Rabbi Safman’s Weekly Message

June 8, 2018

Dear Congregant,

Some four thousand years ago, our ancestors assembled in the wilderness, disoriented, fearful and wondering what course of action they should take as they moved on from their resting place in the desert towards Eretz Yisrael.  In an act of prudence, they sent a dozen of their leaders into the Land to assess their prospects.

Unsurprisingly, the scouts were divided in the reports they offered the people upon returning.  The majority were pessimistic, offering dim prospects for the community’s future should they attempt to conquer the Land and settle there.  Instead, they advised, the community should rethink its plans, lower their expectations and make peace with the prospect of being a free people, though admittedly without a place to call their own.  A minority, however, held out hope that having already defied the odds on numerous occasions since their time of slavery in Egypt, they  should press on and attempt to take control of the Land, completing the quest on which they had embarked.

The people, of course, chose to embrace the report of the pessimists.  They redirected their journey away from Israel’s borders and, in doing so, incurred God’s wrath.  People who were born in Egypt, and thus imbued with the habits of thought of slavery, were punished by being sentenced to die off in the desert rather than enjoying the destiny they had been promised.

Why, the Sages asked as they contemplated this incident  – related in this week’s Torah portion (Shelakh Lekha) –  was God so severe in rebuking the People?  In their decision, were they not responding to genuine concerns and fears, and doing so under conditions of great uncertainty?  Is it not our right, as God’s partners, to exercise free will?

Yes, the Sages conclude.  We are entitled to make our own decisions, but we are obliged to do so thoughtfully, weighing the evidence independently and exercising our critical faculties.  The failing of those who received the spies’ reports was that they were content to accede to others’ advice, without seriously considering the issues themselves or expressing their views.

As we at Beth El consider our future, we must avoid falling into a similar trap.  Our congregation stands at a crossroads, weighing very different ideas as to how we should move forward .  What do we want for ourselves as a congregation over the next five, ten and 20 years?  Where do we want to be housed?  How do we want to be led?  What do we stand for, and what should we stand up for, as we negotiate  our place in the Jewish community of Eastern Connecticut?

These are critical questions for us to ponder as we contemplate and discuss our congregation’s future at the upcoming Annual Meeting, to be held on Thursday, June 14 (at 8 p.m. at Crossroads).  There are no easy answers, nor does anyone hold a crystal ball that allows them to forecast what each choice might mean.  But, at the very least, we are obliged, each and every one of us, to come out to participate in this truly existential conversation.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Rachel Safman