Did you know that Facebook has this nifty feature that reminds you of your photos and posts from years ago? The feature is called Memories, and when using the in-website app, it’s always a delight to be transported back to old moments shared with family, friends, and colleagues.
Last week, one picture came up in Memories that really caught my attention. The picture was from a staff training session on communication. In the photo, a staff person was holding up a sign that ready W.A.I.T., an acronym meaning Why Am I Talking. On its surface, W.A.I.T. encourages people to be active listeners; to be aware of the space they take up in a conversation and authentically engage with what their conversation partners are saying. However, when you dig a little deeper, W.A.I.T also promotes conscientious speaking. It asks us to choose our words carefully and speak deliberately. In short, W.A.I.T. lets us know that our words matter and that we should speak our language’s impact on others in mind.
This idea is nothing new when it comes to Torah commentary. It is hard to find a commentary where one of our sages does not question the meaning or intent of a word. I feel as though this idea is especially relevant to parsha, Sh’Lach L’cha. As you may recall, Sh’lach L’cha begins with Moses sending twelve spies to the land of Canaan. Forty days later they return, carrying a huge cluster of grapes, a pomegranate, and a fig as evidence of Canaan’s beauty and bounty.
I found it interesting when researching this parsha that different words are used to describe the Israelites sent out to explore Cannan. Here, I used the word “spies,” however, the word “emissaries” is used in our Torah commentary and the word “scouts” is used in the commentary on reformjudiasm.org. These three words have different connotations. To me, a spy is a person who secretly watches and examines to actions of others, while a scout is a person sent out to gain and bring tidings, and an emissary is a person sent on a special mission, usually diplomatic in nature. The word spy for me evokes an image of James Bond (specifically the gritty Daniel Craig version). Scout, on the other hand, brings the image of a Girl Scout to my mind. Lastly, to me, the emissary is the regal representative sharing their homeland’s customs while negotiating trade. Each of these visions makes me wonder why these words were used alternatively throughout the parsha.
Interestingly, I was not able to find any commentary on why the words spies, scouts, and emissaries are used interchangeably. I discussed my question about spies, scouts, and emissaries with members of the temple’s staff who spoke Hebrew and could hopefully provide more insight. It was pointed out by the clergy that the Hebrew actually is the same throughout the parsha, and furthermore, the word used, anashim, translates to men rather than any of the words I have been wrestling with.
The translation used by Plaut and JPS both originate from the King James Bible, so the usage of specific words is tied back to some of the earliest English translations of the Bible. Rashi comments on the use of anashim and elaborates that these were not just mere men sent out to scout the land, but rather, specifically distinguished men. They were the chieftains of the tribes. I believe that these men were chosen for a purpose: these are who the people of Israel look to for guidance and leadership.
I am left now with little clarity on the meaning of the words within this parsha. I don’t plan on diving into the nearest copy of the King James Bible to determine why words were interchanged the way they were. I also believe that reading more into Rashi’s view would just make me even more confused. But this would not be a proper D’var Torah conclusion if I didn’t impart a lesson. I want to rewind back to W.A.I.T. I have done a lot of talking (or writing in the case of my readers) up until this point without much success in proving what I set out to do. I could have simply left you with the discussion I had with the clergy and been done much earlier. W.A.I.T. signifies not just speaking but listening. You have been gracious in listening and reading my views on this week’s Torah reading and for this I thank you. I implore you to actively listen to everyone no matter what you may think of their views (and politics). The only way to improve the world around us is to have a dialogue where we speak and listen.
I invite you to join us in person for Kabbalat Shabbat worship, and our Shabbat morning minyan followed by Torah Study. Remember pre-registration is required for these events and more information can be found on our calendar at www.templejeremiah.shulcloud.com/calendar.