Parshah Summary – P’shat (literal level)
The parshah begins with the Children of Israel encamped in the wilderness of Paran, and Moses sends out twelve spies to the land of Canaan. After forty days, they return with great reports, carrying some of the land’s bounty: an enormous cluster of grapes, a pomegranate and a fig. But, ten of the spies warn that the inhabitants of the land are giants and warriors; only Caleb and Joshua insist that the land can be conquered. The people side with the ten naysayers and complain that they would rather return to Egypt. In response, Hashem decrees that the entire present generation of the Children of Israel will wander in the desert for forty years until they all perish, and only their offspring will enter the Promised Land. When they hear this news, a group of them storms a mountain on the border, but they are swiftly defeated by the Amalekites and Canaanites. Hashem then gives mitzvot about the offerings of grain, wine and oil that their descendants should bring when they enter the land, as well as the mitzvah to consecrate a portion of dough when making bread, which is the origin of challah. Finally, a man is found gathering sticks on Shabbat. In response, the mitzvah of tzitzit, which are special fringes worn on the four corners of garments, is given as a bodily reminder of the mitzvot.
Torah of Awakening
שְׁלַח־לְךָ֣ אֲנָשִׁ֗ים וְיָתֻ֙רוּ֙ אֶת־אֶ֣רֶץ כְּנַ֔עַן אֲשֶׁר־אֲנִ֥י נֹתֵ֖ן לִבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל
אִ֣ישׁ אֶחָד֩ אִ֨ישׁ אֶחָ֜ד לְמַטֵּ֤ה אֲבֹתָיו֙ תִּשְׁלָ֔חוּ כֹּ֖ל נָשִׂ֥יא בָהֶֽם׃
Send for yourself people to spy out the land of Canaan that I am giving to the Children of Israel, one person from each of their ancestral tribes you shall send, each one a leader among them...
- Bamidbar (Numbers) 13:2, Parshat Bamidbar
There is a story of Rabbi Hersh of Zydatchov, that once when he was a traveling preacher visiting the town of Brody, a number of opponents of Hasidism surrounded him, attacked him, and drove him out of town. Rabbi Hersh describes his experience:
“On the day before Shabbos, they drove me out of the town of Brody and I was in great disgrace. I walked on and on without stopping, and when I got home toward the evening, just before Shabbos, I went to the Beis Medresh in my workday clothes and could barely manage to daven any of the prayers. But in the morning, before davening, I prayed to Hashem: ‘Ribono Shel Olam, Master of the Universe, You see the humiliation of those who have been humiliated, and You see my crushed heart. Give me Light so that I can pray to You!’ Then, suddenly, my heart caught fire. My prayer was a flowing flame. Never before had that happened to me, and I expect it never will again.”
In the story, Rabbi Hersh goes through a traumatic experience that seems to destroy his ability pray, and yet, when he prays to be able to pray, it becomes the catalyst for the deepest spiritual experience of his life. The key was not to succumb to the deadening effect of his emotional pain, but to use that pain and elevate it into his own, personal, heartfelt prayer. This is possible only if we are able to courageously confront our pain, rather than be resigned to its deadening effect; this is the Path of כ Kaf, the practice of boldly coming into the truth of our experience.
עֲל֥וּ זֶה֙ בַּנֶּ֔גֶב וַעֲלִיתֶ֖ם אֶת־הָהָֽר׃ – “Go up into the Negev and ascend the mountain…” When the spies ascend the mountain and return with giant grapes, pomegranates and figs, they report: “Yes! This land flows with milk and honey and these are some of the wonderful fruits growing there. But, the inhabitants of the land are giants; they would destroy us!”
וַנְּהִ֤י בְעֵינֵ֙ינוּ֙ כַּֽחֲגָבִ֔ים וְכֵ֥ן הָיִ֖ינוּ בְּעֵינֵיהֶֽם׃ – We were like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and so we were in their eyes… Once a person knows what it is to ascend the “mountain” of transcendence and partake of the “fruits” of joy and bliss that come from such an awakening, there can be frustration and resignation when they “come down” into the place of ordinary, sometimes negative emotions such anger, fear, sadness, and so on. That is when we need the words of Yehoshua – the words of encouragement that Joshua speaks to them:
יהֹוָ֥ה אִתָּ֖נוּ אַל־תִּירָאֻֽם׃ – The Divine is with us; don’t be afraid of them! Meaning, even though you have come down from the “mountain” of transcendence, in fact nothing has changed; that transcendence of the “mountain” is still the open space of your own awareness within which the experience of negativity arises. You can conquer any negativity not by fighting against it, but by using it, by crying out to the Divine from the heart.
וַֽיהֹוָ֥ה אִתָּ֖נוּ The Divine is with us – your very nature is Divine, it is the miracle of consciousness that feels the pain in the first place. But, that is not what happens in the parshah; instead, the Israelites are afraid. They say, “Forget it! Let’s go back to Egypt.” Meaning, let’s go back to the ordinary and familiar way of being, before we experienced transcendence. And then, they change their minds again out of fear of punishment, and try to go fight the enemy after all. But Moses says to them:
וְלֹא־יִהְיֶ֥ה יְהֹוָ֖ה עִמָּכֶֽם׃ – God will not be with you! They go anyway, and fail. How can this be? If our nature is Divine, how can that change? Of course, it doesn’t change, it is our awareness of this fact that changes. We get seduced by our feelings and believe them into giants. Rather than know our own vastness, “we were like grasshoppers in our own eyes…” Grasshoppers don’t want to get crushed, so we try and fight our feelings, try to push them away, or deny them, and that just creates inner conflict so that: “we were grasshoppers in their eyes” – meaning, the pain that we fight gets bigger and bigger, because negativity is empowered by more negativity.
On the other hand, if you know יהֹוָ֥ה אִתָּ֖נוּ The Divine is with us – meaning, the Divine is literally your own nature, then: אַל־תִּירָאֻֽם Don’t be afraid of them! There is never anything to be afraid of in your experience! You’re on top of the world? No big deal it’s a passing experience. You’re in the depths of hell? No problem, it will pass. Rather than get caught up in your experience of the moment, which is always changing, realize the space of the moment within which your experience is arising. You can do this through the synergism of prayer and meditation: “Oh Hashem, help me through this darkness, open me to Your Light!” And then, take the time to open to that Light which is your essence – this is meditation. Then you will know the truth of the words of Yehoshua:
אַל־תִּֽירְאוּ֙ אֶת־עַ֣ם הָאָ֔רֶץ – Don’t be afraid of the people of the land – meaning, don’t be afraid of any particular experience that arise –
כִּ֥י לַחְמֵ֖נוּ הֵ֑ם – for they are our bread – meaning, when you stand courageously in the midst of difficult experiences, they become food for your awakening, deepening your grounded-ness in the reality of Presence. Then you’ll know directly:
יהֹוָ֥ה אִתָּ֖נוּ אַל־תִּירָאֻֽם – the Divine is with you; there’s nothing to be afraid of. So, in this week of Shabbat Shelakh, the Sabbath of Sending, let us courageously come in the truth of our experience and work from there to send forth our prayers from the heart, from the depths of whatever pain arises in our experience, and open fully that we may convert all pain into Light!
Read past teachings on Shelakh L’kha HERE.
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