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Parshas Shlach - Out of Sight, But Not Out of Mind      25 Sivan 5779

06/27/19 22:20:12


The Jews of Chutz La’Aretz (outside of Israel) and of Eretz Yisrael have been somewhat separated these past several weeks regarding the weekly reading of the Parsha. Since the eighth day of Pesach fell on Shabbos, we, living here in the diaspora, read a section on Shabbos for Pesach. In Israel, that very same Shabbos was no longer Pesach in Israel, so those residing in Israel continued reading the next week’s portion according to the cycle. In years when Pesach creates a split, when the Jews in Israel are up to Bechukotai, the diaspora Jews combine Bechukotai with the previous portion of Behar, providing the diaspora Jews the opportunity to catch up with their Israeli counterparts. In a Jewish leap year such as this year, the split lasts until the Parshah of Massei, which in the Diaspora is combined with the previous portion of Matos, while in Israel these parsiot are read separately. From time to time Jews who travel to and from Israel are challenged by feeling somewhat in-between the diaspora and Israel.

This reminds me of the different idioms and cliches that describe this feeling of being caught between two sides. For example, nisht ahin un nisht aherr; no man’s land; sitting on the fence; is the glass half empty or half full, and so forth are a few expressions people use when they feel they are in the middle of something and are not committed one way or another. In sports, a football field has two sides and the yard lines go from one to forty-nine on each side of the field, but there is only one fifty-yard line which is smack in the middle. When the ball is exactly on the fifty-yard line, it is not on the defensive or the offensive side; it lies on neither team’s territory. Which side am I on? Am I going forward or am I still behind? A similar but different way to analyze our ambivalence is in a situation where we have gained experience from the past but are unsure about the future. We know where we have come from but the future remains unknown. Sometimes we may feel safer going back to a bad situation rather than taking a risk for a better future. At other times we know how bad the past was and will even blindly wander into the unknown future. This ambivalence is witnessed as the Jewish people begin their travels on the way to Israel.

As the Jews journey towards Eretz Canaan, Moshe and Aharon are dealing with an unhappy, thankless people who don’t stop complaining about their situation. Despite the fact that numerous miracles were performed on their behalf, a lack of faith permeated at least through the eirev rav – the mixed multitudes. As we find ourselves between Parshios B’haaloscha and Shlach, we look at Bnei Yisrael looking back at Egypt and ahead to Eretz Canaan. Last week in B’haaloscha 11:4, the Torah states: “The mixed multitude among the Israelites began to have strong cravings, and the Israelites once again began to weep. ‘Who’s going to give us some meat to eat?’ they demanded. ‘We fondly remember the fish that we could eat in Egypt at no cost, along with the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onion and garlic’. ‘But now our spirits are dried up, with nothing but manna before our eyes’. This is a clear statement looking backwards juxtaposed by a strong suggestion to return to Mitzrayim despite all the incredible miracles and favors Hashem did for Klal Yisrael. They would rather go back to a horrible situation – slavery - with difficult conditions rather than look toward a bright future awaiting them in their own land. The following is a personal insight on the people wanting to return to Egypt.

When Klal Yisroel complained, remembering all of the good foods and imagined benefits, we might suggest that they had a much better life during the year long plagues. True, they were slaves who could not leave Egypt, but the physical, hard labor had ceased and the Jews were living a normal life in Egypt! This, in my opinion was the worst twist of memory because klal Yisroel was forgetting the great chessed Hashem had done for them, remembering instead a life of comfort in Egypt. This is possibly what they were referring to when they complained, while totally forgetting all that had transpired during their slavery.

In this week’s Parsha Shlach we fast-forward to the Jewish people growing optimistic, looking forward to the future in Israel. In anticipation and preparation, they ask Moshe to send spies to survey the people and the land to determine how best to conquer it. In Bamidbar 13:27,28 the Torah states: ויספרו לו ויאמרו באנו אל הארץ אשר שלחתנו וגם זבת חלב ודבש היא וזה פריה אפס כי עז העם וכולי They gave the following report : ‘We came to the land where you sent us, and it is indeed flowing with milk and honey, as you can see from its fruit. However, the people living in the land are aggressive, and the cities are large and well-fortified.” The Kotzker Rebbe Rav Menachem Mendel of Kotzk asks were the Meraglim(spies) lying with their report? Did they fabricate things in their heart that wasn’t there? The Kotzker rav answers, “There is no question they spoke the truth of what they saw.”. If they didn’t lie, what was their sin? In his wisdom the Kotzker states that not everything which is not a lie is necessarily the truth.” Just because a person does not lie does not make him a man of truth. The truth is something that is not only on the surface; rather it goes deep within the recesses of an individual. Emes and Emunah, truth and faith, run through a person’s veins; a person does not just acquire truth easily, giving a cursory glance over a piece of land. Emes, truth, requires toiling over the matter and with wisdom and intelligence a person comes to the conclusion of truth and justice. The Meraglim / spies did not seek the inner truth of the situation in Israel; they looked away from the word of Hashem. Their sin ultimately lay in failing to seek the truth from the depths of where it lies - and that is from Hashem.

On both extremes the Jewish people failed, stumbling in the going and the coming. The land of Egypt was out of their sight, but it was still in their minds. Additionally, the land of Israel was also not in their mindset; they were unable to see the emes - the truth - of what Hashem had laid out for them. Each and every one of us may find ourselves at some crossroads in life when big, heavy decisions need to be made. In all situations we need to seek out Toras Emes - the ways that Hashem will lead and guide us. Pursuing the truth is not as easy as we hope, sometimes being drawn back to a comfortable situation but ultimately holding us back from growing. We should all be blessed with Siyata Dishmaya, to seek out the Emes from the Torah and from our sages, leading us to a fruitful, bountiful life so that we can serve Hashem with the fullness of total faith, trust and love.


Sun, May 24 2020 1 Sivan 5780