Friday, July 1, 2016

Walls, Spies, and American Jews

A friend and congregant has been sitting shiva for his mother and there have been minyanim (prayer services) at his house both morning and evening. I want to share with you a Torah thought I had yesterday morning connecting the weekly Torah reading to the secular calendar.

This week’s parasha, Shelach, begins with the story of the Twelve Spies Moses sent shortly after the Exodus to scout out the Land of Israel. Ten of the twelve tell Moses upon their return that it will be impossible to conquer the Land because the inhabitants are too strong. How do they know? Because their cities are surrounded by big tall walls.

Rashi points out that the spies got it backwards. Heavily fortified cities do not mean strong people. They mean weak people, fearful people. Strong people don’t need to hide behind walls.

We have been having our morning minyan services in Jedd’s backyard, which is visible from two streets and of course to all the neighbors. And yet we are out their davening wearing tallit and tefillin, which look pretty odd to those who aren’t familiar with them. Throughout most of Jewish history -- even in America until fairly recently -- Jews in the Diaspora would have been too afraid to pray with tallit and tefillin in such a visible manner. But because as American Jews we are not fearful, we do not feel the need to hide ourselves behind a wall.

Because I’m a student of Jewish history, I realize how utterly amazing this is. Throughout most of our history we would never have dreamed of something like this. If Jews would have been comfortable praying outdoors in a residential area, it would have only been because Jews lived segregated from the rest of the population. But we are blessed to live in a country which believes in and practices religious freedom. We live in a country which allowed us or our parents or grandparents to come here and thrive even though they didn’t speak the language and had a different religion than almost everyone else.

On this July 4th weekend let’s give thanks for the blessings of freedom we enjoy in this country.