Adrian A. Durlester

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Random Musing Before Shabbat-Sh'lakh-L'kha 5767

Cover Up II - G"d's Scarlet Letter?

In 2001, I wrote this musing on this parasha entitled "Cover Up?" I present it below, in its entirety, followed by some additional reflections and commentary based on my encounter with this parasha, and it's accompanying haftarah from Joshua.

Cover Up?
(Random Musing Before Shabbat 5761, with additional comment sprinkled in)

OK, time to write another musing. What's the parasha this week? Oh, yes-Sh'lakh-L'kha. Spies. What new insight can I find this year? I started to read, but it was late, and my eyelids grew heavy, my mind cloud... The thought came, unbidden, into my mind, and I was taken aback by it. I couldn't believe I was actually thinking what I was thinking. Could the Torah be involved in a cover-up? Does Sh'lakh-L'kha contain the Watergate of ancient Jewish history?

G"d instructs Moshe to send out the twelve men to "check out" the territory they were about to occupy as part of G"d's promise. The Torah goes to great length to praise the two "spies" who saw the glass as half-full, Joshua and Caleb. And it depicts with scorn the ten who saw the glass half-empty, and the rabble (which was pretty much everybody else, I think) who accepted their negative reports and complained to Moshe.

So then what happens? G"d says, "OK, I will give you the land as promised...BUT...ain't none of you adults gonna see it except Joshua and Caleb here, because y'all doubted me and whined and complained. So go head the other way and wander around this here desert fer 40 years! That'll teach you varmints!" [5767 - I don;t rightly know that G"d speaks in a caricature-ish western accent, but why not? And yes, G"d can get away with using "ain't" !]

Now isn't that convenient? G"d doesn't have to take on the Jebusites, Canaanites, Amalekites (chronology-what chronology-since when is Torah in chronological order?), whatever-other funky-name-ites, etc. and clear the way for the Israelites to go take over the land promised to them. Nope. G"d gets an extra 40 years before that miracle has to be accomplished. You don't suspect G"d was a little pooped out from the effort over the last few months, do you? All those plagues, splitting the reed sea, manna, quail and other desert miracles, and carving out those tablets and giving the Torah to Moshe and the Israelites, all accompanied by the biggest sound and light show ever. Why, I'll bet G"d hadn't been so worn out since creation! So maybe, just maybe, helping out with getting the Israelites into the land past all those fierce tribes was a bit too much at the time. And on a G"d scale of time, 40 years seems about right for getting a little refreshed before tackling more miracles. Right? [5767-Does G"d catnap?]

Which means [perhaps] it was all a setup, and maybe even a cover-up. Could G"d possibly reveal to the Israelites that even G"d needs a little time to rest between miracles? Would that portray G"d as limited, weak, vulnerable? Is that a G"d that the Israelites could accept?

(As it happens, I think the answer should be yes-after all, what did G"d do on the 7th day? So we know from the very beginning that "even G"d had to take a nap, and called that nap Shabbat." With thanks to Karen Daniel for that wonderful image from her lullaby "Shabbat Shalom.")

However, as I've said before, G"d often recognizes that humans, and particularly the Israelites, aren't always the sharpest knives in the drawer. Perhaps G"d (or Moshe rabbeinu?) figured that it was too risky to try and help the Israelites fight their way into possession of Canaan while so worn out-for there was a chance many Israelites would be lost in the struggle, and they would begin to doubt G"d even more than they were already inclined to doubt G"d. In fact, the unthinkable might happen, and a pooped-out G"d might be unable to insure victory for the Israelites and they would be driven out-leaving G"d with an unkept promise.

Lucky for G"d, the Israelites have always been eager to provide a handy excuse for being the cause of their own problems. Sometimes, the Israelites seem like a machine whose only purpose is to provide rationalizations for unkept promises. As I said before, how "convenient."

"You people been bad! I'm gonna punish y'all. No milk and honey for you!" "Why?" the people respond. "Are you not G"d, slow to anger, abundant in mercy and loving kindness, to the thousandth generation and all that stuff?" "Yep. That's me! [5761 - "Perhaps y'all didn't hear the part about visiting them iniquities upon future generations on up to the third or fourth?"] "Y'all lost faith in Me-only Joshua and Caleb here knew I would protect you and insure victory. I can't bring faithless people into the land I promised your ancestors. Nope. Go wander for forty years" (And, under G"d's breath..."yeah, and give me a little break, you ferkakhte Jews!")

