Sivan 28 5780
Learning to Live Without Fear
There are a couple of “gold nuggets” to glean from this portion, Shelach. Moshe sent one chieftain from each of the twelve tribes, leaders who were respected by the people to check out the land they were about to enter. He gave them specific instructions on what to do and where to go. When they returned after 40 days, instead of debriefing Moshe privately in his tent, they poured out their sentiments before everyone. Not only were they extremely fearful, but they were also very negative and convinced the people that taking the land would be impossible. Immediately, Caleb shouted out that they could do it with the help of our Almighty God. The people however wept in fear, complaining that they wanted to return to Egypt instead of remembering all that the Creator had done for them over the past two years.
Only two men stood strong alongside Moshe – Caleb and Yehoshua (Joshua). The rest of that generation would spend the next 38 years in the desert, a total of 40 years. Caleb was the son of Yefunneh, a Kenezite, a gentile; not a descendant of Abraham Avinu. What a beautiful picture of the true Israel. It shows us that it is not about being a “blue-blood”; rather it is a calling. The Creator calls us; we don’t call Him but because we have free will, we have the right to accept or refuse His call on our lives. This non-Israelite Caleb, although he was a foreigner, became the prince of the tribe of tribes, Judah. One Gentile, Caleb, and one Israelite, Joshua from the tribe of Ephraim, would ultimately be the only two to enter the Promised Land, from the generation who left Egypt.
Why would these ten prestigious princes bring such a negative report to the people? In my humble opinion, the more we have accumulated in this world, be it prestige, wealth, or other things, the more fear we have of losing what we have. That is why younger men were sent out to war; they had little to lose and they rarely feared death. The older we get, the more we fear loss and the prospect of death. Moshe might have been better off choosing younger men but perhaps he thought that the others would not have listened to them. He obviously didn’t take into account the consequences of them returning with a negative report.
Living with fear has paralyzing effects on us. We can see how fear has overtaken the majority of the population during this pandemic. They are immobilized and are allowing their leaders to do whatever they want as long as their lives are saved. They are almost like slaves obeying their masters, having lost all common. Caleb and Joshua said, “let’s go because God is with us!” In the Haftarah portion, Joshua had learned this lesson and sent only two young warriors to Jericho. Rahab said that the people were so afraid of the Israelites because they knew that the Bore Olam was with them. If we live only with fear, we will feel powerless but if we trust, we can move forward in our lives. Do you live in fear or are you looking forward to the possibilities of the days ahead? Are you retired and just waiting to die or are you always looking for a new project and something new to learn? As long as there is life, there is hope. With age comes wisdom with which we can help others by being a guide to the younger generation. If young people are smart, they will learn from the life experiences of the elderly.
Another very important principle for us today is found in Bamidbar 15:13-16. Some say that the Torah is for Jews alone while the gentiles only need to observe the seven Noahide laws, yet Bamidbar 15:16 is very clear: תּוֹרָה אַחַת וּמִשְׁפָּט אֶחָד
יִהְיֶה לָכֶם, וְלַגֵּר, הַגָּר אִתְּכֶם “One Torah and one ordinance (mishpat) shall be for both you and the “ger” foreigner living among you.” We are the same, foreigner and native from the land. This is what Caleb and Joshua are teaching us. The people of Israel are formed by both Jew and Gentile but not everyone however is called to be part of Israel. Many gentiles think that this calling means that they have to be more Jewish than the Jews. No one needs to prove that they are part of Israel to anyone. The Creator knows who belongs to Him because He has called you.
The last few verses of chapter 15 speak of the tzitzit, the fringes made from white and blue thread. So many rules and regulations have been formulated about the length and the color of the tzitzit which are not found in the Torah. In the final analysis, the multitude of religious rules added to the Torah cause people to turn away from wanting a relationship with the Creator. True compassion and love for our neighbor are far more important to the Creator than a holier-than-thou attitude. A righteous heart is color-blind and has love and compassion for others. Actions speak louder than words. The tzitzit are meant to be worn inside as a personal reminder of who the Creator is; not outside to show off to others how religious we are. The Creator knows our hearts, our intentions, and His Presence is reflected by our behavior. Being human is not about being perfect; all our heroes in the Bible were imperfect. True kosher Israel is not about what we eat or dress; it is about how we live, how we treat our neighbor; we are to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” That is bringing true glory to the Creator. That is how to live the Ten Commandments.