Shabbat Evening Service
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
At one time or another, all of us have said, “Don’t shoot the messenger.” It’s an adage that could have been inspired by Torah, in the Book of Numbers. In this week’s portion, messengers were challenged to scout out the Promised Land and report back to the Israelites what they found there. All but two of the scouts came back and said, “The country that we traversed and scouted is one that devours its settlers. All the people that we saw in it are men of great size – and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them” (Numbers 13:32ff).
These messengers brought back a report that condemned the whole search process and doomed the people’s faith that God would deliver them to the Promised Land. In case you didn’t know, the ten men who failed in their duty to convey their faith in God were killed by plague. However, Joshua and Caleb stood out among the men who returned. They reported an encouraging outlook that upheld God’s sanctity and the people’s ambition to enter the Promised Land. Caleb said, “Let us by all means go up, and we shall gain possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it” (Numbers 13:30). Furthermore, Joshua and Caleb said to the people, “The land is exceedingly good; [it is] a land that flows with milk and honey.” (Numbers 14:7-8).
Many subsequent commentaries explored whether the messengers were accurate but irresponsible, or if Joshua and Caleb committed an early version of “bait and switch.” Do you think the other messengers were condemned too quickly for their accurate report? Do you think Joshua and Caleb overstated their observations only to encourage the people forward? Truth in advertising is a moral issue even if “caveat emptor” (buyer beware) makes us all responsible for the purchases we choose to make. Joshua and Caleb weren’t selling something they couldn’t produce. Instead, they represented their claims truthfully. They were men of faith. They believed that God would help them prevail. Human fear and anxiety were as real to the people as God’s presence was to Joshua and Caleb. The difference was that they believed that God’s presence could turn the people’s fear and anxiety into faith and confidence. There was no stopping the people from entering and possessing the Land as long as God went with them; and, God did.
Such faith can still inspire us. How many “Promised Lands” have you thought about entering in your lifetime? How many forks in the road have you encountered? You didn’t move forward because you thought you were doomed. You moved forward because you believed that the next step was going to be better than the last or better than other alternatives. Perhaps you found your way because you believed that God would be with you there. Perhaps you found your way because you simply believed that you made a tough but good decision. I would suggest that somewhere down deep inside you, you hoped. You hoped and even prayed a little that you would make the right choice. After shutting out all the noise and clutter, it was in that silent place you went within yourself where you listened to a “still small voice” and found the answer to the question, “Do I stay, or do I go?”
That “still small voice” has a source. It’s called “Kol d’mama dakah”, literally, the voice of a thin silence, or informally, utter silence. We first learn about it in the place where the Prophet Elijah found God. When Elijah fled King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, he hid in the desert and “there was a great and mighty wind that split mountains and shattered rocks” but “God was not in the wind” that passed; “God was not in the earthquake” that shook the ground; “God was not in the fire” that burned and consumed everything. God was in the “kol d’mama daka” the utter silence that followed all the noise. That’s where Elijah found God.
Joshua and Caleb weren’t petty salesmen. They led the people forward with faith that was beyond the mountains and the rivers; it was beyond demonstrations of wind and fire. Faith was where it always has been though it’s rarely seen or felt or heard. It lies deep within. In the “Kol d’mama dakah” the utter silence, we discover the Source of faith that can bring us forward and lift us up.
Yogi Berra said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” More wisely, Torah and the Prophets teach us that we don’t have to succumb to circumstances. We have to listen to the “still small voice” which is the hope that resides within all of us. Then as Joshua and Caleb did, we can choose wisely and say, “Let us by all means go up!”