But now we can tell it all. Maybe I can sell the story to The Star, Globe and National Enquirer! Maybe I can even get the Washington Post or NY Times to investigate and expose this cover-up. Joshuagate, we can call it. Ah, I can see the headlines now. "SMOKING GUN DISCOVERED! G"D REALLY ISN'T OMNIPOTENT!" "DECEPTION IN THE DESERT!" "EXTRA! JOSHUA AND CALEB BOUGHT OFF BY G"D WITH TICKET TO PROMISED LAND!" "JEWS WANDER FOR FORTY YEARS WHILE G"D TAKES FORTY WINKS!" "DNA TESTS ON SHROUD OF TURIN PROVE MARY WAS NO VIRGIN!" (Whoops, how'd that get in there. Well, you know those crazy tabloids.)

Oh, no. A limited G"d. A deceptive G"d. Oh wait, that's nothing knew. But my faith! I need G"d to be my rock, my redeemer. Help! Help!

.... and then I woke up. Cold sweat drenched my body. Oh horror! What a dream. G"d involved in a cover-up! And me responsible for exposing it. Oy! Well, better get back to reading the parasha so I can write that musing. Where was I? Let's see. Spies. Ten bad reports. Two good reports. The Israelites lose faith, whine and complain. G"d says "ok, no soup for you" - oops, I mean "no promised land for you. Go wonder for 40 years in the wilderness." But wait a minute. Isn't this G"d, slow to anger, merciful, abundant in loving kindness? Isn't anything possible for G"d?

A thought came, unbidden, into my mind, and I was taken aback by it. I couldn't believe I was actually thinking what I was thinking. Could the Torah be involved in a cover-up? Does Sh'lakh-L'kha- contain the Watergate of ancient Jewish history?...

Part II - 5767 - G"ds Scarlet Letter?

In the haftarah assigned to parashat Sh'lakh L'kha, which is from Joshua 2:1-24, we again have spies. This time, it is Joshua who has sent two spies to check out Jericho, and see what they will have to face there. Naturally, these two spies decide to spend the night at the house of a local prostitute named Rakhav. The Torah doesn't go into any further detail, so it's left to our imagination how these two Israelites spies managed to find themselves lodged with a harlot. Also without further explanation, we learn that the King of Jericho has somehow been told that Rakhav is housing two Israelite spies and orders her to give them up. Rakhav it seems, had determined that the Israelites were going to be victorious because of the fear and dread she was sensing among the people of Jericho who knew of the mighty miracles that had benefited the Israelites. So she hid the spies, sent the King of Jericho's soldiers on a wild goose chase, lying to them that the spies had left, and then snuck the spies out afterwards. Rakhav extracted a promise from them that she and her family would be spared in return for her assistance and silence. The spies insist that Rakhav attach a scarlet (JPS reads crimson, but others translate "Shani" as scarlet) cord to her window and insure that all her family are in that house, and thus they will be spared.

Whoa! Wait just a durn minute here! Could not G"d see to it that Rakhav and her family were spared? Apparently not. By this time in the narrative, perhaps the favor of miracles is diminishing, perhaps G"d is taking less of an active role, leaving the work to the Israelites? It's sort of the same question about the Israelites marking their doorposts with the blood of the paschal lamb so that the angel of death might pass by their houses - why did G"d need marking to distinguish between Israelite and Egyptian households? Is the angel of death, being a somewhat lesser figure than G"d, less capable of making the distinction. If so, is the angel of death a demigod? What does that do to our whole "one G"d" thing? (I've always had trouble fitting the whole angelology thing into Judaism - why does G"d need minions, when G"d has us?)

Or is this another cover-up? Could it be that G"d was no longer protecting and favoring the Israelites, or it could be, as I dared suggest for our parasha, that G"d was a little bit worn out and needed a rest, and so left the work entirely up to humans?

Yet our two spies relate to Joshua that based on what Rakhav told them, it appears G"d would be delivering the land of Canaan to the Israelites with a minimum of fuss, causing the inhabitants to be "quaking before us." (Before I caught my typo, it read "quacking before us." Now there's a funny mental picture. Thousands of Canaanites "quacking" before the Israelites. Better duck and get down, the puns are getting deep.)

In Sh'lakh L'kha, only Joshua and Caleb have kept the faith, so to speak. The others, frightened by seeing giants (or whatever the nefillim were), though they had also seen the bounty of the land, lose their faith In the haftarah, it took a non-Israelite prostitute for the two spies to have faith and report back that G"d was going to insure their victory.

From a scarlet mistress, the Israelites renew their faith. Yet Israel does not learn. Time and again Israel strays and gives themselves cause to be adorned with a scarlet letter A. How wonderfully ironic.

Shabbat Shalom


©2007, 2001 by Adrian A. Durlester

Some other musings on this parasha:

Sh'lakh L'kha 5766 - Another Missed Opportunity?
Shelakh Lekha 5764-They Might Really Be Giants
Shelakh-Lekha 5762-Minority Report
Shelakh-Lekha 5761-Cover Up?
Shelakh Lekha 5760 and 5765-Anamnesis
Shelakh-Lekha 5759-Do You Spy What I Spy?

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