The summer Torah readings chronicle the journey of the Jewish people for 40 years in the desert on our way to the promised land. This long slow trudge, while groups of escaped slaves die off, is the result of some lack of trust expressed by the people at a moment when redemption was in reach. The fears and low self-esteem of the escaped slaves (They're giants! We look like grasshoppers to them!) prevents them from remembering the grace and power they witnessed with their own eyes when they left Egypt. Apparently it is hard to come to The Promised Land if we are deeply involved in the Slavery Experience.
The space between Slavery and The Promised Land was not clear to the wandering Jews. Until they died or entered the land, it was not completely clear who would die in the desert and who would march in. Something of the slavery mentality had lost its power over the Israelites who made it through the whole journey and into the new land.
As you might remember or expect, the journey was beset with conflict and grief. Like kids on a road trip, the back seat (i.e., the Book of Numbers) was filled with strife and jockeying for position. This is all so human and so relevant to us today. We as Jews and We as Americans. What is the Promised Land we seek, anyways? The biblical vision is a simple situation of safety and "enough". Each one with their fig tree, each one with their patrominy and "none shall make him afraid." Maybe in the US as well and maybe in the world, safety and enough would be a good goal.
The causes and consequences of historical injustice are present today. The Civil War is not in the past. The Shoah (Holocaust) is not in the past. The legacy of slavery is not in the past. These grievences and wounds motivate our actions and responses today. And the real, current suffering of peoples and groups - active genocide and murderous hatred - are the fare of daily news.
What can we do? I hear this question daily, from my conscience, congregants and colleagues. There are, perhaps, better questions:
How can we be aware of all this and still have hope and courage?
Where am I enslaved? What do I trust? What is my power? What am I in charge of?
What are the deep and often shared roots of violence and injustice?
The mishna teaches us that we are not able to complete the work, nor are we free to shirk our share of it. I am in charge of the 4 meters of my personal space. As I open my heart to the shared human suffering (and likely more to come, my friends) my isolation and despair soften into compassion for the human race. The deep sorrow is tinged by the hope and promise of humanity. In compassion I am not alone. In compassion, I love my neighbor as myself and wish for their well-being.
The grief remains, but it is not the only thing in my heart. And I am not alone.
Wishing you love, connection and courage