RABBI KOZLOW’S SERMONS
June, 5778/2018 Shelach Lecha
I wrote in my letter this week that this Shabbat is Shelach Lecha, and it is especially meaningful to me because all three of my children shared this parsha as their B’nai Mitzvot. No, not at the same time, but I sure had built in tutors for each child coming up to bat…..there was a method to my madness!
I chose this parsha as my “families Torah” because it is so deep and it’s lessons so abundant that it cuts to the very core of our individual obligations to our identities as Jews and as humanitarians.
The three pillars of Judaism, God- Israel -and Torah all find their intersection right here in this piece of Torah.
The parsha of Shelach Lecha asks us to ponder, seriously, and with depth, the concepts of,
3) and, the very destructive hold that the power of the crowd can hold over us. Or how I like to put it,
how you hold your own in a crowd.
Here we read the story of the 12 spies, who were sent into the land of Israel in order to scout out the land. This was done to calm everyone’s fears of what they would find once they entered this land, that God had called us to, hundreds of years earlier when God called to Abraham to leave his home and head to the land of milk and honey.
This is a story about faith….why we must ask, after hundreds of years following God’s call to the promised land, did we pause in fear before entering? Was that a question about God’s existence? And or a question about faith in the mission, in the journey, in the story itself?
And thirdly, we are asked to examine and understand the dangerous power that crowds can hold over a person’s best judgment. For when the spies returned to camp, ten of the men were utterly hysterical and overcome by their fears. The people were giants, they said, and we we’re like mere grasshoppers, in comparison. And then they riled up the entire camp in all of their swirling fears, almost to a point of riot and hysteria.
While two of the men, Caleb and Joshua, brought back beautiful lush grapes and said, NO, it’s a beautiful land, we will thrive there.
Who would you listen to?
If you want to know why it is that we need ten Jews for a minyan its because of this story and the 10 nay sayers who brought back nothing but hysteria, negativity and fear. We have been commanded ever since to pull together ten Jews to stand in confidence and courage together every time we need to pray, in order to obliterate the memory of the ten men who came back trailing a small minded vision and a defeated destiny.
Every time you come to a synagogue to make a minyan, you are doing so much more than merely fulfilling a ritual obligation, you are standing up againstnegativity and disbelief and chaos.
And you are standing forGod, Faith and a responsibility for your personal integrity.
I chose this parsha for my family’s Torah because these lessons are so vital for a well rounded and ethically sturdy life.
In Ba Midbar, it may be the story of us finally reaching the long awaited dream of the land of Canaan, but for you and I,
it is the spiritual land that God calls us into every second of our lives, that we stand before.
How will we step into that land?
Every moment that you live is to be run through this sieve of ideology.
Where is God in this moment?
Where is my faith in this moment?
How well am I holding my own dignified convictions in this moment?
Do you need an example?
Let’s say you’re on the golf course and one person starts speaking lashon hara, evil speech….(gossip) about someone whom you respect and care about, or frankly about anyone? If you are not in sync with these morale imperatives, you might forget that God also has easy access to where ever you are, even onto the fanciest golf courses in the world, God is there, listening .
Say you forget that your faith is to be expressed in your actions, in your control of your harsh words, in your judgments of others and you may forget that faith needs to be lived out loud and that means, in how you behave, what you say, how you treat the stranger, your spouse, your friend.
So you may, in your forgetting of what is right and decent, engage in gossip about an innocent person, because well, its just so easy to play along and you’re sure that you can justify it later by convincing yourself that you were only “moderately disrespectful” to your unsuspecting and trusting friend, or a stranger who never asked for you to hurt his reputation so needlessly.”
Its easy to forget how hard you must work to hold your own, to maintain your integrity, to be worthy of this great heritage and the close relationship that God offers us. It is hard work holding back the tide of human negativity that runs through human communities like a wild fire plague. It's contagious, if you let yourself catch it. Don’t we know it today? Its everywhere! How well do you own your right, to your own integrity?
That’s the question I believe that God is asking. That is the question we should be asking ourselves.
I wanted my children to wrestle their entire lives with these issues, because I know they will make them better people.
As a Rabbi, I want my congregants to wrestle with these issues because they are the ideas that can elevate our congregation from being just another social club to a true house of worship where God’s grace fills the air and strengthens the heart of our community, so much so that we cannot help but draw the best of humankind in through our doors.
For this I pray God.
May each of us know that YOU God, are real and that You exist.
May each of us know that faith is the measure that You have given each of us to show our awareness of You and of the mission that YOU have given our people.
I pray also that each of us find the strength to cultivate the courage and the dignity to stop gossiping, to stop negativity and to detach ourselves when the trains of la shon hara run off the tracks. Stay off of that train!
May it be God, that I am never one to spew poison or cynicism about someone else, May I never be at peace with “moderately being disrespectful” to anyone.
There is no such thing as moderate disrespect, there is just no such thing.
This weeks Torah Portion has so many life lessons in it that will, if heeded elevate our humanity to heights yet unknown.
Its not about how much you can get away with, its about who you want to be.
I pray that we all find steady footing to actualize this wisdom as we travel on our way.