If one’s life is judged by how many countries one has visited, I’ve lived a rather pedestrian life. I’ve been to Canada, the US, Israel, and Mexico. Stopovers in France and Spain don’t count because I never left the airports. The most obscure Jewish community I’ve ever visited was in Elmira, NY. I applaud those who have seen the world and who have sought out Jewish communities, past and present, when they travel.
The first Israel pilgrimage since Avram left Mesopotamia for an unknown promised land takes place in this week’s parshah, Shelah-Lekha. It’s the story of the scouts, one for each tribe, dispatched by Moshe to reconnoiter the land. These 12 men are shelihim, agents of a sort. Their mission doesn’t go so well, because they lack the faith that God will enable the people of Israel to make this new land home.
Lesson learned, nearly 40 years later, Joshua–himself a veteran of the first mission–sends two scouts to Jericho as shelihim. This mission succeeds, leading to the conquest of one of Canaan’s most impenetrable cities. Is there something we can learn by comparing the two scouting expeditions about travel to foreign lands?
I mentioned above that I am impressed by those who travel extensively and make a point of visiting synagogues and Jewish communities in remote locations. Even more so, I applaud those who travel to far-flung Jewish communities not as sight-seers, but as agents of the Jewish People and our organizations.
This Shabbat morning, at a lunch and learn following services, I will be joined in teaching about the concept of shelihut, of representing the Jewish People wherever they may be, by Andrew Kahan, outreach coordinator of the Joint Distribution Committee. This will be of special interest to families with college students, recent graduates, and rising high school seniors. I look forward to being inspired by Andrew’s message about world-wide service.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise