Rabbi Lisa Edwards’ Weekly 10 Minutes of Torah (Week 4)
The latest commentary by Rabbi Lisa about Book of Numbers (B’midbar) is a tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and titled “Because Freedom Can’t Protect Itself”. It refers to SH’LACH L’CHA, NUMBERS 13:1−15:41. Click here to listen.
Our own Rabbi Lisa Edwards was chosen to give “10 Minutes of Torah” for nine weeks at the Reform Judaism’s website. Subscribe to “10 Minutes of Torah”
This year marks Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s twentieth anniversary on the United States Supreme Court. Justice Ginsburg likes to tell her version of a story that has many versions: 1
“What is the difference,” she asks, “between a bookkeeper in New York’s garment district and a U.S. Supreme Court Justice?” The answer: “One generation.”
So much can change in a generation as we learn from this week’s Torah portion, Sh’lach L’cha, in which God, fed up with the lack of faith shown by the Israelites, condemns a whole generation to die in the wilderness.
What was their crime? Moses, at God’s behest, had sent twelve scouts into the Promised Land to see “what kind of country it is” (Numbers 13:18). Forty days later, ten of the twelve scouts came back with reports not only of the Land’s plentiful milk, honey, and fruit, but also of fortified cities and powerful inhabitants so big that “we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them” (13:27-28, 33).
Their report brings the whole community to tears. And by the next day their fear elicits an odd request, as they shout at Moses and Aaron: “If only we might die in this wilderness! Why is the Eternal taking us to that land to fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be carried off” (14:2-3).
God is incensed. After all God has done for them, have they so little faith? Perhaps their own low self-esteem (“we looked like grasshoppers”), carried over to their trust in God as well. The midrash wonders if they were losing faith in themselves or in God. When the faint-hearted spies say, “We cannot attack that people, for it is stronger than we” (13:31), the Babylonian Talmud (Sotah 35a) and, later, Rashi, note a grammatical ambiguity-the last word of that verse, mimenu, can be read either as “than we” or as “than He.” Are the ten scouts suggesting that the people in that country are stronger than He-than God? No wonder then that God devises a punishment to fit the crime: “I will do to you just as you have urged Me. In this very wilderness shall your carcasses drop. . . . [But] Your children . . . shall know the land that you have rejected. . . . You shall bear your punishment for forty years, corresponding to the number of days-forty days-that you scouted the land: a year for each day” (14:28-34). God holds the adults accountable, but the children, too young to have known slavery, will live to enter the Land.