This past week’s parsha, Shelach, resonated with me in a way that was worth remarking about during my family’s three Shabbot seudot. Consequently, I interrupted my dear one’s “regularly scheduled programming,” their well-researched drashot, to give over relatively informal words on that section of Torah, the one in which twelve of our nation’s greatest leaders go to scout out Eretz Yisrael, but fail, two of them excepted, to return with words of praise.
I ranted to my husband, to my sons, to my daughters, and to our guests, not so much about the downfall of the great men of that most superlative generation, but about the rest of our klal, e.g. about we whom received the spies’ report with equanimity, rather than with indignation, and about we whom, subsequently, chose to rebel against our most precious leader, Moshe Rabbeinu. In addition, I groused about how our emancipated forefathers’ participation in loshon hora serves as a warning to us during contemporary times.
Sadly, many of us, akin to those ancestors who heard the spies’ report, are guilty both of listening to, as opposed to walking away from, defamatory speech and of not championing the lambasted (this latter woe, albeit, gets a little trickier than the former one since, in certain circumstances, objecting to words of loshon hora brings about additional levels and instances of loshon hora). Specifically, we didn’t and we still don’t do enough to praise or to defend Eretz Yisrael.
One of the worst aspects of the above mentioned episode is that our nation, only a short time earlier, had witnessed both the miracles at Har Sinai and at the Red Sea. Persons of such great experiential lineage, not persons sullied by the pressures of having to continue to live among idolaters, were the ones who dared to question Hashem’s command. Those lofty Jews were the ones who sided with the spies rather than believing that when The Boss desires a certain outcome, i.e. our living in Eretz Yisrael, The Boss will get us through any difficulties we encountered in approaching those ends.
Interestingly, part of the problem with our backing the spies malicious words about the land the doubt with which we referred to ourselves. Loshon hora does not only apply to words spoken about others, but to words we speak of ourselves, too. In the case highlighted in that parsha, we believed our representatives that we were as nothing, were as minutia from the insect kingdom, relative to the locals. Even if there had been truth to that claim, which there was not, another error we made was that we deigned to judge ourselves. It was never and will be never our lot to judge our own worth.
It is as bad for us to underappreciate our value as it is for us to live defiantly. As a traditional story holds, we are just a bit lower than angels concurrent with being just a bit higher than dust. It’s nuts, in the least, and morally wasteful, at the greatest, for us to use up our resources trying to figure out where, on the continuum of value, any of us sits at any given time.
If the above faults were not enough, we also goofed when we tried to rectify the situation. Even secular, modern psychologists urge people to wait to apologize until any injured party is ready and willing to hear teshuva. To force reparations upon a victim is just to pile up the hurt upon them.
Whereas The Almighty is in control of the universe and as such can’t be victimized by us, G-d can be hurt by our actions. In the case of the break in faith we displayed by acting wayward in relationship to G-d’s command to settle Israel, we compounded our errors by trying to make our amends on our terms rather than on Hashem’s. Even though we were told it was no longer a good idea to try to conquer the Promised Land, some of us, wanting to be free of the nuisance of guilt, headed off anyway. Those persons, the ones who insisted on “apologies” on their terms, were decimated. For a second time, those Jews had acted according to their own interests rather than in obedience.
As is hopefully apparent, the relevance of this Torah portion, for the status quo, is uncanny. Human might is not right and majority/ quantitative accord counts for truth only in rare census reports. While it remains, most often too complicated for us to easily discern among would-be policy makers’ agendas, it is not too difficult for us to insist that we retain self-accountability.
Jews don’t want to, has v’shalom, to continue to be blameworthy per creating calumny against G-d. Jews do, however, want to live a life made secure through Hashem’s abundant blessings.
Perhaps, like the spies, we fall off the path He established for us, slandering His land and his plan only when we are afraid. We fear the real or imagined loss of status that we associate with “rolling up our sleeves and getting dirty” with the business of advocating for Israel and for the virtue of living here. It is common knowledge that folks, who were privileged, i.e. rich and/or professional in Chutz l’eretz, often find themselves earning their keep, in Israel by performing tedious work or by engaging in professional activities, but for far less remuneration than they are accustomed.
Too often, part of graduate or of professional training includes acculturating beginners to an attitude of entitlement, i.e. that professionals ought to expect to not have to think about, let alone actualize, “menial” labor. Yet, many of the present day’s lauded rabbis, have been quoted as happy, to be literally sweeping the streets of Israel.
Furthermore, some of us contemporary Jews fear losing our real or imagined social status upon joining with the Jews who are ready to give up their lives to defend the honor and the turf that is our home. Said differently, some of us worry that if we are “caught” associating with “radicals,” we will lose favor on other people’s lists. Ironically, at the end of our lives, our popularity will be meaningless, but our willingness to engage in mitzvot, especially and including mitzvot related to living in Israel, will be magnified.
Sadly, we repeat history in the disgrace we bring upon ourselves by doubting Hashem’s design and by failing to defend it. What’s more, we show ourselves to be ethically weak when we let our anxieties, instead of our emunah and our b’tochen steer our lives. Afterall, as Rabbi Yitzchok Hecht stated, in his translation of Yehoshua and Kalev’s words, since Hashem is with us, there is no room for fear.