This week's Parsha is about perspective -- and what you do with it. Do we build up or tear down? How do we report what we experience and who's agenda are we following, anyway.
Yesterday we received notice that the well water in our area was contaminated with some pretty deadly (potentially fatal) stuff -- it appears now that somebody may have dumped solvents into a nearby stream and it found its way into our water table. The "don't use the water" notice was issued by the health department at 5PM and we heard it a few minutes later -- my husband, Bill, was putting a tape into the VCR and heard the announcement in the few moments that the TV was on to accept the cartridge. (I was upstairs working on this d'var....)
We had been planning on shopping as soon as he came home from work (that's why he was putting in the tape -- to catch the news in case we were late getting back). Needless to say, we added some gallons of water to the shopping list, especially for the dogs. It was interesting to watch the people as they responded to the situation. It was still early -- about 5:45 when we arrived at the market. Several market employees were bringing water cases up to the front displays (they had a sale on the water -- can you see the analysis a year later -- "Hey, Joe, remember when we ran that sale on the water -- they went like hot cakes -- we need to run a sale like that again!" -- perspective). People were stocking up on the water firmly and politely -- and for the most part, alerting other people to get a bottle or two if they had not yet heard about the warning. By the time we left, 2/3rds of the store's supply of water was gone. Empty boxes were being stacked in a corner and clerks had given up on putting the water onto the displays.
The lesson for me was what to do about the situation. Buying water for us and the dogs was an obvious plan. What are the future implications of the water situation, how long will the situation last? One could panic, give in to fear, expect the worst, etc. Or one could pretend there was no danger and no impact. Or one could say let's take care of the immediate issues and watch and respond to what else happens, alert and ready to take action. Perspective.
Rabbi Shefa Gold teaches about this in her work on Basic Trust and perhaps these two concepts are intertwined. What we do with a situation depends on our perspective. Reb Shefa teaches that when our Basic Trust is solid, we handle situations better than when that Basic Trust has been seriously wounded by life's traumas. That the Basic Trust enables us to look at a situation calmly and say, "So what will I learn from this?" A lack of Basic Trust paralyzes us and renders us unable to move forward through the difficulties before us.
And I think that is a big part of this week's Parsha -- where we are determines how and what we do. The spies report what they see -- they even bring the wonderful produce of the Land back with them. But then they attach their own baggage (fear) to their report. Fear is so powerful. Fear of losing control, fear of appearing stupid, foolish, out of touch, or some such thing, fear of being hurt physically or emotionally, fear of loss, the list goes on.... Many statements have been made through the years that show how fear can cripple a nation or an individual. (We have nothing to fear except fear itself, Fear is our own worst enemy, etc)
And yet we fear and many times relinquish self-control and calm to fear. Accident survival statistics show that immobilizing fear is the single largest killer in emergencies. I was watching a documentary on surviving car-water impact emergencies. The announcer claimed that if you were driving a car and it went into water deep enough to submerge it, and you were not trained in survival techniques, you only had a 20% chance of survival. That was because most people would panic and not take things one step at a time -- they would be overwhelmed by the immensity of the situation and panic and do nothing.
This concept fits in with my Life Coaching experience -- most people fail to act on something large because the immensity of the task overwhelms and panics them. Just like the car in water, the question is what do I need to do now to increase my chances of success. This serves two purposes, one: breaking the whole project into doable tasks and sequencing them and two: eliminating the concept of failure. It is amazing what is possible if one looks at pieces and does them and 'forgets' to consider failure. (Training, by the way, just opens the door on options and plans, which closes the door on panic)
Please join us on June 23rd for an International Shabbat meditation for peace. There have been many studies that show that group meditation can have profound effects on people and the world. So this is an effort to get everyone we can meditating on the 23rd of June -- check out the website: http://www.sabbathpeace.homestead.com/
1. Parsha details: Num 13:1-15:41 ( tri 15:8-15:41 ) [ Haftorah Joshua 2:1-24 ]
2. Questions and a few observations
Summary: Selecting and sending scouts, what they saw, what they reported, the reactions of the people, Y'hoshu'a and Caleyv (Joshua and Caleb) trying to quell the rebellion, God's response, Moshe's pleading and God's response, offerings upon entry to the Land, treatment of Israel and others who live among us, Shabbat sticks and stones, last paragraph of the Sh'ma.
The selection of scouts is interesting. They are not reported in any obvious order -- not by age of ancestor and not by place of encampment. So there must be yet another ranking that is at play here. I am always interested in what the names mean of the people named -- nothing in Torah is by accident. Here we have Listening, son of Memory; Judge, son of Freedom; Like the Heart, son of Emptied; Saved, son of Gathered; Saved, son of Shining (see discussion of NUN below); Survivor, son of Doctor; Luck of God, son of My Secret; Luck, son of My Happiness; People of God, son of Reward; Conflict, son of Forgiven by God; We Hide, son of Rail; Risen by God, son of My Hammer. Notice that the sons have "hope" or optimistic names, while the fathers had names reflecting their slavery.
