28 Sivan

Decisions, decisions, decisions…!

Everything begins and ends with a decision. Every day we make thousands of them. Will they result in something good or something bad; will they lead to life or to death? God asks us to choose life! That means …we have the ability to choose!

In Parashat Shelach, the Israelites were at the border of the Promised Land. Moses chose twelve men to enter, to survey the land and bring him back very specific information. These were not just any men; they were princes of the twelve tribes who had position, power, and possessions.  They were leaders. When they returned from completing their mission, they admitted that the land flowed with milk and honey BUT they cried out “We are not able to go up against the people for they are stronger than us.” They weren’t asked for their opinion; they were asked for a report. They made a decision based on fear instead of taking the time to stop and remember all that God had done for them up to that moment.

Do we have the ability to make good decisions when we are frozen with fear? Not immediately because our bodies have a built-in “fight and flight” response, for a reason. We may lose our cool for a time, however, once we calm down, we do have the option to switch gears, to make a shift in our paradigms, because of God’s gift of Free Will to us. It is not a mystical thing, although there is that aspect; it depends upon our willingness to “choose” to change our minds. It’s far easier to give away our self-control by blaming others ….” they are stronger than we are; we are like grasshoppers.”

When we apply that understanding to any areas of our lives where we feel stuck or trapped, we need to be brutally honest with ourselves, and I repeat – we must be willing to “decide” to change our minds about it.  That’s step number one. The second step, a key element, is knowing that our God is right here, ready to help us after taking that first step. We may not know what is holding us back, but again, if we ask our Creator, He will show us. He speaks to us in so many ways… from someone else’s mouth, from an idea we get but it begins with an action.

Let me give you an example. I’ve been having so much trouble with the company that hosts our congregation website. I asked around for advice, but it felt so overwhelming that I finally decided just to stay where we were especially when they offered to move us to a new platform at a great price.  Right after the migration was complete, all our emails disappeared.  I was so upset that I burst into tears on the phone. The poor girl in the Philippines didn’t know what to do. I know it sounds silly, but that was my immediate reaction. After I hung up, I stopped and “decided” that emails are simply not worth losing my health over. If something was important, it’ll come back. I began thanking God for everything and immediately felt His shalom.

After this fiasco, I “decided” we really needed to transfer out. I was referred to a good company, created the account, and chose the level that we needed according to their advice, but before it was finalized, I noticed that we were missing one very important link. After spending another 3 hours online, no one could help me. I just didn’t know what to do, so I begged God for help and went to sleep.  Then at 3 AM, I woke up with the thought “Is it possible that I chose the wrong plan?” I got back on the computer and chatted with a person who said yes, we just need to upgrade, this didn’t have enough memory for what we needed.

Wait, it doesn’t end there. The next morning, I received an email from the old company telling me that I could get a refund for a service we were no longer using.  I called and spoke to “an angel” who said that day was the deadline and not only refunded us on several products but also found a way for me to retrieve all our lost emails and set up a backup for our new ones. I cannot describe the awesome sensation within me because I could sense God’s involvement.

The lesson I am still learning is to never give up, to not be afraid to press on, to not lose courage, and to not put myself down when I feel like a grasshopper faced with giants. That is the decision that a leader needs to make. Everyone in this community, whether we want to admit it or not, has been called to be a leader.

What are the qualities of a good leader?  A good leader is humble enough to know that he (I use the male word ‘he’ to include both genders) cannot accomplish his role of serving others on his own.  A good leader desires to serve others and seeks wise counsel from people with a strong moral code.  A good leader admits that he has strengths and weaknesses and surrounds himself with people who can help achieve their common goals.  These twelve scouts, who were chosen, were all ‘chiefs’, leaders.  They all saw the same land that they were asked to report on, the same people living in the land, the same produce of the land, but ten of them came back with a report that differed from that of Joshua and Calev who said: “we should go up at once and possess it, for we are well able to overcome it.”

