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  • What was the sin of the spies?

    The story of the scouts (or ‘spies’) in the book of Numbers (13:1-14:45) provides intriguing insights into the workings of community, of leadership and the challenges of faith. Having drawn near to the Promised Land, twelve of the Israelites are sent on a reconnaissance mission. They are to ‘check out’ the land ahead and report back to Moses. A disastrous conflict follows involving Moses and his supporters, their opponents, and God. We are left with a question as to what could have caused such a breakdown in order and leadership among the Israelites, so close to their destiny? Read the story of the scouts in Numbers 13-14. Then, let’s begin our reflection with two translations of God’s command to Moses to send the scouts: ‘Shelach lecha anashim...’ ‘Send men…’ (13:1; NRSV) ‘Send for yourself men…’ (13:1; Fox) Fox’s translation retains a subtlety in the Hebrew text: ‘Send for yourself,’ or ‘Send for you,’ or ‘Send if you please.’ Do you think this subtle addition makes a difference to the story? It made a difference for the Jewish sages who have pondered this text over the centuries. [1] They argue that ‘you/yourself’ indicates that it was Moses and the Israelites who insisted on sending out scouts and that God went along with their plan. (This is how the story is remembered in Deuteronomy 1:20-2:1.) After all, reasoned the sages, why would there be a need to send out scouts in the first place? God had already assured his people that they would be led to a land of milk and honey. Isn’t God’s promise enough? They concluded that the Israelites showed a lack of trust in divine providence; yet, out of respect for their freedom, God worked with and through the designs of his people. The sages wrestle with a further question: Exactly what is the sin of the scouts? Why are they rebuked? Where do they go wrong? After all, aren’t they simply reporting back? Again, small details in the text catch their attention: 'We are not able to go up against the population, for it is stronger than we!’ (Num. 13:31). In Hebrew the latter part of this sentence reads: ‘stronger than we.’ But it can also be read as: ‘stronger than him.’ The plain meaning would suggest ‘we,’ but in their prayerful play with the text, the Jewish sages developed an interpretation by translating it as ‘than Him,’ meaning that the foreign population is ‘stronger than our God.’ In this way, the distrust and rebellion of the people is conveyed. Their rebellion becomes clear in the very next sentence: So they gave out a (false) report of the land that they had scouted to the Children of Israel (13:32). Until now, the scouts have been reporting back to Moses. But at this point they spread rumours in the community, undermining confidence, inciting fear. Note how they liken their own people to ‘grasshoppers’ (13:33). What is it like to be called a ‘grasshopper’?! Also, the contradictions in their story suggest a lack of truthfulness. E.g., if the land ‘devours its inhabitants’ how could all its people be ‘of great stature’? Continue to explore the text, attuned to its details, creatively and prayerfully engaging with the story. For instance, one might say that what we see on the edge of the Promised Land is a failure of nerve. Do you agree? Have you ever faced a challenging ‘crossroads’ situation where negativity threatened to overcome hope, where fear of the unknown played into personal insecurities; where your trust in God was tested? How was the situation resolved? • 1. Bibliography: Fox, The Five Books of Moses (New York, 1995); Leibowitz, Studies in Bamidbar (New York: Lambda, n.p.d.); Rashi: Commentary on the Torah. Vol 4 Bamidbar (New York: Mesorah, 2001). © Teresa Pirola, 2012. lightoftorah.net. Reproduction for non-commercial use permitted with acknowledgement of website. Download the PDF version. Light of Torah is a grassroots ministry based in the Catholic community in Australia, encouraging Christians to reflect on the Hebrew Scriptures with the help of Jewish insights. More... The reflection above refers to Parashat Sh'lach L'cha (Numbers 13:1 - 15:41), the Torah portion read for this Sabbath in the Jewish liturgical cycle (in the diaspora). Shabbat shalom! Download your free Jewish and Christian Liturgical Calendar, courtesy of Etz Hayim-Tree of Life Publishing.

  • Spirit-filled prophets? Or just a couple of trouble-makers?

