Israelites to take the land, not by a series of supernatural miracles, but by making the people of Israel the miracle. We see in the book of Joshua and beyond how true this was. They didn’t have to believe in the miracles. They just needed faith in God. That first generation out of Egypt couldn’t overcome their “slave mentality” and when faced with such challenges, they balked. They didn’t have faith in themselves, let alone a God they felt would cease to provide protection from Heaven (I know, I’m applying midrash here, but I think it fits).

As believers and disciples of the Jewish Messiah, our teacher, our Master, and our King, what have we learned, not only from his lessons but from the lesson of the Shlach among the Israelites? Jesus already said that he would continue to be with us for the amount of time it takes to fulfill the directive to spread the Word of hope. He asks us to have faith. Faith in our Master, faith in the One Holy God of Israel…and faith in ourselves.

We see from the Biblical record that the taking of Canaan and the forging of Israel was no easy task, even though God was with the Children of Jacob. We see from the record of Paul’s letters that even though he was personally comissioned by the Messiah to be the “shlach to the Gentiles,” his task was at times brutally difficult. Our tasks are not easy, either. Living a life of faith and swimming against the tide or a world determined to deny God never is. We are reviled, called foul names, laughed at, ridiculed, and that’s only in the western nations. In other parts of the world, Christians are raped, beaten, tortured, and murdered for the sake of Jesus Christ. Under such terrific pressure, our sin is never in doing our best and failing, but only in failing to try.

“In fact, the spies’ sin, in fact any sin, can be understood using the same principles just applied. Sin is like a rock that by nature cannot be “lifted,” that is forgiven…But we know that even after sin, God remains open to teshuvah (repentance and return to God).”

-Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh

“You do not always succeed, but you always have to try.”

-Gutman Locks
“Tefillin After 72 Years”
Stories of the Holocaust series

A life of faith and miracles isn’t begun by waiting for God to make the first move. He’s waiting for us. So is everyone else. You can be the answer to someone’s prayer. All you have to do is try.

Good Shabbos.