We Cannot Afford To Forget Our Roots – All Set To Flight Mode (Parshat Shlach By Rabbi Zalman Lent)

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Calev alone went (to Hebron) to prostrate himself at the graves of the Patriarchs
Rashi, Num 13:22

On  an  ELAL  flight recently the hostess asked if I wanted dinner.
“What are the options,” I asked.  “Yes or No,” she replied.

 The Torah reading this week contains one of the longest recorded delays in the history of travel. The original itinerary of the Children of Israel was clear:  (1) Egypt – Sinai  (2) Short transfer to receive the Torah (3) Sinai – the Promised Land.  Everyone got an exit row and a kosher meal. No baggage limits, and all were set to Flight Mode. The whole journey including the construction of the Mishkan should have taken just over a year.

What happened instead is that the people weren’t happy with their destination. They demanded proof that the land they were to inherit was truly a Land of Milk and Honey. Twelve spies were dispatched and they returned after forty days with a negative assessment of the land and of their ability to conquer it. The nation suffered a collective breakdown of faith in G-d and his servant Moses, and their punishment was linked to their sin …  their Aliyah papers were revoked and they were banned entry to the Holy Land for forty years, one year for every day spent on reconnaissance in Israel.

Out of the twelve spies sent by Moses, only two had stood firm in their faith in G-d; only two brought back a good report about the Land. Their names were Yehoshua (Joshua) and Calev (Caleb).

We know that Yehoshua was unique, in that he was Moses’ right hand man, and would eventually replace him as the leader of the nation. We would expect him to remain faithful, but where did Calev get the strength to resist the peer pressure of the other spies? How did Calev get it right?

The answer may lie in the following story, related by Rabbi Shalom Schwadron zt”l, known as the Maggid of Jerusalem:

The story takes place in a yeshivah in Israel, where a young man is celebrating the completion of his study of a book of the Talmud. This is no small achievement, as he was raised in a non-religious home of Russian olim. Once in Israel he discovered his roots, and began his yeshivah study.

His father, still secular, was an invited guest at the celebration, but did not participate. He seemed uncomfortable there and maybe even unhappy. Yet at the very end of the event, he asked to speak, and told a moving personal story.

He related how, despite being an assimilated Jew, he had been sent to a labour camp in Siberia. There, for an entire year, he slaved in the bitter cold alongside his fellow workers. After a year he was lucky to be sent home, and he said his farewells to his companions. One man spoke to him for the very first time, and told him a parable.

The parable was about two gardeners working in a beautiful orchard of apples. Every year the crop of fruit was delicious and plentiful, yet they wondered, how could they make them better? Eventually they came up with a brainwave. If such perfect fruit was formed when the roots were buried in dirt and mud, how much better they would be if the roots were in direct sunlight. They worked hard for days turning all the trees upside down, and letting the roots have access to air and sunlight. Yet for some reason their plan failed. Not a single apple grew. Only one apple remained from the original crop, and they used that one to restart their orchard. From that one apple came new hope, after complete failure.

The man continued speaking. He explained that he had never understood the parable, nor the message he was meant to glean from it, and he had let it slip from his memory. “Tonight,” he continued with tears glistening in his eyes, “I understand the parable and its meaning. For generations, my family tried to produce something better by shedding their roots and traditions, their Torah and mitzvot. They thought that by turning things upside down they would produce better “fruit.” We lost all that was precious and dear to us, in search of an elusive utopia. But tonight, as I watch my son so proudly celebrating his Torah achievements I finally understand that he is the single apple that survived. You, my son, are the future, and I am proud of you!”

Possibly now we can understand how Calev was the only one of all the spies to stand with Yehoshua. Calev had made one important detour, alone, on his reconnaissance of the land. He went to Hebron, to pray at the graves of our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rivkah, and Leah. Why did he alone do that? Because he was connecting to his roots. Once connected to his roots, he had the strength to fulfil his mission with integrity, to withstand everything that was thrown at him.

Whatever our day job entails, whether a gardener or a hedge fund manager, we cannot afford to forget our roots, because only with healthy and connected roots can we produce the next generation of vibrant and healthy Jewish youth.

Rabbi Zalman Lent


Rabbi Zalman Lent is a Community Rabbi in Dublin and director of Chabad of Ireland.


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