Shelach Lecha: Spies, Complacency and Gun Violence

This is a summary of my talk in shul this past shabbat - June 17, 2017.

It is always fascinating to me how the weekly Torah portion provides new meaning to me every year. Though the Torah is 3,000 years old, it continues to teach new lessons. Based on what has happened in our lives - a tragic loss or a joyous occasion - or what has happened in the world, we bring our selves and our mindset to the text.

Such was the case this past week. The story of the spies in the portion Shelach Lecha has always been understood as a story of lack of faith on the part of the Israelite community and also a sense of low self esteem. The rabbis over the centuries base their commentary on those aspects of the text. However this week I was prompted to see two new related lessons in the text.

It is remarkable how quick the people were ready to be incited to anger and at the same time to neglect and ignore the new values of social justice and love they had been taught by Moses and God. Though the people had just heard the 10 commandments, been taught the Torah, built the mishkan (the portable sanctuary) and began the worship service, it only took a speech from the spies on their return from scouting out the land of Israel to cause fear and anger. The evils of Egyptian society and their centuries-long servitude rose to the surface and caused them to forget the new path that Moses and God had taught them. Though it may have seemed that the Israelites had bought into this new ethical and moral life, the evils of their slave background were simmering just under the surface. As a result they needed 40 years to continue wandering, think about their values and attempt to dedicate their lives to creating a community based on love and social justice.

Not only was fear and evil just under the surface the people had also become complacent. They had seen that Moses had always prayed for them or taken care of their basic needs. They saw that God saved them from Egypt, God provided manna for them everyday, and when they had sinned with the golden calf Moses had prayed to God to forgive them. The people hadn't yet learned to fend for themselves and to understand that they must take matters into their own hands. Perhaps even this time with the spies the people may have felt that Moses would make everything right again.

This past week their was another gruesome display of gun violence this time directed at congressmen practicing for a charity baseball game. The rash of gun violence in America is a blight on our society. We are a country based on the values of liberty, justice and equality and there is no excuse for our country to allow this scourge of gun violence to continue. How many deaths and how many gruesome and horrific acts of gun violence will it take until finally gun control becomes the law of the land? How long will we sit back and wait until someone decides to introduce real gun control legislation and have the energy to get it passed? We have become complacent and we must do something to make a positive change.

117,000 Americans are shot by guns every year. Our own state of Maryland, despite being progressive in many areas, allows people to purchase assualt weapons and doesn't do enough to control the purchase and use of guns in our state. We must get involved and act to make real change first in our state and then on the federal level too.

We should join the effort of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence. In the weeks ahead I will contact this organization to learn ways we can get involved as a congregation to make real change in our State. Along with Rabbis Against Gun Violence I will share resources and suggest programs for our community so that we can learn more and get involved. We should try to end our metaphoric 40 years of wandering in the desert of gun violence and try to enter the promised land of love, justice and safety for all.