    In order to assist Moses in the heavy task of leadership, the Lord instructs him (in Numbers 11:16-30) to gather seventy elders around the Tent of Meeting. There the Lord comes down in a cloud, speaks to Moses, draws upon the spirit resting on Moses and imparts it to the seventy elders. The seventy then prophesy. "When the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied” (v.25). But something unexpected happens. Two men who are not part of the select group also have the spirit rest on them, and they begin prophesying! Note the reaction of Joshua, and then ponder the response of Moses. And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” But Moses said to him, "Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!" (Numbers 11:27-29) Note how Moses reacts to the unexpected prophesying of Eldad and Medad, neither of whom have been officially commissioned. What do you make of this scene? What is going on here, and what is God's word trying to teach us? As we ponder this Scripture story, let's hear from some of the voices of Jewish tradition: [1] Isaac Arama, a 15th century Talmudic scholar, [2] views this incident as an example of Moses withstanding the test of jealousy. There is a Talmudic text that says: “A man envies everyone except his own son and disciple” (San. 105b). Arama points out that Moses’ humility goes a step further. He does not envy those who were his disciples; in fact, Moses earnestly desires that all the people of God should be prophets, and that the Almighty’s spirit should be bestowed upon them without Moses’ authoritative involvement. For most people, this event would arouse jealousy; yet Moses did not display jealousy. So, what do you make of Arama’s view? Do you agree with it? Is there anything you wish to add, or to debate? Do you agree with Arama's view? Is there anything you wish to add, or to debate? For instance, notice how this passage follows on from the previous story of the people’s complaints about the lack of meat. Could it be that what we see in Moses is not a display of heroic humility, but rather the fatigue of a leader worn down by an argumentative community? Upon hearing of two more people who are not responding to his leadership, perhaps he just hasn’t the energy to take it up! In which case his response to Joshua could be interpreted as either sarcasm, or as a plea to “leave them be (and me as well!).” Not surprisingly, this interpretation does not find traction in the tradition. In fact, as the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber [3] has pointed out, a tiny detail in the text gives rise to an even stronger affirmation of Arama’s view. While the report is that two men are prophesying, Moses replies using not the verb but the noun. “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets.” In other words, Moses is not referring to a fleeting instance of the prophetic urge; rather he is expressing a desire that all should attain the permanent status of prophet, a status which, as he knows from his own experience, involves direct communion with God. From Moses’ example, we might conclude, as does Hirsch (19th century Jewish commentator): [4] “We are shown that there is no monopoly on spiritual leadership... The lowliest of the nation shares with the highest the opportunity of being granted divine inspiration.” How do you enter this Torah conversation? What details of the text affect your interpretation? What links do you find with other parts of Scripture? For instance, in the voice of the prophet Joel, we read: “Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.” (Joel 2:28-29). Assisted by the work of Nehama Leibowitz (1905-1997), renowned Torah teacher in 20th century Israel. Isaac Arama (1420-1494) Spanish Talmudic scholar. Martin Buber, (1878-1965) Jewish philosopher, born in Austria, lived in Germany and Israel. Shimshon Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) German-Jewish rabbinical leader. Bibliography: Leibowitz, Studies in Bamidbar (New York, n.p.d.). Scripture: NRSV. © Teresa Pirola, 2013. lightoftorah.net Reproduction for non-commercial use permitted with acknowledgement of website. Download the PDF version. Light of Torah is a grassroots ministry based in the Catholic community in Australia, encouraging Christians to reflect on the Hebrew Scriptures with the help of Jewish insights. More... The reflection above refers to Parashat B'haalot'cha (Numbers 8:1 - 12:16), the Torah portion read for this Sabbath in the Jewish liturgical cycle. Shabbat shalom! Download your free Jewish and Christian Liturgical Calendar, courtesy of Etz Hayim-Tree of Life Publishing.

  • A Conversation: Shavuot & Pentecost

    Enjoy this video conversation between Jewish Educator Abe Schwarz and Catholic Scripture scholar Professor Mary Coloe pbvm, as they talk about the significance of the Jewish Shavuot festival and the Christian celebration of Pentecost, their similarities and differences, for Jews and Christians. This video is part of a series of Conversations by the Council of Christians and Jews Victoria, Australia (ccjvic.org.au).

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  • I am a title 02

    Back Numbers 8.1 - 12.16 B'haalot'cha

  • Light of Torah. Jewish-Christian Relations. Interfaith Education Resources.

    Interfaith Education Subscribe to our Weekly Update Contact us Those who study the Torah give forth light wherever they may be. It is like one standing in the dark with a lamp in his hand, as it says, Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path (Ps.119:105). - Exodus Rabbah 36.3 Light of Torah offers education resources for grassroots Christian audiences, designed to foster a love for Torah and respect for the traditions of the Jewish people. ​ Considerable ground-breaking developments in Jewish-Christian relations have taken place over the past century, however these are not always well-known beyond specialist interfaith circles. Light of Torah offers accessible information for busy people and grassroots audiences. Its brief articles can readily equip a homilist speaking to a congregation, a school teacher guiding a class, or parents conversing with their children. contact us Use the form below or email your message or enquiry to | E: contact@lightoftorah.net | Submit Thanks for your message!

  • St Paul on a Page

    Teaching Tips for R.E. Teachers Topics St Paul Read More The Good Samaritan Under Construction The Prodigal Son Under construction Pharisees Under construction

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