Earlier this week, I packed our Oakland residence into boxes in preparation for the move later this summer to NY. I closed the door, not to return (to Oakland, yes, to this house – no), heading for a one month summer tour through the Pacific North – and South – West.
The packing thing turned out to be more like an archeological dig, as I was combing through layers of “stuff”, from school notes, notebooks, binders, text books, readers, enrichment material, report cards, diplomas and beautiful photos of everybody smiling at great achievements; arts and crafts projects, scribbles, drawings, sculptures, figurines, vases, sewing projects, crochet and knitting scarves’ projects, sleeves of future sweaters, photography experiments, and what not. I had no idea how much we enjoy thrift shop “treasure hunting” until I saw the bags for give away. Then there were writings, shi’urim, source sheets, divrei Torah… and of course, books. How can anyone leave their books behind? Why, it’s like leaving a friend…
And so it went.
Around 2am, sweeping an – almost – empty bedroom, I was reminded of Golda, Tevya’s wife, from Fiddler on the Roof, cleaning her house before the Kozaks are coming, ‘not wanting to leave a mess’ (ok, the metaphor is not great, but it was 2am…). I thought of my grandmother, leaving Berlin in 1933, with a 5 year old, a 13 year old (my father) and an 18 year old while riots and book burnings already start in the streets; resourceful enough to get, not only the family, but the family’s piano, all the way to then Palestine, bidding farewell to a whole world, never to return. And my other grandmother, packing her lovely house into a couple of suitcases, saying good bye to her mom, who was sure that because her husband, my great-grandfather was an officer in WWI, she’d be safe and not end up in Tresienstat, as she did. I think of my own kids, when will we open which box, what will we find, what will it mean then, did I choose the right items, did I forget, overlook, choose the wrong thing??
It seemed endless. I felt like tar has been smeared on my wings. I thought I’ll just never get out the door. Then I thought of this week’s Torah portion, and the story of the Spies, the people who said, we can, and those who said we can’t do this, it’s too much.
My attention was always on Caleb and Joshua, the ones who said, ‘let’s go’. I used to not pay much attention to the 10 other leaders. I liked the two who “easily” stood up and did the right thing, and not the “others”. Who were those “others” anyway? Their names are practically unknown. But the Torah calls them “anashim”, mensches, namely, they were good, upstanding people. Some say that they were the new up and coming leadership; Moshe wanted to get them more “engaged” and sent them on a “birthright” mission that was bound to be successful. He excluded himself since he either knew how good it was, or maybe didn’t want to seem persuasive and just let them see for themselves, or maybe, didn’t even care what the place is like. After all, not like there were a lot of other alternatives! We’re going and that’s it! It’s The Land of Milk and Honey! The Promised Land! What can possibly go wrong??? Right, everything.
It’s only this week, when at the end of all the packing, sorting, cleaning (and not sleeping), my car keys disappeared and I could literally not go anywhere, that I realized how strong can be the power that pulls us down. Me and the 10 spies just sat on the floor and wanted to say, forget it, it can’t be done; this one is not happening. For the first time I had deep compassion to those leaders, who probably went ahead with good intentions, and for those who the next day, seeing the damage, said, actually let’s go. While I always thought of Caleb and Joshua, all of a sudden I realized, had I been there, I might have been one of the ‘others’…
But the Psalmist says, ‘He will charge His angles to guard you… they’ll carry you on their hands, lest you trip along the way’. At the point where I was not sure I could make one more step, others were there to brush the dust off my wings and help me soar, or at least, get out the door and catch my flight.
So here’s my thought this Shabbat eve: what really happened on the way back from the spies’ visit to the Land? What did they talk about? Did Caleb and Joshua not know that the other 10 are worried, anxious and not feeling ready? What was the conversation like? Perhaps we should not too quickly judge the 10 spies who “obviously” and “foolishly” got scared “of nothing”. And perhaps, the reason, the whole community got punished, and not just them, is because it was not just ‘them’. Rather, when they could not go further, there was no one there to help them through.
So here’s to those who help us journey on. With thanks, appreciation and best regards from Seattle WA, Shabbat Shalom.