And so the scouts or fore-warners, actually, scout out the Land and bring back beautiful land. Can you see the scene? The men come back from their travels carrying this pole dripping with fruit and pomegranates and figs -- to a people that has been living on manna mostly. Can you hear the buzz of the people as they follow them to Moshe?
And so they tell Moshe (and all the other ears present) about what they see -- they get carried away, perhaps on how great the bounty is -- and the people are getting excited. So they say "efes", which is Hebrew for "BUT", as in "what good is it", "it's for nothing". And they continue, most probably exaggerating the ferocity and impenetrability of the towns and so on. Whether they just got carried away in the spotlight or if they were truly afraid is hard to say. Regardless of the root cause, the crowd is responding, probably quite noisily because Caleyv "hushed" the people and turns to Moshe saying "let's go for it!"
Now have you ever been excited about a new project? Sure there are dangers and risks, but the end result is worth the effort and you'll be strong and careful. And then what happens? Somebody who is afraid of whatever gremlins they see, whether real or not, starts putting forth this fear and it becomes contagious. And the people say "Oy, if only we had died in Egypt...", "Oy, if only we would die in this wilderness"
Be careful what you wish for.....
And the scene gets out of control, Moshe and Aharon fall on their faces, and Y'hoshu'a and Caleyv try to bring the crowd back to reality, explaining that the key is God, not fear. And the people respond by wanting to stone them. So YHVH interrupts by appearing. Can you feel to energy?
And God and Moshe debate in front of the people (probably quite quiet people now) whether or not He should grant them their wish to die in the wilderness immediately. God reminds Moshe that this is the tenth time He has been tested by the people (I know that every parent reading this will have no trouble envisioning this scene). And so, they will not get to go into the Land, only their children. (The calf incident wasn't enough, but this was -- it was the "last straw")
I am reminded of Psalm 95(10-11): "For forty years I was tested by that generation, and I said, They are a people who have wayward hearts, and they do not know my ways. Therefore I swore in my wrath: they would never enter into my rest."
And then Torah turns to what sacrifices will be like when the people do enter the Land, making a strong point that the rules and regulations extend not just to the children of Yisra'el, but also to the stranger who lives amongst them. One Torah for all.
And we have a vignette of the man gathering or assembling wood on Shabbat who is found out and then stoned. Again, Torah doesn't just "throw" something like this into the flow. This is a much heavier response than is being discussed in this Parsha which are sins committed through ignorance and though being deceptive -- the first warrants a sacrifice and the second being "cut off from the people". There are no warnings here about Shabbat -- and yet this man is "assembling or gathering wood". He is found out -- so this is probably happening inside his tent. (When I was younger, I envisioned him walking in the field and coming back into camp with an arm full of wood -- but I don't that fits with "found".)
Was he preparing for something rebellious or perhaps it was thievery that was most easily done when people would be resting and not moving about? And when he was found out, did he say, "Oh, I was just doing stuff, I forgot it was Shabbat"? The lying about forgetting would fit into the theme here, especially since Torah then goes on to the last paragraph of the Sh'ma, which tells us to put tzitzit on our garments so that we remember the mitzvot. And it adds the injunction against hungering after what out heart wants or our eyes see.
Looking at the tzitzit, the reminder (like thread around a finger) on our garments, might just help us remember to do right by people and be Kadosh, holy.
3. Some Observations
Perceptions and intentions. The story of the scouts is a solid column from the start until the glory of YHVH appears in the Tent to all of Yisra'el. Then the column is again solid through a lost battle with Amalek. After that the text is not as solid, there are breaks. When the text is that continuous, it indicates a unit that was repeated often and makes for a complete, nicely edited unit. I can easily see this accounting being told and retold many times.
And this comes in line with the next Parsha, Korakh, which will continue the theme. Torah is always concerned with intention and net results. Is what we do for a blessing or for something else. And we don't just 'fib' to others, we often fib to ourselves. Or at least, we don't always listen to ourselves. Sometimes we let ourselves get carried away either by events or by our fears.
Fear is one of the strongest motivators and one of the most dangerous. Just as the person who is trained can respond to the emergency faster and more effectively, so can we to every day life. We can learn to manage our fear. It's okay to be afraid when things are frightening, but the key is to do something, anything, rather than become immobilized by fear. Fear of change like Yisra'el was experiencing is the same type of fear that keeps someone working in a job they hate or in an abusive relationship, even a deadly one. And victimizers capitalize on that fear -- they know how to use it to manipulate people.
