Parashah Ponderings

Dear Scouts: When you must cross a very, very narrow bridge, do not fear.

Parashat Sh’lach 5782 / פָּרָשַׁת שְׁלַח־לְךָ
Torah Portion: Numbers 13:1-15:41

Dear Scouts,

I was sad to read in this week’s Torah portion that your journey toward the land of Canaan has gotten off on the wrong foot. 

On order from Yud-Hey-Vav-Hei, the Big G-dash-D, Moses sent you on a reconnaissance mission to scout out the land that God promised the People of Israel. Moses instructed you to bring back vital information that he and you could use to plan your attack. Forty days later, you came back with answers. You accomplished your mission and could have gone home then and there to reunite with your wives and kids. Why, then, did you go on and on about how impossible it would be to overcome the so-called “giants” in the land, people so gigantic that you felt as small as grasshoppers in comparison? To make matters worse, when you returned to the camp at Kadesh, instead of debriefing privately with Moses and Aaron, you immediately delivered your report to them in front of the entire community of Israel! Now, the people’s trek – which you, yourselves, proved could be accomplished in only a few weeks – will take 40 years! Worse yet, none of you, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, will be able to step foot into that land and watch it blossom into the future homeland for the Jewish people. What were you thinking?

Actually, I know what you were thinking. You had already drawn the conclusion that you were incapable of meeting the challenge that God had set before you. Rather than taking the data you gathered and putting together a workable plan, you had given up before giving yourselves every opportunity to succeed. Rather than having faith in God and in yourselves, you threw in the towel. At least, Joshua and Caleb maintained their faith, and Moses was able to convince God to control God’s anger and not do you all in then and there! So, good luck on that 40-year journey!

Let me share with you some wisdom from Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, the great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov himself, the founder of hasidic Judaism. Reb Nachman lived from 1772 to 1810 and died at the age of 38. Throughout his life he confronted huge obstacles but he never gave in, he never saw himself as unworthy, and he never lost faith. He had six daughters and two sons, but two of the daughters died in infancy and two of the sons died at about a year and a half. His wife died of tuberculosis and then, right after becoming engaged to another woman, he contracted tuberculosis and survived for three more years before dying from it. Just five months before his death, though, his house burned down, and he was housed and cared for by a group of compassionate secularists in another town. All the while, scholars estimate, he suffered from severe and manic depression. This was not the life that any of us would choose, but he got through it all with his faith.

This was the same man whose words inspired the popular song: “Kol ha’olam kulo gesher tzar maod v’haikar lo l’fached klal. All the world is a very narrow bridge, but the important thing is to not fear at all.” But that song is a misquote of Reb Nachman’s actual words, which were: “Unde​rstand: that when a person must cross a very, very narrow bridge, the most important​​ and essential​ thing is that he not have any fear at all” (See https://www.zemirotdatabase.org/view_song.php?id=220, accessed 6/24/2022). Despite all the hardship that befell him, Reb Nahman didn’t see all of life as threatening. He understood, however, that there are times when obstacles present themselves and sometimes we are tempted to succumb to our fear and just give in and give up. It’s at those moments, he taught, when we must lean into what intimidates us and just do what it takes to cross those very, very narrow bridges.

Scouts, you’ve got a long 40 years ahead of you. I guarantee there are going to be unpleasant surprises along the way. Some of them may seem even more frightening than the “giants” you thought you saw in the land of Canaan. Rather than panic and cause the rest of the people to give up hope, be like Reb Nachman, or, for that matter, like Joshua and Caleb. See the possibilities that lie ahead of you. Don’t fool yourself into thinking it’ll be easy to cross those very, very narrow bridges. It won’t be easy. But don’t let your fear overcome your faith in yourself and your faith in G-dash-D. When you tackle obstacles with preparation, planning, and confidence, you will overcome them.

Now, with your permission, Scouts, I’d like to share this message with my friends in America on June 24, 2022. I’ll spare you the details, but a lot has changed this week and people are afraid. They are already predicting doom and gloom. But with faith that reason and good will will prevail and leaders from all over the political spectrum will rise to the occasion, I am confident that our country will not fall apart, that we will overcome the challenges that await us, and that we will avert the disasters we are so sure will overtake us. We are not grasshoppers, nor should we see ourselves like grasshoppers. We, too, will cross that very, very narrow bridge.

Hazak v’amatz – be strong and courageous,
Rabbi Dan

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