What makes one person “decide” to remain in fear while another “chooses” to have courage? I believe that most people do not choose to remain in fear consciously (as I said, there are things we need to fear) but when we walk with our God, our soul is connected at a higher level and that is what allows us to change our paradigms. If we choose to remain in fear like these ten men, we lose the battle and possibly even our lives. Joshua told the men “…and be of good courage and bring the fruit of the land.” The idea of being of good courage was spoken in the same breath as bringing the fruit of the land. We don’t question the latter, so why would we question our choice of taking courage? Can we choose to have courage?

In Beha’alotecha when the people were crying out for meat, we saw how fear and anxiety had caused them to see the worst in their situation, what they lacked rather than what they had. Fear and anxiety are contagious. The ten scouts spread an evil report resulting in the people weeping all night and then turning against Moses and Aaron to the point of wanting to stone them. The consequences were that the entire generation would die in the desert without entering the land, promised to them.

That’s when our Free Will has to stand up and “decide” how we are going to live.  We have to use this gift to choose life and not death, courage and not fear and that takes a step of faith followed by an act of iron will, coupled with the knowledge that God will never leave us nor forsake us.  It’s not enough to hear words of encouragement from someone…” Oh, you’ll get through this”. It takes an act of the will to accept it. Just as it takes an act of the will when a married man is confronted with a beautiful woman who is enticing him to cheat on his wife.  Does he stop and remember his vows before God to be faithful or does he succumb?  It’s an act of the will; it’s a decision.

These scouts were no longer young men; they were in positions of authority and probably had more possessions.  This can become a problem as we age.  When we’re young, we take so many more chances because we have so much less to lose, but as we amass more and more, we become more risk-averse.  I need to remind myself of that when I become afraid of losing everything again and having to start over at my age. This is what these men were dealing with.

What made them different from Joshua and Calev?

Joshua, of Hebrew descent, had spent every moment under Moshe’s tutelage; he was in the Tent when God spoke to Moshe, and he was there on the mountain when Moshe went up when no one else was allowed near it.  He had already been chosen to take Moshe’s place although he didn’t know it yet.

Who was Calev?… His is a very different story.  Although our illustrious rabbis disagree that he was a ger, a Kenizzite,  the Torah is clear. His family was probably from the Erev Rav, the mixed multitude, who “chose” to follow the God of Israel because they had truly seen His works. They were integrated into the tribe of tribes, the tribe of Judah from whom King David would descend and later our Rabbi Yeshua.  Caleb was led by his kavanah, his intention;  to be chosen as one of the twelve scouts meant that he must have clearly demonstrated his leadership abilities.

I wondered why Hoshea’s name was changed to Yehoshua while Calev’s name remained the same. The “yud” added to Hoshea shows us that God was with him. Calev means dog, man’s best friend but no Hebrew would have named their son ‘dog’. Yet God didn’t add the yud to his name. Could it be that a native-born Hebrew, who might have taken His God for granted, had to change in order to draw closer to Him but not the Ger, who took nothing for granted? Numbers 15:14-16 has one of the most important principles for us to embrace in the Torah regarding the Ger.  Verse 16 says “Torah achat”, one Torah, v’mishpat echad, and one ordinance, shall be both for you and the stranger (the ger) who lives with you. Think about it. There are not two gods, nor any other books needed for both Hebrew and non-Hebrew. We can draw that picture from Joshua and Caleb entering the Land together.

The decision that these two men made stood them in good stead: to muster up all their courage and stand up above the rest who refused to see the truth of their circumstances – that the promises of their God were all that they needed. Their reward was they were the only men of that generation to enter the Promised Land… not Miriam, not Aaron and not even Moses.

Our decisions lead us either to a life of fulfilment in our relationships and in our roles or one of constant discouragement.  When I worked in the field of hypnotherapy many years ago, I saw the effects of the Power of Suggestion. In those days, the principle of Positive Thinking was the modus operandi, however, these turn into empty exercises without the help of our Creator walking with us throughout our lives. As it says in Proverbs 26:11”, “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly”.  We can choose to blame others or maybe even God for how we live, but the truth is that once we truly know that God is an ever-present help in our lives, we will have no more excuses. Will our decisions, our choices lead us toward life or death? God asks us to choose life and His Torah provides us with the tools to do so.

Shabbat Shalom

Peggy Pardo