For the week ending 5 June 2021 / 25 Sivan 5781

Parashat Shlach Lecha

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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At the insistence of the Bnei Yisrael, and with G-d's permission, Moshe sends 12 scouts, one from each tribe, to investigate Canaan. Anticipating trouble, Moshe changes Hoshea's name to Yehoshua, expressing a prayer that G-d will not let him fail in his mission. They return 40 days later, carrying unusually large fruit. When 10 of the 12 scouts state that the people in Canaan are as formidable as the fruit, the people are discouraged. Calev and Yehoshua, the only two scouts still in favor of the invasion, try bolstering 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 the Bnei Yisrael will finally enter the Land. The people are commanded to remove challah, 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 is executed. The laws of tzitzit are taught. We recite the section about the tzitzit twice a day to remind ourselves of the Exodus.


Mutilation or Dedication

“…and (do not) seek after your heart and after your eyes which will lead you astray” [Rashi: The heart and the eyes are like the body's spies, brokering for it the sins sought by its animal nature] (15:39)

Hermann Rauschning in his book "Gespräche mit Hitler” (published in English as Hitler Speaks) writes that Hitler said to him; “The tablets of Mount Sinai have lost their validity. Conscience is a Jewish invention. Like circumcision it mutilates man.”

It's interesting that Hitler linked conscience with circumcision. Conscience requires us to think about the consequences of our actions, to focus on the future and not the present. The body wants to ignore consequences. The body's agenda is instant gratification — a gratification that evaporates immediately with its satisfaction. Circumcision dedicates that part of a man's body from which flows his future, his tomorrow. So too, with a woman, the Hebrew name for womb is rechem. You can rearrange the letters of rechem to spell machar, which means “tomorrow.” The body is not interested in the future. Its entire agenda is the present. Both conscience and circumcision harness our instincts and direct them to build a future world.

Conscience comes from Sinai. The Torah mandated a revolution in human behavior: Education for all. The sanctity of human life, equality before the law, a vision of world peace where nations would beat their swords into ploughshares, the moral imperative to care for the sick, the aged, the orphan, the widow.

What the arch anti-Semite called mutilation, we call dedication.

Avraham Avinu made a brit — a pact with G-d. Avraham dedicated his future, his progeny, and their progeny throughout the generations, to G-d. And G-d, so to speak, dedicated everything that He would be in this world to come about through the children of Avraham Avinu. The covenant was the mutual dedication of everything each would ever be to the other.

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