Parashat Sh'lach L'cha 5782 - After Roe

Shlach L’cha tells the story of the scouts that Moses sent out to see the land of milk and honey that God promised them. But more than the land, they were scouting the future. Were the years ahead really flowing with milk and honey, or did challenges and uncertainty await?

The scouts reported back that the land did flow with milk and honey – just look at this single bunch of grapes, so large it had to be carried on a frame between two scouts! Yet Canaanites of great stature and strength occupied the land and the scouts thought it impossible for the Israelites to settle there. They describe the promised land as a land that devours those that dwell there. The Torah: A Women’s Commentary tells us that “this phrase alludes to the results of frequent warfare, which ravaged Canaan.” In other words, the human politics made the holy land inhospitable, destructive, and even deadly. The scouts’ pessimism permeated the Israelite camp. They wept hysterically at the report: “If only we had died in the land of Egypt!” At the end of the scout story, God sends the Israelites into the wilderness for their lack of faith, away from the promised land via the Sea of Reeds – the very sea that they crossed to escape slavery in Egypt and gain their freedom. They moved backward, away from their future destination, and were forced to regroup in an uncertain, dangerous land.

We too are reentering the wilderness in our country as millions of people lose access to life-saving and live-affirming reproductive care. This grave injustice will intensify inequality and disproportionately hurt the most vulnerable in our society. With the fall of Roe v. Wade, we have every right to mirror the devastation of the Israelites and to lose faith in our leaders. Our future – a future with bodily autonomy and religious freedom for ourselves, our partners, and our children – was just stripped away from us. For some, we now understand on a new level the effects of inhospitable, destructive, and deadly politics. For others, they’ve been dealing with these dehumanizing attacks for their entire lives. Responding with anguish and weeping like the Israelites is understandable, perhaps even necessary. But I pray that we also find the strength to remember the scout who first offered optimism in the face of dismay.

As the other scouts reported on the insurmountable odds of conquering the promised land, Caleb told the Israelites, “We shall surely overcome it.” This grounded optimism leads the Torah to describe Caleb as having a ruach acheret, a different type of spirit. He saw the obstacles but did not allow them to obstruct his clear vision of what the future could – and ultimately would – hold. Though we have returned to the wilderness in despair, may we never forget where we are headed. May our vision for religious freedom, respect for others, and bodily autonomy be regained in our days through the work of our hand. May we remember our duty to raise our voice against injustice, organize for change, and support generously those in need. And may we always remember the power of community to heal, uplift, and seek a better tomorrow.

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