Friday, June 08, 2007

Sh'lah L'kha: That little voice in the back of your head.

Picture this: you’re out drinking with your friends, just having a great time. You’re not wasted yet - just happy, enjoying a nice buzz while finishing off a drink. The server comes around to see if everybody wants another round and now you have a decision to make. Of course everybody’s got work the next day, but having such a good time, you all decide not to call it a night just yet. Then you hear that faintest of voices in the back of your head:

“You know exactly what is going to happen if you have that next drink - your ass is gonna pull itself into work with a crazy hangover, cause this won’t be the last one.”
Of course you ignore it, because you’re out with your boys, having a grand old time. Inevitably, too many beers later, you find yourself waking up to a jarring alarm, nursing a splitting headache, stomach churning, body aching, and you think to yourself, “I swear, I’m NEVER going to do that again, and this time I really mean it.”

It’s in human nature to forget mistakes of the past and fall into the same patterns and habits time and time again. The Jewish people do just this again in Parsha Sh'lah L'kha. Right as the Jews reach the Promised Land, God tells Moses to appoint one scout from each tribe to go on ahead and get the lowdown on how things are looking in the new country. Part of what happens is that Moses gives one of them a new name of Joshua, appointing him a kind of lieutenant because he knows Joshua will eventually be the one to take care of business. Moses wants the scouts to find out EVERYTHING about the new land: how hard it looks to get in there, what kind of stuff grows there, how the farming looks etc .

The scouts find some tough times lie ahead - or at least what they perceive to be tough times. They find heavily fortified cities that look (to some of them) to be as impenetrable as CD wrappers. Sometimes you just don’t buy the CD because opening it is going to be such a damn pain - that’s how these dudes felt. One of the other things they do when they’re out scouting is to bring back some fruits to show everyone what grows there, and they come back with a cluster of grapes, figs, and pomegranates. Nowadays in America, it’d probably be easier to come back with some grape fruit snacks, Fig Newtons, and Pom Juice, but if you rolled up in Eretz Yisrael, you could probably grab all those goodies just as easily today.

Then the scouts come back to Moses, Aaron, and all the other Jews to report on what they saw. Unfortunately, all but two of the scouts start talking some major smack about what is going on in Canaan. They tell everyone that the land is awesome, truly flowing with milk and honey, filling everyone with that feeling kind of like when you see the Vegas skyline on the horizon. But then they smack all those dreams down, telling everyone that the land is inhabited by actual giants. Imagine someone telling you that you’re supposed to be moving into a place where giants live; it might be just a little bit intimidating. One of the scouts tells Moses that it ain’t no thang and that they’ll be able to overcome any obstacle, because they’ve got God in their back court, but most of the scouts just start bitching about how awful and impossible it would be to go in there.

After hearing this, the people start bitching too, even asking, “Why couldn’t God have just let us DIE in the desert instead of make our sorry asses come all this way to get killed by frickin' giants” Remember that killer hangover from before? Ever had a hangover so bad you totally wished God would just kill you then? That’s how the Jews were feeling at the time. What the Jews didn’t realize though was that they were slipping back into that old habit of not having faith in God. They truly thought that God couldn’t provide for them the land he promised, even though he showed them miracle after miracle. They doubted the upcoming miracle that would give them the Promised Land and in doing so doomed themselves to having to wait a generation before they could go in. Having just passed the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War, it’s interesting to me that even in biblical times the Jews were going to have to overcome incredible military odds to have a home in Israel; these days it doesn’t seem like much has changed.

All the sorrow could have been avoided though if they’d just shown a little faith and believed that God was gonna take care of business. If they’d heard the little voice in the back of their heads that said, “Don’t slip back into that same old pattern,” they wouldn't have had to wait for it. Just like if you listen to that little voice while you’re drinking, you won’t have to wait for the hangover to pass.

-- Written by "The Curly Jew"*

*Posted with permission by Dr. Dreidel

Great - And Not-so-Great - Decisions (Sh'lah L'kha)

I’m sitting in a Bank of America, waiting for a specialized banking assistant (how mighty are the names we give ourselves these days), when I get a text message from a friend:

I’m officially a homeowner. Bid accepted.
G-d damn, a homeowner? I still live at with my parents. A kid nearby wanders over, and grabs my pants leg. Hello, there. I used to be your age once.

It’s now two years since college graduation, and partaking in a Jewish tradition, I moved back to my parents’ house. Just for two months, I promise. I have three weddings this summer, plus the one this past spring; we’re getting married left and right. They say graduation is the big leap, but I disagree. We just move into temporary jobs or positions: graduate school, consultant work (whatever that means), English teaching positions in foreign countries. The big leaps are happening now: house purchasing or building, buying cars, making job decisions that affect career paths, and - oh, yes - the marriages. Those are big decisions, but those aren’t the biggest ones facing us right now.

This week’s Parsha is all about big decisions. The Israelites come to Canaan, scout it and report that it is inhabited by giants who live in fortified villages. The Israelites suffer a moment of weakness (Giants in fortresses. I mean if G-d told me I could beat MJ one-on-one, I’d give him a look) lose faith in themselves, and opt not to fight, despite the fact that God has told them they will win. All because of some big giants.

For people like us, we’re the Hebrews of that age: staring in the face of these big decisions. It’s funny then that we spend most of our time staring at either a computer or a TV screen. It’s 48 inches, and you can count the pores on Jessica Alba’s face in Sin City. Totally worth it.

A good part of our lives is eaten up in the commute, precious hours devoured in the office, and we arrive home too exhausted to do anything other than slum it on the couch. We’re too occupied with the day-to-day to pay attention to even the week-to-week. Except weddings, I have those planned out … and the bachelor parties.

It’s not that there aren’t big things on our radars. We do pick up the occasional magazine displaying ways to put our pension in good shape for when we retire. G-d, that seems far away. Some we take care of, some we don’t. Some changes we make in our daily lives make us feel like we are wielding great control over it. Not only are these tomatoes organic, but grown locally. But the biggest decisions are the ones that we don’t even get a chance to really consider. Like, are we spending enough time with our friends? Do we get to get away enough?

Recently, I went on a trip to Italy with my brother (younger) and sister (older). I went despite worries about my ability to afford it (nope) and the time it would take (can’t afford that either), because my mother insisted that we three wouldn’t ever be able to do this again. And while we got along with varying degrees of success (Colin, I swear if you drag us to another museum, I will pour this wonderful bottle of Chianti on your white pants), I’m glad I went, because, my mom (gasp! Is he really saying it?) was right - who knows if I’ll be ever again be able to take off 10 days straight at the same time as my brother and sister. Those moments are ones we sacrifice like little lambs, in the hopes of putting ourselves in a better position 20 years down the road.

I think we know our big decisions. I think we know when we’re not making the extra effort to remain connected to our own self. It’s like a big giant staring us in the face. We know what will make us happy, but we fear the consequences, despite how good it feels to spend the weekend with a good friend, or to take off an evening to catch up with a good book. And unlike the giants that Israelites will eventually beat 40 years down the road (G-d’s punishment to the Israelites for not believing in him), our giants will continue to come back, again and again, and it will be our job to slay them then as we hopefully will do now.