OK, time to write another musing. What’s the parasha this week? Oh, yes-Shelakh-Lekha. Spies. What new insight can I find this year? I started to read, but it was late, and my eyelids grew heavy, my mind clouded…
Then the thought came, unbidden, into my mind, and I was taken aback by it. I couldn’t believe I was actually thinking what I was thinking. Could the Torah be involved in a cover-up? Does Shelakh-Lekha contain the Watergate of ancient Jewish history?
G”d instructs Moshe to send out the twelve men to check out the territory they were about to occupy as part of G”d’s promise. The Torah goes to great length to praise the two spies who saw the glass as half-full, Joshua and Caleb. And it depicts with scorn the ten who saw the glass half-empty, and the rabble (which was pretty much everybody else, I think) who accepted their negative reports and complained to Moshe.
So then what happens? G”d says, “OK, I will give you the land as promised…BUT…ain’t none of you adults gonna see it except Joshua and Caleb here, because y’all doubted me and whined and complained. So go head the other way and wander around this here desert fer 40 years! That’ll teach you varmints!”
Now isn’t that convenient? G”d doesn’t have to take on the Jebusites, Canaanites, Amalekites (chronology-what chronology-since when is Torah in chronological order?), Whatever-other funky-name-ites, etc. and clear the way for the Israelites to go take over the land promised to them. Nope. G”d gets an extra 40 years before that miracle has to be accomplished. You don’t suspect G”d was a little pooped out from the effort over the last few months, do you? All those plagues, splitting the reed sea, manna, quail and other desert miracles, and carving out those tablets and giving the Torah to Moshe and the Israelites, all accompanied by the biggest sound and light show ever. Why, I’ll bet G”d hadn’t been so worn out since creation! So maybe, just maybe, helping out with getting the Israelites into the land past all those fierce tribes was a bit too much at the time. And on a G”d scale of time, 40 years seems about right for getting a little refreshed before tackling more miracles. For G”d, a mere catnap. Right?
Which perhaps means it was all a setup, and maybe even a cover-up. Could G”d possibly reveal to the Israelites that even G”d needs a little time to rest between miracles? Wouldn’t that portray G”d as limited, weak, vulnerable? Is that a G”d that the Israelites could accept?
(As it happens, I think the answer should be yes-after all, what did G”d do on the 7th day? So we know from the very beginning that “even G”d had to take a nap, and called that nap Shabbat.” With thanks to Karen Daniel for that wonderful image from her lullaby “Shabbat Shalom.”)
However, as I’ve said before, G”d often recognizes that humans aren’t always the sharpest knives in the drawer. Perhaps G”d (or Moshe rabbeinu?) figured that it was too risky to try and help the Israelites fight their way into possession of Canaan while so worn out-for there was a chance many Israelites would be lost in the struggle, and they would begin to doubt G”d even more than they were already inclined to doubt G”d. In fact, the unthinkable might happen, and a pooped-out G”d might be unable to insure victory for the Israelites and they would be driven out-leaving G”d with an unkept promise.
Lucky for G”d, the Israelites have always been eager to provide a handy excuse for being the cause of their own problems. Sometimes, the Israelites seem like a machine whose only purpose is to provide rationalizations for unkept promises. As I said before, how “convenient.” (Thank you, Church Chat lady!)
“You people been bad! I’m gonna punish y’all. No milk and honey for you!” “Why?” the people respond. “Are you not G”d, slow to anger, abundant in mercy and loving kindness, to the thousandth generation and all that stuff?” “Yep. That’s me! But y’all lost faith in me-only Joshua and Caleb here knew I would protect you and insure victory. I can’t bring faithless people into the land I promised your ancestors. Nope. Go wonder for forty years” (And, under G”d’s breath…”yeah, and give me a little break, you ferkakhte Jews!”)
But now we can tell it all. Maybe I can sell the story to The Star, Globe and National Enquirer! Maybe I can even get the Washington Post or NY Times to investigate and expose this cover-up. Joshuagate, we can call it. Ah, I can see the headlines now.
SMOKING GUN DISCOVERED IN THE TORAH! G”D REALLY ISN’T OMNIPOTENT”
“DECEPTION IN THE DESERT!”
“EXTRA! JOSHUA AND CALEB BOUGHT OFF BY G”D WITH TICKET TO PROMISED LAND!”
“JEWS WANDER FOR FORTY YEARS WHILE G”D TAKES FORTY WINKS!”
“DNA TESTS ON SHROUD OF TURIN PROVE MARY WAS NO VIRGIN!” (Whoops, how’d that get in there? Well, you know those crazy tabloids.)
Oh, no. A limited G”d. A deceptive G”d. Oh wait, that’s nothing knew. But my faith! I need G”d to be my rock, my redeemer. Help! Help!
…. and then I woke up. Cold sweat drenched my body. Oh horror! What a dream. G”d involved in a cover-up! And me responsible for exposing it. Oy! Well, better get back to reading the parasha so I can write that musing. Where was I? Let’s see. Spies. Ten bad reports. Two good reports. The Israelites lose faith, whine and complain. G”d says “ok, no promised land for you. Go wander for 40 years in the wilderness.” (Also a Torah portion where G”d complains how the Israelites have forgotten all the great signs, miracles, bestowed upon them, and in the haftarah, the concept of signs are reduced to a cord indicating promises between a harlot and the two spies.) But wait a minute. Isn’t this G”d, slow to anger, merciful, abundant in loving kindness? Isn’t anything possible for G”d? And that Haftarah – two spies, and a harlot with a heart who apparently, like others we read about, is a non-Israelite who recognizes the Israelite G”d as G”d. What does it all mean? How do I make sense of it.
A thought came, unbidden, into my mind, and I was taken aback by it. I couldn’t believe I was actually thinking what I was thinking. Could the Torah be involved in a cover-up? Does Shelakh-Lekha contain the Watergate of ancient Jewish history?…
©2012 (portions ©2001) by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on this parasha:
Sh’lakh-L’kha 5771 – Ignorantia Juris Non Excusat
Shelakh L’kha 5769 – One Law
Sh’lakh-L’kha 5767-Cover Up II – G”d’s Scarlet Letter?
Sh’lakh L’kha 5766 – Another Missed Opportunity?
Shelakh Lekha 5764-They Might Really Be Giants
Shelakh-Lekha 5762-Minority Report
Shelakh Lekha 5760 and 5765-Anamnesis
Shelakh-Lekha 5759-Do You Spy What I Spy?