Shelach (Numbers 13 – 15)
GOOD MORNING! This week I share with you three fascinating stories… and one question.
Several years ago I was in Prague eating at the King Solomon restaurant with a friend. The only other diners were a couple sitting near us. I kept staring at the man — he looked just like a friend from Singapore who had recently passed away. Frankly, it was spooky. Finally, I asked him, “Excuse me. Where are you from?” “Milan” the man replied. That didn’t help. “Were you born in Italy?” “No,” the man responded, “Afghanistan.” Bingo! “By chance is your last name Khafi?” “Yes! How did you know?” And I explained my relationship with his brother and expressed my condolences over his loss.
Second story: Shortly afterwards, I assisted in a wedding on Grand Cayman Island. The limousine brought me to the Marriot Hotel from the airport. While checking in, I noticed that the manager’s last name was “Schwartz” and thought to myself “Amazing! In the middle of nowhere and here is a fellow Jew!” So, I asked him, “Where are you from?” He answered, “From a little place near Los Angeles, Santa Monica.” Something started swirling in my head like a little red flag… and the next words out of my mouth were, “And how’s your older brother, Marc?” The fellow looked up. His eyes bugged out. His jaw dropped. He stared at me and asked, “How could you possibly know that?” I didn’t respond — kind of enjoying the dramatic moment. He looks down at his computer and starts repeating my name — first then last, first then last — and finally exclaims “Kalman Packouz! I haven’t seen you for over 40 years!” When I was in high school I was president of District 4 AZA; my vice president was Marc Schwartz. This was his younger brother, Steve. How did I know? Whenever someone asked Marc, “Where are you from?” Marc would invariably answer, “From a little place near Los Angeles, Santa Monica.” When Steve used the same response, somewhere deep in my brain a little voice said, “Aha!”
Third story: A few months later, I was talking with an 800 booking number to make a reservation for our winter vacation in Orlando. While the fellow looked for prices and availability I asked him, “Where are you located?” He replied, “In Bend. It’s a little town in Oregon.” I pedantically responded, “I know Bend! It was originally named ‘Farewell Bend’ by the pioneers who were able to ford there the shallow part of the Deschutes river before heading up to Portland or down to San Francisco.” “Wow! How did you know that?” he asked. I replied, “I grew up in Beaverton, Oregon.” “Funny” says he, “I grew up in Beaverton, Oregon!” “I graduated from Beaverton High School!” “Funny” he responds, “I graduated from Beaverton High School.” “I graduated in the Class of 1968!” … and lo and behold, he answers back, “I graduated in the Class of 1968!” And for the next half hour we caught up on the last 40 years and many of our classmates. What is the chance of dialing an 800 number and getting 1 out of 450 classmates you went to high school with out of 307 million people in the United States? (But neither that nor the following 2 questions are the question I want to ask!)
Are these encounters more than coincidences? Is each one a bit of a miracle? The Ramban in his commentary on Noah explains that really everything is a miracle. However, miracles fall into 3 categories: 1) “An Open Miracle” 2) “A Hidden Miracle” 3) “Nature.” From the Almighty’s “point of view,” they are all the same. The difference is our perception. When we get habituated to a miracle, we call it “Nature.” When it is a coincidence, it is a “Hidden Miracle.” And, when the sea splits … now that’s “An Open Miracle!”
If truth is stranger than fiction, it is because it has a better and more creative Author. Our Torah teaches us that the Almighty loves us and has a personal relationship with each of us. Everything that happens to us is carrying a message from the Almighty to help us fulfill our mission in life and to perfect our character and soul.
So, here’s the question: What’s the message? What am I supposed to learn from encounters of this nature? There is an old Jewish saying, “If one person calls you a donkey, ignore him; if two people call you a donkey, buy a saddle!” If the Almighty is giving me the same experience again and again — what is the message that I am not getting? It is possible that these meetings and communications are setting up events and connections for the future. It is possible that there was something I was supposed to initiate at these junctures.
Ultimately, we are finite and the Almighty is infinite. It is impossible for us to fully comprehend the depth of His messages to us, but there is always a lesson. Some say that “coincidence is God’s way of staying anonymous.” I say “Coincidence is God’s way of saying ‘I Love You and Don’t Forget That I am Here With You!’ “
Torah Portion Shelach, Numbers (13:1 – 15:41)
The Jewish people received the Torah on Mt. Sinai and were ready to enter the land of Israel. There was a consensus of opinion amongst the people that we should send spies to see if it was feasible to conquer the Land. Moshe knew that the Almighty’s promise to give the Land included a guarantee to conquer it. However, one of the principles of life which we learn from this portion is: the Almighty allows each of us the free will to go in the direction we choose. Even though one man and the Almighty is a majority, Moshe — by Divine decree — sent out the princes of the tribes (men of the highest caliber) to spy out the land.
Twelve spies were sent. Ten came back with a report of strong fortifications and giants; they rallied the people against going up to the Land. Joshua ben Nun and Calev ben Yefunah (Moshe’s brother-in-law) tried to stem the rebellion, but did not succeed. The Almighty decreed 40 years of wandering in the desert, one year for each day they spied in the land of Israel. This happened on the 9th of Av, a date noted throughout Jewish history for tragedy — the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain among them.
Dvar Torah based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah states:
“And the Almighty spoke to Moshe, saying: Send for yourself men,
that they may spy out the Land of Canaan, which I am giving to the
Children of Israel; one man, one man of every tribe of their fathers
you shall send, every one a prince among them” (Numbers 13:1,2).
The Torah is not written in chronological order. What is the meaning of the juxtaposition of this section to the previous section?
Rashi cites the Midrash Tanchuma to elucidate the juxtaposition of sending the spies to the land of Canaan to the section of Miriam’s speaking loshon hora (derogatory speech) about Moshe. Even though Miriam was publicly punished for speaking against her brother, these wicked people who witnessed her punishment did not learn a lesson.
The question arises: How could the spies be expected to learn from Miriam’s loshon hora? Miriam spoke against a person, while they spoke against a land. Rabbi Yisroel Ordman, of Telshe Yeshiva in Lithuania, comments that one must acquire the attribute of always seeing the good in everything. A person who finds fault with things (meals, accommodations. etc.) will also find fault with people. Conversely, a person who always seeks to find the good in all phenomena will also see the good in his fellow man. That is the lesson the spies should have learned: to notice virtues rather than seek out faults.
As a pious man once noted, “We were given two eyes — one very powerful for introspection, so we should find our smallest faults; the other very weak, for viewing others. Only too often we switch their functions.”
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“When alone — guard your thoughts.
When at home — guard your temper.
When with friends — guard your tongue!”
JOKE OF THE WEEK Look who’s not talking!
Moishe Rubenstein had begun to worry about almost everything in his old age, especially his health. One day, Moishe bumped into his doctor at the supermarket.
“Doctor!” Moishe exclaimed, “I’ve been meaning to tell you, remember those voices I kept on hearing in my head? I haven’t heard them in over a week!”
“Wow! What wonderful news Moishe! I’m so happy for you!” his doctor exclaimed.
“Wonderful?” asked a dismal looking Moishe. “There’s nothing wonderful about it. I’m afraid my hearing is starting to go now!”
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