Our portion begins, “Vayikach Korach,” not to be read “Korach took”; rather, “Korach divided.” He divided the people. He did not bring them together. He saw only himself, and he saw only separation. His honorable claim that all are holy – the sense of togetherness and connection to God – was expressed in a violent separation. This claim is only true if it is bestowed upon a man of Heaven. Korach, on the other hand, was only taking for himself. More
Shabbat Table Talks
In this week’s Torah portion, Sh’lach-L’cha, we relive the events of the 12 spies sent to reconnoiter the Promised Land and report back to Moses what they have discovered.
We came to the land you sent us to; it does indeed flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit (grapes, pomegranates and figs). However, the people who inhabit the country are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large (Numbers 13:27 ff.).
Caleb hushed the people before Moses and said, ‘Let us by all means go up, and we shall gain possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it’ (v. 30).
But the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We cannot attack that people, for it is stronger than we.’ Thus they spread calumnies among the Israelites about the land they had scouted, saying, ‘The country that we traversed and scouted is one that devours its settlers. All the people that we saw in it are men of great size; … and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them’ (v. 31).
The people are terrorized by the report of the majority of the spies. The main cause of panic was that Moses would die, to be succeeded by Joshua. The people couldn’t imagine they would be able to conquer the giants and the fortified cities without the leadership of Moses.
(Quotes in this sermon are not direct quotes but implied by the speaker)
This week, Moses sends scouts in to survey the land. At the end of forty days, they returned and went straight to Moses and Aaron to report:
Indeed it is a land filled with milk and honey but the people in the cities are powerful and all of their cities are fortified and large.
Caleb responds to the latter part of this report to the people:
Let us by all means go up and we shall gain possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it. (Numbers 13:25-30)
The majority of the scouts responded, “We cannot attack them. They are stronger than we. They will devour us. We saw them as giants and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves and to the people there.”
Of interest to me is that Caleb does not make an argument concerning the size or strength of the people in the land, only that “we can do it!”
This Torah story immediately brought to mind a radio interview I heard just yesterday afternoon. Neil Degrasse Tyson – American astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium – was speaking to a very special actress on his weekly podcast program, Star Talk.
When tragedy strikes, it strikes the community first and then the nation. The tragedy that unfolded early Sunday morning in the Pulse Nightclub in downtown Orlando has rocked the families and friends who have lost loved ones as well as those 53 injured in the worst mass shooting in American history.
In the days after the shooting (as I did the morning of 9/11), I called one of the imams in town whom I had befriended for years. Both times I asked whether they and their community had suffered repercussions as a result. Fortunately this time, there have been none.
After 9/11 there were death threats. I was part of the group of organizers who had a prayer service on the U of A mall with the president of the university. We followed up by many panel discussions with religious leaders in schools and on television, as well as by protecting the mosque and local Muslims from any potential violence from our community.
This afternoon I participated in a Jewish Diversity Program for our Border Patrol off of their main office adjacent to Davis Monthan Air Force Base. One of the lessons I taught them was that for many religions – especially for Judaism and Christianity – our rituals, symbols and traditions have arisen from a connection with the culture from which we have existed. Tonight I would like to share with you one such historical development that has had a lasting impact on us as Reform Jews.
Our Israelite ancestors borrowed and transformed a rich legacy from the Canaanites. But it is the Pharisees who appropriated from the Greco-Roman world a new sense of individualism and a new method of parsing texts.
A change took place at that time that changed the outlook of the Jews from the communal national status of the Israelites to the ethical responsibilities of the individual. Categories of individuals were now delegated particular responsibilities within the communal setting: Men had responsibilities different than those of women, and Jews and gentiles had distinctions established that did not exist within the biblical text.