Selected Sermon/Article
2009-06-20 Beyond Twelve Gates (BTG) by Rabbi Zeev Smason
Beyond Twelve Gates June 20, 2009 28 Sivan, 5769

Welcome to our weekly newsletter Beyond Twelve Gates. I recently returned from a fantastic trip to Israel. My only complaint is that the visit was too brief. I somehow avoided the bane of intercontinental travel -- Jet lag. A working definition of Jet lag is: Nature's way of making you look like your passport photo. I ate shwarma in Tiberias, took a mud bath at the Dead Sea (the Dead Sea was the 'low point' of my trip, if you get my drift) and prayed at the Western Wall. I'm thankful for the opportunity to have reconnected with my spiritual roots, hugged my relatives who live in Israel, and enjoyed the traveling companionship of three special people. May you all merit to travel to Israel soon!

This Week's Torah Portion -- Shelach (Numbers 13:1 -- 15:41)

Moses is pressed by the Jewish people to send twelve spies to the Land of Canaan (later to be called the Land of Israel). Forty days later they return carrying a gigantic cluster of grapes and two other large fruits.. Have you seen the Israeli tourism symbol of two men carrying a huge cluster of grapes? Now you know where it came from. Ten of the spies warn the Jewish people that the inhabitants of the land are enormous in size, and that the land 'consumes its inhabitants'. They convince the people that the land can't be conquered. Caleb and Joshua retain their faith in G-d, insisting that the Jewish people can, indeed, conquer the land.

The people weep and proclaim that they'd rather return to Egypt. This tenth expression of a profound lack of faith in G-d prompts a Divine decree that entry into the Land should be delayed forty years. Do you know what day this decree was made? It was on the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av -- known as Tisha B'Av. Many other tragedies have occurred on Tisha B'Av, including the destruction of the first and second Temples and the expulsion of Spanish Jewry in 1492. From this Biblical incident, the day of Tisha B'Av has been set aside as a Jewish national day of mourning. We look forward to the time when it will be transformed into a day of rejoicing.

Parshas Shelach concludes with the command to places fringes (tzitzis) on the corners of a four-corned garment. Tzitzis help us to remember to fulfill all of the Divine commandments. This reminds me of the story of the rabbi who asked his synagogue's Board of Directors if they would supply him with a new talis once every six months. They told him, 'We're sorry, Rabbi. We can't afford the fringe benefits.'

Rabbinic Ruminations

On a superficial level the constant complaining of the Jewish people (in Parshas Shelach, and elsewhere in the Torah) is baffling. How could they have rejected the wonderful gifts offered by the Almighty and expressed such profound ingratitude?

In my travels to London I once saw a wall poster in the Tube (subway) that showed a young girl sitting on a bed, cradling and hugging a small robot. The caption read, 'Times change, values don't change.' Over the years I've often remembered that poster when I've been tempted to think that people were so different 'way back when.' It's true that times have changed quite a bit since the Torah was given, but human nature hasn't changed at all. We still find it difficult to acknowledge the good we receive from G-d and from others in our lives. Perhaps we can utilize this teaching from the Torah to share one heartfelt expression of appreciation to G-d, and another with someone we love.

Question of the Week

In this week's Torah portion (13:16) it states: And Moses called Hoshea son of Nun, Yehoshua (Joshua). Rashi explains that this change of name was precipitated by Moses' concern lest Joshua be influenced by the evil counsel of the spies. Why was it that Moses prayed only for Joshua, and not any of the other eleven spies?

Last Week's Question

In last week's edition of BTG I asked you to share your experiences from a recent visit to Israel. My friend Bill from Albuquerque wrote:

I was in Israel last March and visited the four cities. We went by bullet proof bus to Hebron where we saw the enclave of about 80 families and even toured the original Hadassah Hospital. In Hebron there was a Chasidic Rabbi who wore a pistol as the enclave was always in danger. The week before we were there a baby had been shot in its mothers arms. The old city of Jerusalem at night made me feel as if I was back in biblical times with it narrow streets and dim lights. What a small Jewish world. We were hosted at a dinner in a synagogue in the old city and when talking to the rebbitzen I realized I knew her father in California and had been in his home for Shabbos dinner. It was my first visit to Israel but G-d willing, not my last.

Joke of the Week

Herschel Cohen was given the most dangerous and critical assignment in the history of the CIA. He is to go to an address, ring the doorbell marked “GOLDBERG” and when a man comes to the door say the code: “The yellow peacock flies by night.” He will then be given confidential documents that will save the world. At all costs, this mission must be kept top secret.

Herschel gets to the address and sees two names and two buzzers: A. GOLDBERG (1-A) and R. GOLDBERG (3-A). Herschel doesn't know what to do! But he rings the first bell, hoping he'll get lucky. Soon, an elderly man comes to the door. Nervously, Herschel says, “The yellow peacock flies by night.“ The old man says “Oh, you want Goldberg, the Spy - he's two doors down!'

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