“As Loud as Grasshoppers” – Shelach – 5777

22/06/2017 at 17:25 Leave a comment

“As Loud as Grasshoppers”

 

Parashat Shelach

Neil F. Blumofe

17 June 2017

 

At the shore of the Jordan River, Moses sends twelve spies to scout out the Promised Land, with disastrous results.  Ten of the spies return with negative reports about the chances of success for the Israelites in entering and settling this land, thus withering the spirit of the community, and leading to no confidence and terror.  There is panic among the people, which ultimately leads to a Divine decree of a forty-year exile — thereby condemning this generation of former slaves to wander in the wilderness until they die.

These extraordinary people, who have directly witnessed many miracles of God, do not get to fulfill God’s covenantal promise of entering into the Promised Land — they are obligated to live their lives outside of their purpose — their days becoming a sentence of fragmentary, exilic gestures.  This is no more tragically described in the final, unsuccessful plea of Moses at the end of his life, to enter into the land to which he has devotedly led his people.

How are we manipulated by those around us — those supposed experts who have their own motivations for injecting uncertainty and dread into our daily lives?  How do we sit, transfixed by the doomsday scenarios surrounding us — convinced that our world is on a fast track to hell in a hand basket, while we become both radicalized and desensitized, in response?  How do we regard those in our community who may have a different opinion about the current state of our world, as we stew in the juices of heaped upon frustration?  How much violence will it take for us to snap back and withstand the bilious offerings of partisan cynicism and adverse showmanship?

 

There was an important verdict handed down this week – a judge found a young woman, Michelle Carter – now 20 years old — guilty of involuntary manslaughter after she kept sending her friend, Conrad Roy III, text messages when she was 17, urging him to kill himself, which he ultimately did.  In order for this case to get to trial in the first place, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the intent and content of her text messages to Roy had a coercive quality to them.  As was described, the thousands of texts and phone calls motivated the young man to take his life – and specifically Carter was on the phone with Roy at the time of his suicide, exhorting him to get back into his truck that was filling with carbon monoxide, and then listened to him die without trying to help him – as the prosecution stated – she was in his ear, she was in his mind, she was on the phone, and she was telling him to get back in the car even though she knew he was going to die.

 

What voices are constantly in our ears?  How much do these voices guide us towards the actions that we take?  Are other really responsible for what we do?  And these spies, reporting to the Israelites gathered at the entrance to the Promised Land – how debilitating was their reportage – how much did it negatively impact the culture of the camp?

 

This decision to assign blame to someone who is not physically present, yet encourages negative behavior, will have far-reaching implications.  It determines the extent to which we think we have free will.  We realize that the opinions that we have are not ours alone – rather, that they have been formed in the refraction of other influences that we regularly encounter, digest, and assimilate.  Whose fault was it that the Israelites gave in to their fears and anxieties – according to our Torah, everyone was effected, and everyone paid the price for their unstable behavior.

 

We are what we read, what we listen to, what videos we watch, and what websites we visit.  We are a sum total of all that we read during the blaze of day, and all that whispers to us in the hush of night.

 

One of the elements in which I take a lot of pride in serving this community, is the diversity of this community.  I am proud that we have a growing, flourishing community, that is filled with strong opinions across the political spectrum.  However, as we have seen in our larger American landscape, these delicate balances are in danger of disappearing.  If someone is too sensitive to rebuttal, they might be deemed a snowflake – and there are demeaning epithets from left to right that do not admit any nuance or truth – rather, they are angry and meant to isolate and demean others – shutting down conversation.

 

As a community, we must recognize who is in the room – are we still able to engage with each other?  Can we encourage those in different political parties to pray together, and to support our community together – or shall we ignore the political firestorms raging outside, and double down on this being a sanctuary – limiting opinions that can lead to controversy – and just smile, hoping that people don’t quit, as we leave the world outside?  How far is too far, before the pegs fracture, and our big tent comes crashing down – and are there principles more important than people?  As we exercise our passions, how do we engage others, without driving them away?

 

Van’hi v’eineinu ka’chagavim — vechein, hayinu b’eineihem – as we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and we also appeared to them as grasshoppers.  Grasshoppers make a lot of noise – always in our ears, and in our minds.  As our mystics teach, we are always on the shores of our Promised Land – always ready to enter.  What sounds constantly rustle in our ears, like an incessant typewriter, that prevents our going forward?  How can we limit that which depreciates and dehumanizes us, that which has a coercive quality – and pushes our buttons and coarsens our approach to life?

 

And as our Proverbs teach — “a happy heart is as healing as medicine.”  Learning the sobering lessons of this week’s Torah, let us rise up to respond differently than our Torah ancestors did, tested by the import of the challenges and the uncharted territory that we now face.

 

Shabbat Shalom.

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Entry filed under: Judaism, Torah, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , , .

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