Shabbat Table Talk
Parashat Sh’lah L’kha – Erev Shabbat – 9 June  2023 (5783)
Week of 4-10  June 2023
Torah portion: Numbers 13 :1-15:41 Haftarah: Joshua 2 :1-24 
Theme: “Either you will go through this door or you will not go through”

In this portion we find the explanation of why it took the Israelites forty years to make their way from Egypt to the Promised Land.  It is because of their doubts and fears once they had reached it.  They became so fearful that they wished to return to Egypt and their lives of servitude.  The lord tells them that they cannot enter the Land until forty years have passed and the generation who doubted the goodness of the Land has died off.  True, it is at the lord’s command that Moses sends scouts to reconnoiter the Land.  This seems like a sensible precaution; the trouble was the way they reported on their mission (Num 13:27-29). What a difference these three verses made! What a difference one word in particular made!  The scouts show off the fruits of the land – an enormous bunch of grapes and some pomegranates and figs – what a treat they must have seemed after all those years in the wilderness.  They also say that the land really does flow with milk and honey and then comes that fateful word “Efes , which means  “however” .  The land, however, is not as good as it seems, for “the people who inhabit the country are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.”  Caleb is not deterred by this, saying: “Let us by all means go up, and we shall gain possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it.” The scouts respond: “We cannot attack that people, for it is stronger than we….All the people that we saw are men of great size…..We saw the Nephilim there—and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.” (Num 13:30-33) In other words, they are claiming that the typical inhabitant of the land is so large that he could step on an Israelite man and squash him underfoot.  The Israelites have endured living in Egypt as enslaved people, they have made the long trek through the wilderness to reach the Promised Land, and now that they are there, they seem to have lost their nerve.  The reason for this could be that as enslaved people they did as their masters told them, and that on their journey to the Land they followed their charismatic leader, Moses.  Now they are responsible for their own lives and the lives of their families.  They are in a new world and not only in a geographical sense.  Their situation brings to mind a poem by the American writer, Adrienne Rich (1929-2012) which uses immigration as a metaphor for the choices we make in life. 

“Prospective Immigrants Please Note
Either you will go through this door
or you will not go through.                                                                                                                                              If you do not go through
it is possible to live worthily                                                                                                                                       but much will blind you, much will evade you,
at what cost who knows?                                                                                                                                       The door itself makes no promises. It is only a door.”

For Reflection and Discussion: To read Rich’s poem in full , and hear her read it, visit  Adrienne Rich: “Prospective Immigrants  Please Note” –  Think of the doors you have gone through – and the doors you have not.   

This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Anne Morton
Canada, Bat Kol Alumna: 2010


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