Fear is the sign of a lack of trust -- in the Parsha, that lack of trust in the One was the source of God's response. The people believed in God, they never questioned that She exists or that He was the source of the signs and wonders they had seen. But they didn't trust that they could find their own strength through the One. It wasn't that God was failing them, it was that they were failing themselves, and therefore Her. They allowed their fear to rule them rather than recognizing that their fear would, in fact, prevent them from entering the land, the rest, the internal peace that only comes from Basic Trust.
When I was a young girl, my brother had an ice cream truck that would be plugged into the house at night for its freezer to run. We knew something was up with this cord because it would sometimes spark when it was plugged in and if you were holding onto the truck as it was plugged in there would be a slight vibratory sensation. That particular day it had been raining and puddles were still sitting on our driveway. I had been given permission to get ice creams out of the freezer for the family and I put my hands on the truck to hoist myself up onto it. My feet were in the water as my hands touched the metal on the truck. The short in the cord fed the electricity (220V) right through me to the ground and I was vibrating and locked in position unable to move.
That was a serious condition and I needed help quickly. So I yelled as loud as I could to my parents and they came running, threw a coat on me (probably the fastest thing they could find) to insulate themselves and my father yanked me away from the truck. We later learned that my yelling not only alerted my parents to my situation, but it also kept my air passages open. If I had been too frightened to yell, I would have died. Fortunately, I was mainly annoyed at not being able to move rather than frightened. I never thought I could die -- that realization came much later. And I wasn't afraid of appearing stupid. I simply saw the situation as a problem that needed an answer, namely letting my parents know that I needed some help.
4. Purifying Sophistication
This week's Parsha is about Purifying Sophistication or the glory of glory. Purifying, considered masculine and yet often depicted as a mother nurturing a child. It is the derivative of restraint -- the restraint that allows a person to develop and blossom in their own way. The Sophistication is because this is the restraint of the restraint, the withholding of the withholding.
This parsha is very much about being a mother to a child who should know better by now, but still doesn't. The child still tests, again and again. So we issue a "time-out" -- God's was 40 years, Torah's term for a long while. And Moshe says things to YHVH for the people to hear, so that they can recognize that the fear is a lack of trust. Do they "get it"? No. But She tells us to make a fringe, a reminder on our garments -- maybe that will help us. The tzitzit are for us so we can have an available visual reminder. In fact, it is to have a blue thread to represent the heavens and the earth, wherein we can find the restraint of the restraint of YHVH.
5. The letter, name NUN
Y'hoshu'a's father is named Nun, which is the 14th letter in the alphabet. So what does it mean to be the son of Nun?
Nun means to shine, to flourish, to sprout, to spread, to be established. And the Nun is a very powerful letter. We can see in it two Yuds, two hands (yad) of YHVH. One Nun points up from the Earth and the other Nun points down from Heaven. This represents meeting, nexus. When the Nun from the Heavens and the Nun from the Earth touch in the center they create a spiritual place.
The actual Gematria value for Nun is fifty, which is the Earth. And it is the Presence in the Earth holding and nurturing. Quite a name to be the son of Nun.
1. Fear and Trust: Remember something that made you afraid and notice how you feel. Are your muscles tensing? Now think about something where you knew what to do and you did it. How did that feel? What enabled you to trust that things would be okay? How did that confidence play into the actions? What does it take to have confidence? How can you foster trust and confidence?
2. Tzitzit: Look at tzitzit. Remember the essence of Torah. Mitzvot are about not treating others in ways that you would not appreciate. And it is about treating yourself with respect also. How does it help to have a reminder on your body in the morning? What might it do to have one around all day? Would touching the tzitzit during the day, even unintentionally, serve as a reminder? Why did YHVH give us this reminder?
3. "Ani YHVH Eloheykhem" (I am YHVH your God): Why would YHVH say this to Yisra'el? God brought us out of Mitzrayim, the narrow places, to be our God. What does that mean? Why does YHVH repeat the He is our God? How does this answer fear? Whose responsibility is to see that we do manage fear? Why does YHVH never say "trust me, don't be afraid"?
ADS: ALEPH -- the Alliance for Jewish renewal. www.aleph.org If you aren't a member yet, please give very serious consideration to joining. The magazine, New Menorah, alone, is worth whatever you give. (Plus it helps pay for the rabbinic program where I am studying!)
ADS:Kallah in Chicago: http://www.aleph.org/kallah%20html/kalindex.html July 2001
There are many traditional interpretations of the parsha that I neither talk about nor mention. That is done from a position of space. I trust that the average reader is either familiar with these or can find many of them easily in other commentaries readily available.
Thanks for reading this. If I have offended you, please forgive me -- that was not my intention. If you found some joy or happiness in reading this, thank you for allowing me to be a part. If you found a reason to think about something more deeply - kol hakavod and thank you!
And to the people giving me feedback thank you so much! I enjoy all of it. (Including the typos) You have made this weekly practice wonderful.
(c) 2001 Candy Lobb All rights reserved