Shabbat Greetings

Change is not easy, and it often seems to get harder as we age. Then again, many a baby fights the idea of coming out of the womb because they are used to being in there and taken care of in the special way that one is taken care of in that most miraculous of environments. So, the idea of leaving that womb….or even the idea of leaving our home, or our Temple…. can be very scary. I remember an old joke about how many psychiatrists it takes to change a light bulb and the answer is; only one, but the light bulb has to want to change.

This week’s portion, Shelach L’cha (Numbers 13:1-15:41) deals with spies checking out the land and their reports of fear. Maybe, they were used to where they were at and while they knew that a time for change was coming, they just weren’t quite ready to make so many changes in their lives. Maybe they felt inadequate. Maybe they wished they could be more assertive in their leadership roles. Maybe they were feeling really stressed with all the “what if” thinking that so many of us get caught up in when we have decisions to make.

There is a tale of a Temple Secretary sharing an email with the leadership (this is a tale – really!). Unfortunately, the spies back in those Biblical Days didn’t have email. They also didn’t have any medication to help allay their fears. The email asks: 

“Do you have feelings of inadequacy?
Do you suffer from shyness?
Do you wish you were a better conversationalist?
Do you sometimes wish you were more assertive?
Do you sometimes feel stressed?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, ask your Doctor or Pharmacist about “Cabernet Sauvignon”. Cabernet is the safe, natural way to feel better and more confident. It can help ease you out of your shyness and let you tell the world that you’re ready and willing to do just about anything. You will notice the benefits of Cabernet almost immediately and, with a regimen of regular doses, you’ll overcome obstacles that prevent you from living the life you want. Shyness and awkwardness will be a thing of the past. You will discover talents that you never knew you had.”

Now I know that that sounds wonderful, but let’s look at the other side of the coin because; “Cabernet may not be right for everyone. Women who are pregnant or nursing should not use it…Side effects may include; dizziness, nausea, vomiting, incarceration, loss of motor control, loss of clothing, loss of money, delusions of grandeur, table dancing, headache, dehydration, dry mouth, and a desire to sing Karaoke and play all-night strop poker, truth or dare, and naked twister.

Warnings: The consumption of Cabernet may make you think you are whispering when you are not. The consumption of Cabernet may cause you to tell your friends repeatedly that you love them. The consumption of Cabernet may cause you to think that you can sing. The Consumption of Cabernet may create the illusion that you are tougher, smarter, faster, and better looking than most people….Caution…Do not mix Cabernet with Shlivovitz as, even though it might temporarily take care of whatever ails you; it will cause you to wake up in the morning with the worst hangover that you have ever experienced.

In biblical terms, everything has the potential to be a blessing or a curse, it all depends on what you do with it, but before you do whatever you are going to do with it, you had better get into a positive frame of mind for whichever way it goes. Of course, those of us who overthink things on a regular basis have some difficulty with such choices. And, sometimes we are so busy looking at the negatives of a particular situation that we fail to consider all the positives. On the other side of the coin, sometimes we are so gung-ho about the plus side that we fail to consider any possible negatives.

We find twelve tribal leaders sent out to scout the land and when they return, we find them giving some reports that sound a lot like one of those TV commercials for this or that medication….you know, the ones that might cure you or might kill you. The doctor has to weigh the risks versus the benefits and so does the patient who is being told to take the pill, or a particular treatment, or a surgery.

As humans we get so used to our life, to our schedule, to our house, to our temple; that the idea of making any changes can scare the insides out of us. The spies that are sent to scout out the land, the Promised Land, have an issue. They have been wandering in the wilderness, they have had magical food fall from the sky, they have had a holy cloud guiding them night and day; and, have things pretty well timed out throughout their days. But, if they enter the land, well, if they enter the land, then things are pretty much guaranteed to change. There will be new work, there will be new homes, there will be new schools, there will be new responsibilities and, the holy cloud that led them will no longer be there to guide them.

Fearing such changes, ten of the spies find reasons to not enter the land. But, two of the scouts see the positive things in regard to all those changes.  Now, if you were paying close attention to my words then you hopefully noticed that I referred to the ten leaders who gave negative reports as spies, but, when it came to the two who had a more positive slant, I called them, scouts.

I did so based on the writings of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks who taught that, “Biblical Hebrew has two verbs that mean ‘to spy’.” One of those words is “lachpor” and the other is “leragel”, “which is where we get the word, meraglim, “spies” from. Yet, “Neither of these words appear in our portion……instead, no less than twelve times, we encounter the rare verb, la-tur. It was revived in modern Hebrew and means (and sounds like) “to tour” A Tayar is a tourist. You all know there is a huge difference between being a tourist and being a spy.

Our rabbis teach us that a tourist seeks out the good things from the land that they are visiting. They want to see the famous sites, experience the native foods, and get great pictures of where they are to send back home on their Facebook page. That is what a tourist does. On the other hand, a spy is not looking so much for the good things as they are looking for for “weaknesses and vulnerabilities”. 

A tourists scouts out the land and makes note of the positives and, often thinks about what it would be like to be living in that place. That is what the spies, I mean the scouts were meant to do; they were supposed to tour the land and take pictures in their heads of the good things there. In this case, they could draw pictures of the luscious fruits and vegetables, and plush greenery. That’s what they could have done. In fact, ten of them chose to do just that, but they also spoke of the things they saw there that would make others fearful of, ever thinking of living in such a place.

You see, once again, there are two sides to the coin, we don’t want to let negative speech ruin everything for everybody, but, “we must not let our desire for positive speech to cause us to conceal important truths. An ethics of speech must also include directives about when to speak up, not just when to stay silent.” (On Scripture-The Torah, Huffington Post). And it is this very concept that I am reminded of whenever I hear someone tell me that we can’t make public when one of our own does something really wicked, especially when, by letting others know, it might just save them from being abused or taken advantage of in the same way that our loved ones were in the past.

Again, there are two sides of the coin. So watch your words. Try, as much as possible to focus on the good, but don’t be blinded by the difficulties that lie ahead. This Shabbat may you not only see all the wonderful and positive things about our programs and about our congregation; this week as you go on your way, be sure to let others know about us and, while you’re at it, open your mouth and ask them to join us….or, in the very least, to come in for a tour…who knows, they just might decide to make this their home.