Shabbat Evening Service
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
I’m in Israel. More than that, I’m breathing the air, eating the food, speaking the language, and watching our group experience the land and people for the first time or the first time in a long time.
The Torah portion that accompanies us this week comes from the book of Numbers. In Sh’lach Lecha, twelve spies scout out the land that God brought the Israelites to enter. The spies saw the people of the land, and they were strong and mighty. They saw the fruits of the land, and they were abundant and large. They saw themselves and said, “We looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.” Ten spies shared this ominous report when they returned to their fellow Israelites. Only Joshua and Caleb saw what was possible.
Joshua and Caleb reported that everything was possible if they brought God with them into the land God promised their forefathers and foremothers as an inheritance. They said, “Let us surely go up!” God blessed Joshua and Caleb. They’re remembered for their optimism and faith.
In Israel, today, there is also remarkable optimism and faith. Lyana Rotstein, our amazing guide, reminded us that Israelis have no time to ask “What if?” In the face of constant complexities and challenges, they persist and overcome. Some do it with Israeli-brand chutzpah, others do it with faith, and still others do it with both.
For sure, the media get only a fraction of the story. The larger truth is found on the ground and in the streets of every city in Israel. The larger truth is also found on nearly every border or cease-fire line that Israel defends. There is no other nation that would be held up to the scrutiny that Israel is every time it pushes back its foes and defends its people. Who could ask Israel to do anything less than any other country whose borders are invaded by terrorists and enemies?
We’ve seen and learned about history, innovation, security, defense, and politics. We’ve met with an expert in military strategy and preparation, visited an army base to see the Merkavah tank, walked the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem, learned with the CEO of the Israeli Reform Jewish movement, and still left time for eating delicious food, Israeli dancing, and swimming. There’s nothing we can’t do in Israel. In a land of complexities, Israel, second only to Silicon Valley in technology, makes it look so easy. Though we know it isn’t easy, we’re grateful and dedicated.
Shabbat is coming. Like you, we’ll pause from our schedule to welcome Shabbat in Jerusalem. It will be a refreshing and moving moment for all of us. It will be a time to give personal thanks for the blessings we’ve come to know and to prepare for the rest of our journey into the heart and soul of Israel.
This report is filled with optimism and faith. I have no doubt that Israel will thrive and every confidence that Congregation Beth Israel will be part of Israel’s and the Jewish people’s future. From Rabbi Scott and all who are here with us, Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem.
Rabbi David A. Lyon is Senior Rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in Houston, TX. Rabbi Lyon serves on the Board of Trustees of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and chairs its professional development committee. He can be heard on “iHeart-Radio” KODA 99.1 FM, every Sunday at 6:45 a.m. CT, and is the author of God of Me: Imagining God Throughout Your Lifetime (Jewish Lights 2011) available on Amazon.com.