In the Tent of Meeting: Drash on Shelach-Lecha – June 17, 2017
Drash by Dave Parkhurst, shared at the Egalitarian Minyan
In Shelach-Lecha, Bamidbar, Numbers 14:1-10, men had just been sent to scout the land of Canaan, and had returned with a report that the land was flowing with milk and honey, but some said that it was inhabited by people that were too strong to be attacked. The people cried and railed against Moses and Aaron, and wanted to head back to Egypt. Only two of the scouts, Joshua and Caleb, argued that it was worth going ahead, and that they should not fear the inhabitants. When the people threatened to pelt them with stones, the Presence of God appeared to all of the Israelites in the Tent of Meeting.
How was it possible for God to appear to all of the Israelites in the Tent of Meeting? Surely the large number of people could not have fit inside all at once. In puzzling over this question, it seemed to me that perhaps everyone filed in one after another, or perhaps in small groups, so that it could have taken quite a long time for all of the Israelites to experience the Presence of God, up close and personal, in the Tent of Meeting.
This reminded me of one particularly powerful experience during basic training: grenade training. We had of course been instructed with dummy grenades before on the basics of how to hold a grenade, pull the pin and throw it, but each of us had to qualify individually, with live grenades.
In the morning, our unit joined apparently all of the PFC’s on the base, standing somewhere in the midst of a very long line, stretching as far as the eye could see in front of us and behind us. Most of that day seemed to be devoted to standing in this line, waiting our turn, as we stepped slowly toward the arena. We could hear what sounded like distant thunder, with a slow and regular rhythm, gradually growing louder as the line moved closer.
There was a “boom;” and a pause for a few speechless minutes; and the line regrouped a step closer.
Another “boom;” a pause; and another step closer.
“Boom;” pause; step.
It went on like this for a long time, until I finally saw the domed grenade arena from the outside; and the booming was very loud, up close.
Finally, it was my turn to enter, and throw a live grenade. It was very simple, really: methodically grasp it firmly, pull the pin, and hurl it into the blast area, over a short barrier that protected us – just me and the sergeant next to me, whose job it was to watch my every move and talk me through the process, and who was clearly petrified that I would drop the live grenade after having pulled the pin; in which case it was also his job to pick it up and heave it out before it blew up. The experience was clearly designed to teach us that we could do it without freezing up even if we were afraid, if we paid attention, and followed instructions.
So it seems that all of the Israelites filing into the Tent of Meeting would have had a similar experience, and that merely waiting one’s turn to go in could have been daunting, because they had just been to Mount Sinai, and knew that they were not to gaze upon the Presence of God, or they might die (Exodus, Yitro 19). As the people slowly approached to enter the Tent of Meeting, their fear would have grown; and when they finally passed through the Tent of Meeting without dying, they would have learned that it was possible for them to journey on into the land of Canaan as God instructed them, even if they were afraid.