It's been so long since my last post; I've failed to mention that my Bar Mitzvah is coming up in two weeks. Woot! Below is a draft of my D'Var Torah; I would love to hear viewpoints from my (few) faithful readers.
Please forgive spelling and grammer; such edits have yet to be made.
This week’s Torah potion tells the story of 12 spies going into Canaan, the Promised Land, and reporting their findings to the Israelite people. 10 spies tell stories of a nation with a strong military and believe that the Jews will be grasshoppers in a land of giants. The other two spies, Joshua and Caleb, believe their people will be victorious in taking over the land.
The typical interpretation of this story is that the 10 spies told false, cowardly tales, in order to dissuade any movement into Canaan. Joshua and Caleb are telling the truth and are eventually seen as the heroes once the Israelites reach the Promised Land. The end result of the story frames these two sets of leaders into two camps: those that were right and those that were wrong.
But, what if these other spies were not wrong? As the story progresses, the community falls into panic, questioning the leadership of Moses, and Hashem banishes them to the desert. What if they were simply testing the Israelites with these fearful tales and the community just was not ready to move on? Perhaps Joshua and Caleb were the youthful, war mongers, so ready for a fight and a challenge, that they were ready to put their community in harms way to reach the Promised Land?
This story makes me wonder, how does history declare a winner and a loser? I was always taught that history is written by the winners. If this is true, then how will current events be viewed in 20 or 30 years?
If Iraq is a burgeoning Democracy, akin to Turkey and Israel, will the 2003 U.S.-led invasion be seen as a victorious first step to freedom and peace? What happens to the dissenting viewpoints expressed by leaders opposed to this invasion? Are they seen in the same lens as the 10 spies, as simply frightened people who make up stories to keep us from victory? Or are they raising real concerns of the moment that are washed away when we finally “win,” whatever winning defined by?
In my role a community leader, I find that I constantly need to be aware of why I come to certain decisions and look internally for how my past experiences shape these viewpoints. I often need to push myself to see beyond my limited thinking and put myself in a new, uncomfortable direction. Perhaps this was happening with the spies who spun these tall tales because their community has been so traumatized by both slavery and liberation; perhaps they themselves were traumatized and could not envision a time that the Israelites would not only have freedom, but complete dominion over the Holy Land.
Instead of viewing the 10 spies as wrong, perhaps they were embracing the complexity of the current situation. Perhaps the youthfulness of Caleb and Joshua kept them from understanding this complexity. I believe there is such value and wisdom to embracing current complexity and questioning a decision; unfortunately, the images drawn in our histories do not involve explaining the real doubts that community leaders struggle with.
In craving a sense of comfort and security, we create black and white labels and finality. It is so easy to define who was right and who was wrong; who won and who lost. For me, the most valuable lesson in this Torah portion is this: our historical interpretations often do not embrace the complexities of situations that community leaders face. Instead, it focuses on the victories and the heroes that helped usher them in, and paints those who hesitate as cowards without merit. Perhaps those that are thoughtful and not quick to act would have offered in a more victorious outcome, much like the quiet child in the classroom who offers wise words when she does choose to speak. Perhaps our history and stories would be richer if the lesson was that both support and dissent for a historical decision are necessary for eventual victory.