Archives for May 2013

Torah Reflections – May 26 – June 1, 2013

Sh’lach L’cha

Numbers 13:1 – 15:41

Why The Spies Were Wrong                 

This week, in Torah, we meet again the story of the twelve elders, leaders of the Hebrew tribes, whom Moses sends to spy upon the Land of Canaan ahead of the Israelites’ invasion. Returning after forty days and forty nights, their report to Moses and the people is overwhelmingly despairing:

We cannot attack that people, for it is stronger than we… The land that we crossed through and scouted is a land that devours its settlers.” [Num. 13:31-32] Only Caleb and Joshua, two out of the twelve, disagreed and “hushed the people before Moses and said: ‘Let us go up, yes, up for we can prevail, yes, prevail against it!‘” [Num. 13:30].

I’ve always wondered; why would these ten elders — wise and discerning individuals especially selected by Moses — be so pessimistic in their report? What did they fear? After all, they had seen God destroy the mighty armies of Pharaoh; how could Canaan’s stand a chance? They had witnessed miracle after miracle ever since the plagues of Egypt: the parting of the Sea of Reeds, Revelation at Sinai. Miriam’s traveling well had sustained them with water, and the daily manna falling from heaven provided them with food; all their needs had been taken care of by God day in and day out. How could the Canaanite be stronger than them? In truth, their claim was even more ominous than that. The rabbis of the Talmud (Sotah, 35a) offer a different translation of the Hebrew: “We cannot attack that people, for it is stronger than Him… [this] is a land that devours its settlers.” Despite continued Divine providence in their journey through the wilderness, they not only feared that the people of Canaan would be stronger than God, but that settling the land itself would lead them to their doom. [Read more…]

Torah Reflections – May 12 – 18, 2013


Numbers 4:21 – 7:89

In The Shadow of Jealousy

One of the most disturbingly misogynistic stories in Torah–and, admittedly, there are many–confronts us in this week’s portion. It describes a humiliating ritual a woman is forced to endure if suspected of adultery by her jealous husband:

“…if a fit of jealousy overcomes one and he is wrought up about his wife although she has not defiled herself, the husband shall bring her to the priest. And he shall bring an offering on account of her [i.e. on account of his jealousy of her]… a meal offering of jealousy, a meal offering of remembrance which recalls wrongdoing.” [Num. 5:14-15]

His wife is then subjected to a degrading public ordeal where her hair is exposed–a sign of disgrace–and she is forced to drink sacral water that has been cursed by the priest and mixed with dirt and ink. [Read more…]

Torah Reflections – April 28 – May 4, 2013

B’har – B’chukotai

Leviticus 25:1 – 27:34

The Evolving God of Our Understanding 

The last Torah portion in the Book of Leviticus, B’chukotai, begins with:

If you follow My laws and faithfully observe My commandments…” [Lev. 26:3] and continues with defining for us all the rewards God will bestow upon us for doing so. It then goes on to say: “But if you do not obey Me and do not observe all these commandments, if you reject My laws and spurn My rules… and you break My covenant, I in turn will do this to you…” [Lev. 26:14-16]

and proceeds to graphically detail all the punishments that would result from such behavior. [Read more…]