June 18, 2020
Parashat Sh’lach / פרשת שלח־לך
In this week’s Torah portion spies sent to scout out the Promised Land return with evidence of the land’s grandeur: giant grapes and figs. But also, with a fearful description of giant adversaries to be conquered. The majority of the posse report that the land is untamable. So, the People freeze in fear, fear of the unknown. They lose sight of themselves as Ivrim – boundary crossers. They lose sight of their capacity to adapt to new circumstances. And with this, they lose their opportunity to evolve, grow, become.
Faith requires a willingness to leap off the edge of certainty into terrain that, though it calls to us, we’re not sure we can master and may never understand. This is what God wants of Israel at the Jordan, and what the slave generation is not ready for. We’re reminded of how natural it is to resist the risk of transformation. Even when that which we experience is unsatisfying or painful, there is comfort in familiarity. Once they glimpse their future, with its inherent challenges, the emancipated slaves freeze in fear on the edge of attainment. They die still wandering, and leave the next iteration of Israel’s becoming to their children.
Our parsha doesn’t give up on the importance of seeing beyond our fear of the unknown, offering the mitzvah of tzitzit, tzitizit sharing a root with the Hebrew word l’hatzitz – to “gaze,” “peek,” “catch a glimpse.” Just afterchronicling profound lack of faith, our parsha ends with this gift of a garment to lay on the body as a reminder that we can, indeed, stretch beyond the familiar, just as the tzitziyot stretch beyond the garment. The bundles of knotted strings extend beyond, inviting us to imagine what we can’t quite see, what we don’t yet know, what we might become, and even our connection to that which we will never understand.
Our tradition connects the tzitzit with the gaze of the lover in Song of Songs, metzitz – peeking through the latticework. What do we lovingly glimpse that lies ahead, as yet unattained? What do we glimpse, beyond our experience, that holds promise but is frighteningly uncertain? Fraught with the potential of hardship or, worse, of failure?
May we cultivate the faith to turn a loving gaze on potential, remembering that we are, indeed, Ivrim – Boundary Crossers, called to be nimble, adaptive, carrying light loads and faith in God’s accompaniment as we lead the way from here to the next shore. Approaching the Solstice this weekend, let’s rejoice in the light of long summer days leading us to brighter times and fullest realization of our joy in the mysterious journey of becoming.