Yom Shabbat, 15 AdarI 5781
Shushan Purim Saturday, 27 February 2021
Parashat Shelach 2013

Parashat Shelach
Rabbi Margaret Jacobi

31 May 2013

Our Torah and Haftarah readings this week provide a striking contrast. Unlike many Haftarot, where the connection with the Sidra is hard to see, this connection is obvious, as both deal with the exploration of the Promised Land. The Sidra tells of the failure of confidence of the Children of Israel when ten of the twelve spies return to tell them that they cannot conquer the land because its people are giants.· In the Haftarah, on the other hand, the two spies return to confidently tell the people: ‘The Eternal One has given all the land into our hand.’·

There is another contrast.· In the first episode, there is no contact between the spies and the inhabitants of the land. In the Haftarah, there is a close encounter between the spies and Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute.· She shelters them when they are being pursued by the Canaanites. They, in turn, protect her and her family when the conquest comes to pass.

Our Torah is a complex mixture of sublime ethical teachings and episodes which now seem shocking in their brutality. As Liberal Jews, we recognise in this complexity the understanding of human beings three thousand years ago, in a very different world from our own.· Much of the book of Joshua offers a bleak and shocking picture, to our 21st century sensibility. The conquest is depicted as ruthlessly destroying the Canaanite inhabitants.· The episode of our Haftarah offers a gleam of hope in the darkness.· One woman, Rahab, is pictured as standing out., Rahab sees the spies as men in need of shelter instead of enemies, and they in turn see her as a courageous woman, extending the hand of support despite the danger to herself.· Each learns to see the other as a human being instead of an enemy.

Last week, we witnessed the killing on the streets of Woolwich of Drummer Lee Rigby. · He was killed by men who did not see him as a human being, only as a legitimate target in what they considered a war on behalf of Islam –though the vast majority of Muslims immediately condemned the murder as contrary to their religion.· It is hard to know how to respond to such events.· But we can know what we should NOT do.· In the wake of the murder, there has been a sharp increase in attacks on mosques and individual Muslims. · But all Muslims must not be held responsible for the deeds of two extremists.· The vast majority of Muslims live peaceably with their neighbours and contribute to good relations.·No-one should be judged solely because of their religion.·

The prophet Malachi, over two thousand years ago, proclaimed: ‘Have we not one Father, and has not One God· created us all?’.· Later, the rabbis of the Mishnah learnt these lessons from the Creation of Adam in the bible: ‘One human being was created to teach us that no one can say: ‘My ancestor was greater than your ancestor’ and also to teach that whoever destroys a single human soul is as if they destroy an entire world, and whoever saves single human being is as if they save an entire world.’· Each human being is full of a myriad possibilities.· Just as Rahab and the spies learnt to see each other as human beings, not enemies, so we need to learn to see beyond ethnic group, religion or even someone’s profession as a soldier, to see a human being like ourselves, a child of God,

Only when we all learn to understand our common humanity can we hope to prevent such atrocities in future.· Only then will the words of the prophet Micah be fulfilled: ‘They shall dwell everyone under their own vine and under their own fig tree and none shall make them afraid.