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Faith, Fighting, and Fervor

06/04/2021 12:09:00 PM


          Shabbat Shalom! This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Shalach, in which Moses sends 12 scouts, one from each tribe, to scope out the inhabitants of the Holy Land and determine how they will go about conquering the land. All but two return certain of the undefeatable strength of those they wish to dispossess and only Caleb and Joshua assure Moses that the land is good and God is on their side, that they should continue forward with their plan to enter the Promised land. There is much to be said about this main narrative of the parasha in terms of courage, strength, faith, land claims, and about Joshua and Caleb as people, and there are countless divrei Torah in which you can read all about those lessons.

          Toward the end of the parasha, we read about an unnamed man who is gathering wood on Shabbat and is put to death for desecrating the Sabbath, the Law, and the Lord. At Torah study, we discussed the possible excuses for this – that he was warned and continued to do so, that he had agreed to live within the camp and by camp rules but then immediately violated them, and so on – as well as the possibility that the author of the Torah meant for this to illustrate a point and that it was never intended to be taken literally. Tosafot – a school of rabbinic thought led by Rashi’s grandson – offers a commentary on the Babylonian Talmud tractate Bava Batra that refers to this parasha: “[The wood-gatherer’s] intention was for the sake of heaven. For the people of Israel were saying that since it had been decreed that they will not enter the Land because of the incident of the spies, they are no longer obligated to keep the mitzvot. So he went and violated the Shabbat, so that he should be killed and others should see.”

          As mentioned, there is a lot to glean from this parasha about standing up to the many to speak the truth, voicing fierce beliefs, and urging people onward toward action. But according to the Tosafot, it is this anonymous man alone who is truly willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of his faith and to serve as an example to the people. Generally, Judaism does not advocate martyrdom. Although it permits or praises those who died for the sake of their faith, it also welcomes back home those who opted for conversion or hiding rather than to be murdered. It certainly doesn’t teach that one should go out of their way to be martyred by an already riled up community. And yet, sometimes it is necessary to take dramatic action to make a point, and sometimes it is necessary to be willing to risk one’s own life for the sake of the lives of the many.

I think frequently about the line from Fiddler on the Roof when Perchik sings, “I have something that I would die for, someone that I can live for, too. Yes! Now I have everything.” Having found Hodel doesn’t make him tone down his activism or make him less willing to die for his cause (or be sent to a labor camp in Siberia for it). It’s knowing that he could die for a better world not only in the abstract but for someone he loves as well that makes it all the more meaningful for him.

This Shabbat, I invite you to consider what it is that you would put all your faith in. What cause would you be willing to fight for at any cost? What Promised Land do you want to lead your community into, even if it means needing to really light a fire under their tushies? Not everyone needs to leave a huge mark on society for their lives to be meaningful, but we do all leave at least ripples around us that will be felt by those around us when we leave them, and we must be willing to ask ourselves how we want those ripples to affect others. May you find your something to die for and someone or something to live for too. May you find your Promised Land flowing with milk and honey, and may you find the courage to fight for it. And may we all find strength in our community and faith. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.

Sat, May 28 2022 27 Iyyar 5782