I have just returned from a wonderful four day cantorial conference in Atlanta, GA. The theme of the conference was social action. So many times over the course of the week people spoke about how helpless they felt in the face of so much horror happening in our country and in the world.
In this week’s Torah portion, Sh’lach L’cha, Moses sends spies to scout out the land before they would enter and conquer it. The spies are very impressed by the land and all that they see there. They return to the people and report that the people there were giants and that next to such giants, they would be perceived as nothing but grasshoppers, and thus they started to see themselves as such.
When facing an enormous challenge, it is easy to see ourselves small in the face of the enormity that lies ahead. And if we see only this, how can we move in any direction, let alone, one that would require the strength and power to overcome those perceived giants. So what was the fault of the spies? The spies imagined how they would be perceived and then put that vision onto themselves, giving it power. But this was all in their minds. Their smallness was in their own perception, but their fear made it real.
Once it was clear that they saw themselves thus, G-d could not allow them to proceed. A whole generation needed to pass before the children of Israel would be permitted to attempt to conquer the land. The children of Israel needed to move beyond their slave mentality, to see themselves as free and worthy, before they could accomplish what they needed to.
Today, we do not have time for this. We must overcome any feeling of being helpless right now, because that too is only in our minds. Our Torah teaches us to care for the widow, the stranger, and the orphan. Over and over again, the Torah stresses these essential values. Even in this very week’s Torah portion, we read, “You and the stranger shall be alike before the Eternal.” (Num 15:15) This isn’t about politics. This crosses the boundaries of democrat and republican. This is about human rights, and is something that we can all get behind regardless of our feelings about immigration politics. These are the values that our Torah teaches, and this is the time that we must be giants.
I will leave you with the prayer that I wrote as part of the service that I led for the cantors this past Tuesday morning:
From cowardice, I will burst forth with courage
“Kol ha’olam kulo gesher tzar m’od v’ha-ikar lo l’fached klal”
“The whole world is a very narrow bridge,
And the most important thing is not to be afraid.”
My voice will sing out my strength and my joy
And through melody – the inspiration for deliverance.
From laziness, I will sing now with energy.
“Lo alecha ham’lachah ligmor v’lo atah ben chorin l’hibatel mimena.”
“It is not up to you to complete the work,
But neither are you free to desist from it.”
No. I will sing.
Sing loud and strong,
And the energy of my song, of praise will move me,
Can move you
Can move us all to move mountains together.
There will be no arrogance in this song
“V’anochi afar va’efer.”
“For I am nothing but dust and ashes.”
And yet through breath and song, the dust stirs the air,
changes its essence
Brings forth ruach from nothingness.
G-d of truth, let the truth of this song ring out.
Breathe Your ruach into our souls,
Inspiring us to partner with you in tikkun olam
So that we may declare: “Kol Han’shamah T’haleil Yah!”
“Let every soul sing praise to You!”
Cantor Sally Neff