Weekly Davar: Shlach 2024

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Davar Thought

I was once asked what I would do if someone put a gun to my head and told me to bow down to an idol. There was only one honest answer, ‘I don’t know.’ What would I like to think I would do? Of course – be willing to give my life for my values and do so willingly and gladly. But what would I do if put to the test? Quite simply, I have no idea. As the rabbis say, ‘don’t trust yourself until the day you die’.

The commentaries tell us that the spies, who were sent to report on the land of Israel (see Torah Portion), were all great and holy men – spiritual leaders and role models in their communities. But a lifetime of righteousness did not help them when put to a new test. Ten out of twelve failed when they returned with slander about Israel and God. They failed so badly that the Rabbis tell us they have ‘no portion in the world to come’. Whatever that might mean, it doesn’t sound like anything positive.

But this is the beauty of freewill. Every new moment, every new experience brings with it new choices. Past choices have no bearing on present ones. Years and decades of good choices do not guarantee that the next choice will be a good one. And vice versa. Not every choice that a serial killer makes is evil. When faced with new choices, he has the same options as any of us. His past does not, of necessity, inform his present, or his future. Each choice that we face is discrete and unique. A moment in time standing at a new crossroads with nothing behind us that compels us to turn either way.

And so, a life of wrong choices does not mean that our next choice must be a wrong one also. The past is always irrelevant – if we want it to be. It doesn’t matter how we have chosen in the past, what matters is how we are going to choose right here and right now. Moment by blessed moment until our very last breath.

That the spies could go from holy and righteous leaders to evil men in forty days, speaks volumes about the range of freewill available to us. It’s no greater leap to go from being a regular guy on the street, to being a human being making choices of greatness. Choice happens right now and right now the possibilities of my choices – for good or for bad – are almost limitless. The power that we wield can be frightening, sometimes even debilitating. But it also makes our lives so meaningful and, ultimately, so potentially exhilarating. The door to greatness is always open – all we need to do is choose to walk through it.

Good Shabbos,


Parsha in a Nutshell

This week’s portion focuses on the story of the spies who are sent by Moses to check out the land of Israel. They return with a negative report – it is a land that eats its inhabitants. It cannot be conquered. A land of giants…. While the women, as usual, stand strong and insist on entering Israel nevertheless, then men are terrified. In spite of the miracles they have witnessed, they are unwilling to put their trust in God and refuse to enter. God responds that they are most welcome to spend another 40 years in the desert instead. Only their children will inherit the land. This is not a punishment, merely a granting of that which they requested – that they should not have to enter the land of Israel. Very rarely does God punish. He just leads us in a way that we have chosen.

The portion talks of other bits and bobs, but the spies’ story is the main event.

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