Adrian A. Durlester

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Random Musings Before Shabbat-Shelakh-Lekha 5760



Seeing through the eyes of another. No, that's not what anamnesis means, but we'll get to that later. No, seeing through the eyes of another is what the Torah does to it's readers - putting them in the same position as Moshe and the Israelites. In our parasha, Shelakh-Lekha, we read of Gd's command to Moshe that he should send scouts (as the JPS translates it) into Canaan, which Moshe promptly does (Bemidbar 13:1-15.) We then read what it is these scouts are to ascertain: the strengths of their enemies and the agricultural condition of the land. (13:16-20)

Next, we get an all too brief geographical summary description of the journey of the scouts. However, that's all we get.

A journey of 40 days (13:25) and all we read are some place names? Hardly a narrative description of what the scouts actually encountered.

But it is through this very omission that Torah works the magic of anamnesis. The term comes from the Greek roughly meaning "to remember again." In broader terms, it is used to define the idea of "making the past present."

No first person or even outside party narrative describes the actual sojourn of those 12 scouts. Like Moshe and all the Israelites, we, as readers of Torah, have only the reports of the scouts, given upon their return home, both negative and positive. Twelve good men and true they surely were. Yet, how could two of them see such a different situation than the other ten?

This story is a lesson of faith, of trust in Gd. Theoretically, that lack of faith might be enhanced for the reader of Torah if they could read of the actual, real-time events and descriptions of the 40-day reconnaissance mission. For surely, as faithful Jews, we, too, would see what Joshua and Caleb saw.

Of course, there is also the risk that we too, as readers, might come to the same conclusion as the other 10 scouts of the hopelessness of the Israelite cause in the face of such overwhelming odds. So, perhaps Torah wishes to avoid this risk and not allow the readers to even consider the possibility of defeat?

Well, I doubt that. As readers, if we saw the hopelessness of the Israelite's situation, how much more might we appreciate the miracle of the conquest when it comes later (albeit 40 years later) in the story.

No, we are presented only with the representations of the scouts upon their return home. Thus we don't really know which account is accurate. Like Moshe and the Israelites, we too must guess.

I surmise that any actual description of the scouts' 40-day sojourn is omitted so that we might learn the same important lesson that Moshe, Joshua and Caleb already knew, but that none of the rest of the Israelites seemed to grasp. This Gd, who had led us out of Egypt can surely bring us into the land promised to us. (Notice the magic of anamnesis at play here - for the pronoun is timeless - for "us" is as much "we today" as it is "them then.")

It is our lack of faith, our doubt and disbelief that is our flaw, a doubt so strong it had to be purged from the us through a change and delay in Gd's timetable (perhaps as much now as then?)

With miracles so fresh in the memory, one might expect great faith from the Israelites then. Well, the same logic we use to support that argument also supports our own often dangerous modern idea. Some believe or say that, Here and now, in a time and place seemingly devoid of miracles, sometimes even apparently devoid of Gd's presence, and so distant from the miracles of old that we're more likely to see them as inspired fiction rather than fact, it's easy to justify a certain lack of faith. (Reread that last sentence as often as you need to get it all.)

However, our tradition is a wise one, that knows the key to continuity, to finding faith in a time distant from miracles. That is the magic of anamnesis.

We find it in the observance of chagim like Pesach or Sukkot, in objects like tzittzit (which also happens to be from the parasha) and, more often than we realize, in our holy Torah itself.

Acting as if we ourselves had been brought out of Egypt, or that we ourselves had been standing at Sinai is a good start. But there are so many more places where, through anamnesis, that we can connect - through ritual observance and practice, in how we live our lives. When we light Shabbat candles. Wave the lulav. When we read and speak Hebrew and Aramaic. Most important of all: Each word we read in Torah, each and every moment can be one of anamnesis.

Gd has given us this wonderful tool, to "remember again," to "make the past present," to live our lives as if we ourselves..." Let us use this gift wisely, and often.

Shabbat Shalom,


©2000 by Adrian A. Durlester

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