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Shelach Lecha: From Abraham to Moses to Us

06/19/2020 02:22:11 PM


Rabbi Weill

Dear Friends,


The Israelites exhibit an astonishing lack of faith in this week’s Torah portion, Shelach Lecha. Moses has sent scouts to explore the land; ten of the twelve scouts are despondent because of the giants they encountered. They then lead the Israelite nation into a paroxysm of fear. Everyone cries.


Except God, who threatens, “I’ll strike them with an epidemic” and tried to entice Moses: “I’ll make you into a bigger more powerful nation than they are” (Numbers 14:12-13).


Moses rejects the offer and sets forth the reasons God must not wipe out the Israelites: the nations of the world will no longer take God seriously; God is supposed to be compassionate and forgiving.


God relents. “Va’yomer Adonai, Salachti ki’dvareicha. And the Lord said, ‘I have forgiven according to your word’” (Numbers 14:20). (You may recognize those words from the liturgy of the High Holidays.)


Some commentaries wonder how Moses could dissuade God from destroying the Israelites. After all, Abraham, centuries earlier, is unable to dissuade God from destroying Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham too engages God in a conversation and begs God to act fairly (Genesis 18:25).


Bible scholar Richard Elliott Friedman in his Commentary on the Torah states that the difference is not in God, for God does not change. Rather, Friedman notes, the change is “in the human stance relative to God.” Over the course of the generations, Friedman is saying, humans become more understanding of God, more knowing of God’s ways. We evolve into more effective partners with God. That which Abraham could not achieve, his descendant Moses could achieve.


We are often taught that our relationship with God and Torah becomes weaker as time marches on. Friedman is arguing that we are actually moving closer to God. This is a strikingly positive message, not only theologically. It is also a hopeful commentary on the state of the world. For with a strong relationship to God comes a better ability to bring godliness into the world. That is the ultimate Jewish mission.


Let us too follow the upward trajectory of our forebears: drawing ever closer to the divine, perfecting ever more our world.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Jeffrey Weill

Tue, August 3 2021 25 Av 5781