Celebrating the Spiritual Levels of Torah

Torah is a teaching that continues to unfold, guiding us to appreciate the text more fully
as our awareness evolves.

Torah Portion for the Week of June 26 - July 2, 2016: Sh'lach

(Numbers 13:1 - 15:41)

It all begins with deep listening

And the Eternal One spoke to Moses, saying, (13:1)
Spirituality is the art of hearing more profoundly and more inclusively, so it is important for us to realize that sometimes a "speaking" is really a "hearing." Every time the text relates, "God says," we are receiving what is heard. Our tradition, and, indeed, all great spiritual traditions, relates the perceptions of those who hear more deeply. What Moses hears as the people approach the boundaries of the Promised Land leads him to send tribal representatives to scout out the land that is their destination.

Send men, that they may spy the land of Canaan, which I give to the people of Israel; of every tribe of their fathers shall you send a man, every one a leader among them. (13:20)

There is no evidence that the men were to hide the fact of their travels through the land, so the word "spy," often applied to them, is less accurate than"scouts." Moses specifies that the travelers are to discover the strength of the people who are living there.

And see the land, what it is; and the people who live in it, whether they are strong or weak, few or many; (13:18)

It's a story repeated throughout human history. The Promised Land was not empty. Although an historical claim originated with the Patriarchs, others now lived there, so the territory would have to be taken from them. It is clear that this paradigm continues through to our own time.

Succumbing to fear

After 40 days, the scouts return. They share their impressions of an extremely fertile and desirable land, bringing back huge grapes from the harvest then in process.

And they told him, We came to the land where you sent us, and surely it flows with milk and honey; and this is its fruit. (13:27)

But their report on the strength of the inhabitants was less positive.

Nevertheless the people, who live in the land, are strong, and the cities are walled, and very great; and moreover we saw the children of Anak there. (13:28)

The children of Anak were associated with the Nefilim (13:33), ancient beings mentioned in Genesis as very large and mighty. They were symbols of the most powerful enemies that could be imagined at that time. Ten of the scouts collapsed into their fear of what they saw during their travels. Only Caleb and Joshua were not intimidated.

As we might imagine, the fear of those ten scouts incited alarm in the entire community. Caleb voiced the dissenting opinion, but he was not successful in quelling the fright awakened by the other scouts.

And Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it. But the men who went up with him said, We are not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we. (13:30, 31)

Those ten scouts continued their negative message, amplifying the upset in those who heard them.

And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had spied to the people of Israel, saying, The land, through which we have gone to spy, is a land that eats up its inhabitants; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature. And there we saw the Nefilim, the sons of Anak, who come from the Nefilim; and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so were we in their sight. (13:32,33)

The result was to be expected. The faith of the community was too shallow to meet the negative report with anything but hopelessness.

And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness! (14:1,2)

Joshua and Caleb tried desperately to reassure the people who had forgotten the wonders that had sustained them to that point.

If the Eternal One delights in us, then He will bring us into this land, and give it to us; a land which flows with milk and honey. (14:8)

They urge the people not to act against the commands that Moses brought them.

Only do not rebel against the Eternal, nor fear the people of the land; for they are bread for us; their defense is departed from them, and the Eternal is with us; fear them not. (14:9)

But his pleadings were in vain. Those who heard him wanted to stone Caleb and Joshua to stop them from encouraging them to enter the land.

The punishment that fear brings

There is punishment, however, for the generation of those who doubted. They will die in the wilderness and will not see the Promised Land. Only Caleb and Joshua would survive the journey. Because of their collapse into fear and distrust, the people would have to spend 40 years in the wilderness -- one year for each of the 40 days that the scouts spent scoping out the land.

Fear is the mind-killer, Frank Herbert wrote in his classic, Dune. Fear is the destroyer of dreams; fear squashes possibilities. Fear keeps us tuning in to the news.

Perhaps you have asked yourself, in moments of choice, "What would I do if I were not afraid?"

In that ancient story, we would have reached the land of our dreams, had not our fear paralyzed us. Only with openness to the Eternal Presence could the goal be achieved. Perhaps that is always the case.

And what about our own Promised Land?

Don't we all have a Promised Land? Our Promised Land is a place of peace and harmony. It's a place where we all insist on solving problems without dehumanization, hate, or violence. It's a place where we are open to Love and to Life in each and every moment.

Our Promised Land is a place where the environment is once again clean, where the waters are running clear, and where the earth is naturally fertile. Our Promised Land is a place where all people feel empowered in their lives, where all are fed, clothed, housed, and, most of all, respected.

And our Promised Land is taking a good deal more than 40 years to achieve. Perhaps that's largely because we have been looking for it in the wrong place. We want our Land to appear "out there" before we allow it to take root "in here."

Our challenge is to live into it from the inside out. If we want peace, we must be peaceful, and live peacefully with each other. If we want love, we need to love and act lovingly in our world. If we want joy, we need to accept the present moment; we need to totally accept ourselves as we are right now.

The majority of our scouts still tell us this is a pipe dream. That's nothing new. But a withdrawal from the journey dooms us to the very failure we fear. It's time to follow the scouts who support the dream.

Focus Phrases

I compassionately accept any fears I meet.
I dream of fulfillment for all beings.
I live into my Promised Land right now.

Writing Prompts

When I surrender to my fears, I find. . .
My Promised Land includes. . .
If I lived in my Promised Land, I would . . .

Photo: Mark Reden