Parshat Shlach – June 2018
It was in an ancient synagogue in the Galilee that I began to understand the meaning of memory. On that stone floor scoured by wind rain and all the elements that poured into the building that for decades upon decades had no ceiling, did I fully feel all what we remember, joining into deeper and deeper levels of time past.
Memory is a living thing.
On one crumbling remaining wall, amongst decorations of rosettes, garlands and wreaths, the featured motif boasted the First Fruits, or Bikkurim as we call them. Holiness and mystery emanated from the tiny mosaic bunches of grapes, ears of wheat, date palms, olives, pomegranates, figs with their enormous leaves – without a doubt a didactic message to all those worshippers- Destination!- south- to the Temple in Jerusalem. I wonder who the artist was, who instructed it to be the focus on the synagogue wall and more so, what it meant. There in the ancient smell of it, it felt familiar.
The Bikkurim were brought by farmers and dignitaries alike in ancient Israel to be placed near the altar in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. It was a ceremony done in pomp and grandeur. To the Levites song and the tune of the flute, an ox lead the procession wearing gold ornaments, garlands of flowers and all good things, a parade coming around the corner – this was a ceremony of appreciation, of thankfulness, of acknowledging Hashem as well as His agents and it was greeted with much anticipation. It was a mark of a story unfolding, a story that started way back.
In your imagination you could go out to meet them.
The Arizal, a great Kabbalist and Rabbi of the middle ages teaches out that the mitzvah of Bikkurim is actually the rectification of the sin of the spies. Instead of loving the taste of the sweet sap, enjoying the healing bark, roots and shade of the leaves of the tree they could not recognize the good good Land. Instead of beholding the beauty of the golden fields of barley and the vineyards full; the sense of lushness and abundance were mistaken for scary and the intuition that should have been pregnant with ripe possibilities saw strangeness. They spied the land and brought back a bad report. Not only was it tunnel vision but it also became the lesson these leaders came to share- “We cannot go up and conquer it!” “Let’s toss it.” Twelve leaders were sent and ten failed in their mission. This was a historical sin. For every day of the forty days they were in the Land, a year of punishment for that generation in heeding the false words – forty years in the desert. That generation did not enter the Land.
If we go back like we go back because what goes around comes around, even before we became a nation in Egypt, a similar story happens to the family of Israel. Yosef has a dream and his shaft of wheat stands in the field but he is not recognized. His brothers, ten of them come to say he is strange and scary. They toss him in a pit the very same day the spies later come to bring their bad report, Tisha Ba’Av.
We fall , we rise and in Hashem’s grace and mercy He gives another chance.
Fast forward to today when we read this parsha thousands of years later in the Land they were so mistaken about, in the Land they said we had no chance in reaching and attaining. There are those who don’t get goose bumps when seeing the houses, the fields, the people busy in them. They do not recognize the clock ticking to the hour of full swing in time, to the place restored. I pray they can attain it. Shabbat Shalom! Leah Goldsmith