D’var Torah: Parashat Shlach L’cha

31 May

Among other beautiful aspects of living in the modern State of Israel is the ability to relate to some elements of the Torah in a more concrete fashion. Walking the land, breathing the air, and witnessing the change of seasons adds a perspective to Biblical narratives that cannot be as fully experienced in other locales. More on this shortly.

Our parasha this week opens with God commanding Moshe to send forth spies from the camp of Bnei Yisrael, then situated in Paran, to scope out the promised land. Moses wants these men to observe the agricultural, military, and psychological character of the land that will soon need conquering. As evidence of their findings, the spies, in chapter thirteen, return with the fruits of the land:

כג  וַיָּבֹאוּ עַד-נַחַל אֶשְׁכֹּל, וַיִּכְרְתוּ מִשָּׁם זְמוֹרָה וְאֶשְׁכּוֹל עֲנָבִים אֶחָד, וַיִּשָּׂאֻהוּ בַמּוֹט, בִּשְׁנָיִם; וּמִן-הָרִמֹּנִים, וּמִן-הַתְּאֵנִים. 23 And they came unto the valley of Eshcol, and cut down from thence a branch with one cluster of grapes, and they bore it upon a pole between two; they took also of the pomegranates, and of the figs

Not surprisingly, the silhouette of two men carrying a large cluster of grapes is the symbol of the Tourism Ministry of Israel who announced this week that they are seeking to attract ten million tourists annually, ten million people to experience the land with their own senses. The story famously goes on to detail the negative report given by ten of the twelve spies, and the punishment incurred thereof.

Grapes ripening on the vine.

Grapes ripening on the vine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So where do the Ministry of Tourism, Parashat Shlach L’cha, and I intersect? Between my yeshiva and the closest junction is a vineyard next to the road. When I arrived in August the vines were drooping, laden with their lusciously tempting ripeness. After the harvest, the vines were pruned. All winter long, the barren vines bore the brunt of the Gush Etzion winter, driving rain, snow, fog, and blistering wind. In recent weeks, the vines have flourished once again, preparing to once again produce the raw material needed for making wine. Upon reading the following verse, also in chapter thirteen:

כ  וּמָה הָאָרֶץ הַשְּׁמֵנָה הִוא אִם-רָזָה, הֲיֵשׁ-בָּהּ עֵץ אִם-אַיִן, וְהִתְחַזַּקְתֶּם, וּלְקַחְתֶּם מִפְּרִי הָאָרֶץ; וְהַיָּמִים–יְמֵי, בִּכּוּרֵי עֲנָבִים. 20 and what the land is, whether it is fat or lean, whether there is wood therein, or not. And be ye of good courage, and bring of the fruit of the land.’–Now the time was the time of the first-ripe grapes

my first thought was of this vineyard. Although the grapes on the vines now are not fully ripe, they could be plucked from the vine and eaten. Suddenly the parasha took on a new dimension, speaking not of abstract places and names, or random agricultural processes, but of a physical reality that has marked the passage of time over this year in yeshiva. The Ministry of Tourism thrives on these moments, bringing the Torah to life, enlightening new perspectives on old stories, and getting visitors excited about this country and its offerings.

Places in the Tanakh do not have to be abstract places on a map, they can be visited,  the seven species tasted, and ancient trails hiked. Whether you live in Israel, visit Israel, or want to, on your next walk to the bus stop, or trip to another city, take a moment to consider the three-dimensionality of life in Israel, as we continue, in the steps of the spies, to scope out and build the land.

Shabbat shalom.

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