D’var Torah Sh’lach L’cha, June 28th, 2019
In the first part of this week’s Torah portion, Sh’lach L’cha, the Israelites find themselves at a crossroad. Having left enslavement in Egypt they are now just outside the Promised Land. But before entering, God commands Moses to send a team to scout the land God has promised to the Israelites. The team includes one top man from each of the Twelve Tribes. Like Lewis and Clark, who were commissioned to explore the western portion of the United States and report back, these scouts—or spies as they are frequently referred to—are to see what kind of place the Promised land is; whether the people living there are strong or weak; whether their towns are fortified; and whether the land is suitable for agriculture. The scouts are also to return with some of the fruits of the land.
The scouts go on their mission. Along the way they cut down a single cluster of grapes which is so plentiful it takes two men to carry. They also collect some pomegranates and figs.
Forty days later the 12 scouts return from their critical mission, and immediately report to Moses and Aaron as well as the entire Israelite community. They show the fruits they have collected and famously proclaim that the land “flows with milk and honey.” They also report that the people who inhabit the land are powerful—indeed, essentially giants-- and their cities fortified.
One of the scouts, Caleb, from the tribe of Judah, urges the Israelites to move ahead at once to conquer the land. But the other scouts—with the exception of Joshua, from the tribe of Ephraim—urge the Israelites to hold off attacking, arguing that the current inhabitants are stronger than the Israelites, made the Israelites looked like grasshoppers--worse yet, feel like grasshoppers--and could not be conquered.
These reports of the great size and strength of the inhabitants are, as we know, lies—but sufficient to panic the Israelite community. Joshua advises the people to ignore these reports, explaining that God is on their side and would be in their midst, thereby assuring victory.
But the Israelities lack Joshua’s confidence and courage, sending God into a rage. First, by the will of God, the ten dishonest scouts meet a swift fate, dying of plague. Luckily for the Israelite community, Moses is able to talk God out of killing all the Israelite adults for their lack of faith. Instead, God determines that none of the adults who left Egypt--other than Caleb and Joshua, who gave honest accounts of their explorations--would ever step foot into the Promised Land, but rather will, in the colorful words of this week’s portion, “drop their carcasses in the wilderness.”
At God’s direction, the younger generation will be forced to roam the wilderness for 40 years—one year for each day the deceitful scouts explored the Promised Land.
When Moses tells the people their fate, they have a change of heart and declare their readiness to invade at once. Too late, however! Moses warns that this is not God’s will and that they will fail because God will not be present in their midst. Despite this warning, they march into battle without God’s protection. Neither the Ark of the Covenant nor Moses accompanies them in their attempt at conquest. As Moses predicted, they are crushed in their battle with the Amalikites and the Cannanites who live in the Promised Land.
Certainly, a sad story of a scouting mission gone terribly wrong with severe consequences for the Israelites—both old and young.
Five-and-a-half years ago, Congregation Adas Emuno was also at a crossroads. We needed to find a Cantor to lead us spiritually and an educator to lead our wonderful school. The Board of Trustees expressed its preference to find one outstanding individual to fill both positions as a way to bring together the ritual aspects of our congregation and the educational aspirations for our children.
So what did the Board do? We formed a search committee, scouts if you will. Unlike the aftermath for the Israelites, who stood on the verge of entering the Promised Land but for the tall tales of their scouts, our scouts--our search committee lead by then-president Lance Strate--stayed faithful to their task and brought to us Cantor Sandy Horowitz. No wandering in the wilderness for us! Our new Cantor/Educator proved to be full of an abundance of “milk and honey—both on the bimah as she has led us with joy on Shabbat and in reverence on the High Holy Days; and in the school, where a rekindled spirit of learning exists.
Speaking on behalf of the entire Adas Emuno family, we are so grateful for what Cantor Horowitz has brought to us and will miss her very much.