Shelach: Great Source-2

The first Great Source(s) post for Shelach (Lecha) included a long, century-old poem and several academic references. For a different approach to this week’s — or any Torah portion, visit Rabbi Shefa Gold’s Torah Journeys.

Rabbi Gold notes that the Torah portion Shelach (Lekha) [“send out (for yourself)”] (Numbers 13:1 – 15:41) includes the story of spies sent to scout out the promised land and ends with the instruction to tie fringes [tzitzit] as a reminder of the commandments. Like the portion’s spies, we all experience odd moments that hint at “the infinite that is the source of our finite world,” she writes. She then explains that this portion is a challenge:

“to remember what I have glimpsed, to plant the glimpse, like a seed, in the soil of my life. And Shelach Lekha warns me that if I deny that glimpse – if I doubt its validity – then I will be denied entrance to the Land of Promise – the state of consciousness that witnesses Divine Presence filling the whole world. To plant the seed of that glimpse requires that I acknowledge and celebrate it, and that I nurture its growth with my loving attention.”

by Zachary Lynch, mixed media/sgraffito board

by Zachary Lynch, mixed media/sgraffito board

For me, this piece of art –“From Dirt to Life,” by Zachary Lynch — offers a powerful visual embodiment of this teaching. (This work — mixed media, sgraffito board — was created through the Washington Very Special Arts “Articulate Gallery,” which is sadly no more; the piece can now be found at Temple Micah).

 

The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.

Shelach: A Path to Follow

The portion “Shelach” [“Send out”] — Bamidbar/Numbers 13:1 – 15:41 — contains the famous story of the spies sent out to scout the land of Israel and the aftermath, resulting in most Israelites doomed to death in the desert. It also includes the passage about wearing of fringes [tzitzit] (Bamidbar/Numbers 15:38), well-known as the final portion of the Shema reading in most prayerbooks.
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Naso: A Path to Follow

This portion closes (Bamidbar/Numbers 7:89) with a note about God speaking to Moses from between the Cherubim on the cover of the Ark.

There are cherubim set up to block the entrance to Eden at Breishit/Genesis 3:24. We first learn of the cherubim on the Ark cover in the Exodus chapter 25. The Ark and its cover are mentioned again in First Kings (cf chapter 6), 1 Chronicles 13, 2 Chronicles (cf. chapter 5) and in Psalms 80:2.
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Behaalotekha: Great Source

My all-time favorite midrash is a commentary on Numbers/Bamidbar 12:1ff. It identifies Moses’ “Cushite wife,” against whom Miriam complains, as the black ink of the Torah: in this view Miriam believes that Moses has become too wed to the letters of the Torah and its literal meaning, while she continues to advocate for the white space, the oral/folk traditions in Revelation.

I love this commentary because

1) it makes sense of an otherwise obscure passage;

2) it doesn’t require twisting out of shape any of the larger narrative context; and

3) it is both radical and faithful.

More on this midrash, including a “Sermon Slam” story from this episode.

Sadly, however, I cannot tell you where exactly this commentary is to be found. I am sure that I didn’t invent it myself. I believe I was directed to it through end notes in The Five Books of Miriam.

So, this seems a particularly good spot to mention The Five Books of Miriam, edited by Ellen Frankel and published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1996.

The dialogue of voices — between “Our Daughters,” “Our Bubbes,” “The Ancient Rabbis,” “Sages in Our Own Times,” and individual women, such as Leah (Torah), Huldah (Tanach), Beruriah (Talmud) — seem particularly appropriate given the variety of voices heard in this portion: Hobab, the people, Joshua, Miriam and Aaron, Moses and God.

Frankel’s device is a great way to show some of the interaction over the years between sources and ideas…and to carry forward that interaction. Another great feature of this book is that it’s eminently readable without reference to the notes, while nicely substantial end notes are offered for those who want them.


The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.