In this week’s Torah Portion, Sh’lach L’cha, we witness firsthand how God feels about rumor, racial profiling, racial and physical discrimination, and gossip, which we refer to as “La’shon ha’rah” in Hebrew. We also see the importance of showing gratitude, which is an important theme for many of us as of late. God asked Moses to send one representative from each of the 12 tribes of Israel to scout out the Land of Canaan, which God had promised to them. This was a tremendous gift that God was giving the Israelites. It seems likely that even when God requested this of Moses, God knew of its abundance in agriculture, beauty, and food. Almost like a spouse who has purchased a gorgeous dream home for their partner, hoping that the partner will go and check it out and show gratitude.
Instead, the opposite occurs. The scouts cannot see the “forest from the trees,” if you will. Moses gives them specific instructions of what to look for: Is the soil rich and fertile? Are the inhabitants strong or weak? Are there many inhabitants or very few? The scouts bring back some fruit of the land, grapes and pomegranates, finding that it is fortified, healthy, and delicious. They also report that it is indeed flowing with milk and honey, and that there is a community there, and while they may act and look a bit different from them, they are strong, prosperous, and fortified.
When the emissaries, namely Caleb and Joshua, report back to the Israelites, instead of being excited about all the goodness of this community, they become fearful, ungrateful, and insist on going immediately to Canaan to overthrow its inhabitants and take possession of the land, before God instructs them to do so. The emissaries are also not great at managing the fear of the Israelites. Instead of calming them and refocusing them on the good things, they simply discourage them from attacking, saying that the people inhabiting the land are stronger than the Israelites. Soon, the rumors are spreading full force, the anxiety of the Israelites is through the roof, and they completely lose trust in God. This hurts God a great deal, and God threatens to wipe them out entirely. However, Moses intercedes on their behalf, yet again, and God has mercy on them, but not without setting some pretty strict rules and reminders about how they are to treat strangers and those who are different from them.
Sadly, it seems as though many in this country have not learned anything from this parasha or are deciding to cherry pick things they like and don’t like from our Torah (or in some cases, the Bible) in order to keep people down in today’s society. The month of June is LGBTQ Awareness Month, and this Friday, we will observe this with a special Shabbat service honoring Gay Pride and LGBTQ Individuals. We will hear from Essie Shachar-Hill of Keshet, who had come to teach our Temple Jeremiah staff about LGBTQ awareness. Like the inhabitants of Canaan, many individuals in our society do not fit into the same molds as the Israelites did. Many individuals today find that they do not fit into a strict male or female gender category. We will learn about about how we can welcome people of all gender identities, we will share their story, and will inspire us to be thankful for the many gifts that all individuals bring to our society.
It is my prayer that instead of making judgments based on appearances, rumor, or differences, that we at Temple Jeremiah will be models for celebrating the bounty and beauty that individuals of all genders, identities, sexual orientations, abilities, and races bring to our world. I hope you will join me on Friday, June 21st, for this very special Shabbat.