Torah Weekly

For the week ending 13 June 2015 / 26 Sivan 5775

Parshat Shlach

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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At the insistence of Bnei Yisrael, and with G-d's permission, Moshe sends 12 scouts, one from each tribe, to reconnoiter Canaan. Anticipating trouble, Moshe changes Hoshea's name to Yehoshua, expressing a prayer that G-d not let him fail in his mission. They return 40 days later, carrying unusually large fruit. When 10 of the 12 state that the people in Canaan are as formidable as the fruit, the men are discouraged. Calev and Yehoshua, the only two scouts still in favor of the invasion, try to bolster the people's spirit. The nation, however, decides that the Land is not worth the potentially fatal risks, and instead demands a return to Egypt. Moshe's fervent prayers save the nation from Heavenly annihilation. However, G-d declares that they must remain in the desert for 40 years until the men who wept at the scouts' false report pass away. A remorseful group rashly begins an invasion of the Land based on G-d's original command. Moshe warns them not to proceed, but they ignore this and are massacred by the Amalekites and Canaanites. G-d instructs Moshe concerning the offerings to be made when Bnei Yisrael will finally enter the Land. The people are commanded to remove challa, a gift for the kohanim, from their dough. The laws for an offering after an inadvertent sin, for an individual or a group, are explained. However, should someone blaspheme against G-d and be unrepentant, he will be cut off spiritually from his people. One man is found gathering wood on public property in violation of the laws of Shabbat and he is executed. The laws of tzitzit are taught. We recite the section about the tzitzit twice a day to remind ourselves of the Exodus.


The Living Shepherd

“But as I live – and the glory of G-d shall fill the whole world…” (14-21)

Several years ago in London, there was a poetry recital competition.

The final poem to be recited was Psalm 23. A young fellow took center-stage and began, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want… He restores my soul… and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” His performance was outstanding and was greeted with thunderous applause. Neither the audience nor the judges had any doubt who was the winner, and the young fellow was called to the stage and received his prize.

After the applause and the cheers had died down, there was an elderly, Eastern European Jew standing in front of the stage and looking up through the footlights. He said, “Would the judges mind if I also said "The Lord is my Shepherd?”

Amused, the judges invited him up to the stage.

Slowly he made his way to the microphone in a spotlight in the middle of the stage. He cleared his throat and with a thick Yiddish accent began to speak.

After a few words, a reverent hush fell over the audience; soon people started to cry.

The old man finished the Psalm. There was complete silence in the auditorium.

After a few moments, the old man turned to the judges, thanked them and the audience for their indulgence and made his way out into the street.

Clutching his prize, the winner followed the old man out into the street.

“Rabbi, I want you to take the prize; you're the one who deserves it, not me.”

“Not at all,” replied the elderly Jew. “I wasn’t competing. You did a fine job and the prize is rightfully yours.”

The young man continued, “But rabbi, can you explain to me why it was that when I ended the Psalm the audience cheered, but when you finished they cried?"

The elderly Jew replied, “The difference is that I know the Shepherd.”

We can believe that there is a G-d, we can even know that there is a G-d, but we can still live like atheists.

“But as I live – and the glory of G-d shall fill the whole world…”

Belief can remain an abstract philosophical concept; we can even keep all the mitzvos, but fail to make G-d “live”.

When we say that G-d is a “living G-d”, we don't just mean that we believe in His existence, but that He is part of our every waking second; He is our King.

If the Chafetz Chaim walked into the room, everyone would stand in awe of him. The Master of the Universe fills the entire world and certainly the room in which the Chafetz Chaim stood, but the Chafetz Chaim gets a bigger welcome?

Because G-d is “Kadosh Kadosh Kadosh”, thrice-removed, His transcendence makes it difficult for us to sense His immanence — that His Glory fills the world.

Our job as Jews is to take the abstract and the transcendent and make G-d into our living Shepherd.

  • Sources: based on Rabbi Shimshon Pincus and others

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