D’var Torah: Rabbi Rebecca Weinstein (Shlach)

This past July I gave birth to our daughter Leah. I remember in the months leading up to her birth I would turn to my husband and ask, “What do you think she will be like?”, “Do you think she will have a lot of hair?”, “Do you think I will be a good Mom?”
It has been my experience that moments of uncertainty, moments of great transition, open us to asking many questions. Many of these questions we don’t have answers to…. “What do you think she will be like?” only time can tell us. We can seek guidance for some of our questions from others, or science, “Do you think she will have a lot of hair?” The 3D ultrasound we got and my terrible heartburn both confirmed yes, she will have a lot of hair. Perhaps most importantly, we can recognize our own agency in answering our questions, “Do you think I will be a good Mom?” I can choose to open my heart to my daughter, to love her endlessly, and to make decisions which I hope are in her best interest.
In our parsha this week, Sh’lach, Moses sends men to go and spy on the land of Canaan. He says to them, “See the Land—how is it?…And how is the Land in which it dwells—is it good or bad? And how is the land—is it fertile or is it lean? (B’midbar 13:18-20)”  Moses, at this moment of transition, has a list of questions he hopes to be answered in a clear cut way. Moses wants to know with certainty what the future holds. If only we too had a way to see with clarity what our futures hold, to see how our land will be.
Midrash Tanchuma teaches on the opening of our parsha, “Send men.” R. Aha the Great opened the discourse with Isaiah  40:8 “Grass withers, flowers fade, but the word of our God shall stand forever.”  The text reminds us of the incredible journey the Israelites have been on.  Abraham had no way of foreseeing what the path would look like on the way to God fulfilling the covenant, nor did any of our ancestors. It leaves the reader wondering why Moses chooses to send spies out at all. Perhaps it speaks to our deep human wish to know what tomorrow will bring.
Our parsha reminds us that while there are some questions in life that we can answer, none of us know with certainty what the path to the future looks like. Perhaps instead of going down the rabbit hole of trying to predict the unpredictable, we can focus instead on what we can control.
We can choose to go outside on a beautiful day and let the sun shine on our faces.
We can choose to pick up the phone and call a loved one and catch up.
We can choose to be an active member in our incredible Schechter community.
May we all be blessed with making peace with the uncertain and finding comfort in controlling what we can.
With Love, Rabbi Rebecca
Rabbi Rebecca Weinstein, Grade 6 Tanach, Grade 8 Torah She’b’al Peh

D’var Torah: Rabbi Daniel Liben (Beha’alotcha)

Shabbat B’Ha’alot’cha

Do you ever get anxious before going on a long trip?  What do you have to organize and prepare before you feel ready to pile into the car and get going?

For the third week in a row, we have been reading in meticulous detail about the Israelites’ planned departure from Sinai, in order to begin their journey to the Promised Land.

It is supposed to be a triumphant journey for the former slaves.  Over the last two weeks, we read about the precise census taking of all men of military age, and a choreographed staging of the tribes, each under its own flag, forming a vast army of God, with the Tabernacle at its very center.

Finally, the Levites complete the Tabernacle and light the Menorah for the first time.  With the blasts of trumpets, the Israelites are ready to set forth!  Moses bids farewell to his dear father-in-law, who will not be joining them on their journey, and the people are ready to march: “Advance, O Lord! May Your enemies be scattered, and may Your foes flee before You!”

We, however, who have read this book before, know that the triumphant beginning is only a false start: No sooner do the Israelites actually leave Mount Sinai then all hell breaks loose.  The people complain bitterly that they are hungry, rebel against Moses, and even talk about returning to Egypt!  Thus begins a much longer journey, about fear, rebellion and disappointment, which will last nearly 40 years, until a new generation of Israelites will arise.

This book will be a guide for future generations as it poses its basic questions: How do we carry God’s Comforting Presence with us, when we are no longer camped at Mount Sinai?  How do we maintain our faith when the ground seems to shift under our feet, and we don’t really know where we are?  Can we maintain our trust and equanimity, and stand up to our fears, when the world seems so dangerous and unpredictable?

In a time of pandemic and social disarray, we recognize the Israelites’ fear as our own.   But we resist giving in to it: we take a deep breath and realize that this is only part of a constantly changing story.  We will learn, like the Israelites, to discover meaning in the journey, to find strength, comfort and faith, even when we don’t know what the next chapter may bring.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Dan Liben, Temple Israel of Natick, Schechter Alumni Parent