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i can see the promised land

06/25/2020 03:49:02 PM

Jun25

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

For those who have been regularly following the weekly Torah reading in the synagogue, we just read of an incredibly tragic moment: God’s decision that the Israelites will wander through the Wilderness for forty years. Let us back up for a moment and not only review the episode, but the traditional point of view as well. Twelve men are sent into the Promised Land to reconnoiter and bring back a report of what they have learned. They are not sent at God’s behest nor Moses, but an acquiescence to the fact that, according to traditional sources, the Israelites do not have faith and confidence in God. I will address this perspective shortly. Upon their return, ten of the twelve men report that the Promised Land is inhabited by giants in whose eyes they seem like grasshoppers. Only Caleb and Joshua report with confidence that they will be able to conquer the land. God interprets their lack of faith as an impediment towards their successful settlement in their new home, and forbids them to enter until the generation that were slaves in Egypt dies off.

The Israelites had been out of Egypt for perhaps two years. Yes, they had experienced the might of God through the Ten Plagues, the parting of the Reed Sea and God’s revelation at Mt. Sinai. But having been enslaved for over 400 hundred years, was it reasonable to expect that they could evolve from slaves to free men in such a short time, when all they knew was slavery? When given the choice, they did not possess sufficient skill sets to make intelligent decisions, despite the reassurances of God and Moses’ leadership. They chose not to believe. That generation could not have taken possession of the Promised Land, which is why God had them remain outside their new home for forty years, until the generation that knew slavery had died. A new generation, children borne into freedom, could thus enter the Promised Land.

In a perhaps less incredible coincidence than we might perceive, this portion was read the week of Juneteenth. While the African-American community strongly relates to the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, there are some significant differences. To me, the most significant is that, unlike the Israelites who lacked faith in God, the African-Americans had faith in God. What they lacked was a supportive environment that welcomed their freedom as equals. They were ready to make the intelligent decisions. The remainder of America would not let them.  We cannot describe what they have experienced as freedom.

My thoughts turn to one of the most famous speeches of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

Much work must be done to get to Dr. King’s Promised Land, and I believe, just as he did, that we will get to it. I may not get there with my fellow African-Americans, but I am not absolved from trying.

 

Sun, July 12 2020 20 Tammuz 5780