Shabbat Evening Service
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
Let’s Do This
At one time or another, all of us have said, “Don’t shoot the messenger.” Did you know that it comes from as least 442 BCE, when it was first expressed by Sophocles? It was also part of Shakespeare’s “Henry IV” (1598). It could have also come from 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 commentaries have been written to explore whether the messengers were accurate but irresponsible, or if Joshua and Caleb were committing an early version of “bait and switch.” Do you think Joshua and Caleb were overstating their observations only to encourage the people forward? Do you think the other messengers were condemned too quickly for their accurate report? The fairest and most appropriate answer is often found somewhere in the middle. In this case, we also have to consider one more possibility: God’s presence was at work in the Biblical account. Human fear and anxiety were real, but so was God’s promise to the people. With their faith in God, Joshua and Caleb represented their claims truthfully. There was no stopping the people from entering and possessing the Land as long as God went with them, and God did.
Such faith still inspires people. 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 your 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. Either way, somewhere down deep you hoped. You hoped and even prayed a little that you made the right choice. Both are connected to the faith you place in the “still small voice” within you.
Yogi Berra would say, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” And Torah teaches us that when you and I come to a fork in the road, we don’t have to succumb to the circumstances. Instead, listen closely to the “still small voice,” which is the hope that resides within all of us. Then with faith choose wisely and say, as did Joshua and Caleb, “Let us by all means go up!”
(Reprinted by request.)
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 is the author of God of Me: Imagining God Throughout Your Lifetime (Jewish Lights, 2011) available on Amazon.com. He can be heard on “iHeart-Radio” KODA 99.1 FM every Sunday at 6:45am CST. Listeners around the greater Houston area, and now the internet, tune in to hear his words about life and its meaning from a Jewish point-of-view. Each radio program is available as a Podcast, called “Heart to Heart with Rabbi David Lyon”. Click here to listen online, or download the iHeartRadio app.