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Shlach 5760

Shlach (Numbers 13-15 )

by Kalman Packouz

GOOD MORNING!  I am blessed with many wonderful colleagues in Aish HaTorah -- committed, intelligent, responsible, creative. Individuals dedicated to reaching out, educating and making our heritage accessible to all Jews. One of my colleagues, Rabbi Nachum Braverman, has written a fascinating book, The Bible For The Clueless But Curious, to transmit the wisdom of the Bible (the 5 Books of Moses) to people who are allergic to "Thees" and "Thous." It is perfect for this generation -- short, to the point "wisdom bites." He even has icons to clue the reader whether the section focuses on "Spirituality," "Insights into Life's Most Important Relationships," "What's Going On," "Wisdom for Living," "Deeper Meanings." (You can get his book from better book stores everywhere or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242.)

In the back of his book, Rabbi Braverman has "Thirty-two Frequently Asked Questions About the Bible, Religion and Judaism." I think of it as the "One Minute Primer for Judaism." I thought it would be worthwhile to share some of his "Q's and A's."

Q:  Isn't religion for people who aren't willing to think for themselves?

A:  In most areas of knowledge, rote memorization of basic information lays the foundation for higher reasoning. You didn't discover the number system, the alphabet, the laws of grammar, arithmetic, or the postulates of geometry yourself. No doctor derives the laws of organic chemistry or of pharmacology for himself. The foundation of knowledge we learn from other permits us to learn for ourselves.

The same is true with religion. The Bible states spiritual and moral postulates. Applying those principles -- deciding which applies, when, and how -- is the ultra-hard work of thinking that makes each of us unique.

Q:  Aren't religious people smug, self-satisfied, and dogmatic?

A:  I think that this is actually a slur and not a question, but let's try it anyway.

Because being pigheaded is easier than thinking, smug dogmatism is a human failing. Religious people are human; ergo, they are sometimes smug and dogmatic. The only antidote is being reasonable.

In the words of the philosopher Quine: "To believe something is to believe that it is true; therefore a reasonable person believes each of his beliefs to be true; yet experience has taught him to expect that some of his beliefs, he knows not which, will turn out to be false. A reasonable person believes, in short, that each of his beliefs is true and that some of them are false." (Quidditties)

Q:  What happens when the Bible conflicts with human reason? What if God tells you to do something you think is immoral -- like sacrifice your son, or fling yourself into a mine field screaming, "Allah Akbar!"?

A:  The first question is whether God is really talking, if you're overly imaginative or schizophrenic. If it is God talking, then we assume God is right (it's one of the perks of the job). If you think God is wrong, it's possible you're not seeing the whole picture. Imagine, for example, watching three people pin someone to a table and cut his leg off. You need history and context to know whether you're watching surgery or torture. The story of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac explores this very difficult question.

Q:  Who cares? So what? Why should I read this book at all?

A:  Here's a high-class question.

Do you want to be happy? Do you want a good marriage and well-adjusted children? Do you want meaning? Is it easy to achieve these things? Show me someone who thinks life is straightforward, and I'll show you a two-year-old. For 3,300 years, people have read the Bible for insight. That suggests that the Bible's answers to life's questions are worth thinking about.

Q:  I'm happy. Why should I get involved with religion?

A:  They say you can never be too rich or too thin (which explains why many people are neurotic and their kids are anorexic). But it probably is true that you can't be too happy or too wise.

Put differently, a business that becomes complacent when things go well won't be in business very long.

Q:  How could a book that's 3,300 years old be relevant to my life?

A:  Ever read Plato? Aristotle? Sophocles? Shakespeare? In Athens, Portland, or cyberspace, life's key challenges haven't changed much in the past several millennia. Classics are timeless whether you wear a ring in your nose, your ear, or your belly button.

Portion of the Week


The Jewish people had received the Torah on Mt. Sinai and were ready to enter the land of Israel. There was a consensus of opinion amongst the people that we should send spies to see if it was feasible to conquer the land. Moshe knew that the Almighty's promise to give the land included a guarantee to conquer it. However, one of the principles of life which we learn from this portion is: the Almighty allows each of us the free will to go in the direction he chooses. Even though one man and the Almighty is a majority, Moshe by Divine decree, sent out the princes of the tribes (men of the highest caliber) to spy out the land.

Twelve spies were sent. Ten came back with a report of strong fortifications and giants; they rallied the people against going up to the Land. Joshua ben Nun and Calev ben Yefunah (Moshe's brother-in-law) tried to stem the rebellion, but did not succeed. The Almighty decreed 40 years of wandering in the desert, one year for each day they spied in the land of Israel. This happened on the 9th of Av, a date noted throughout Jewish history for tragedy -- the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain amongst them.


Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states, "And Calev stilled the people towards Moshe and said, 'We should certainly go up and possess the land for we are well able to take it.' " There were two good spies --Calev and Joshua. Why did only Calev speak to the people and not Joshua?

The Arizal, a famous rabbi and mystic (kabbalist), explains that Joshua preferred that Calev speak to the people because he felt that if he spoke up, the people would respond, "You only want to enter the land because of your desire for power. You are only concerned about your own welfare. You want leadership for yourself. For us, it is not in our best interests to go to the land."

Our lesson: When we try to influence others to do something, it is important that they view what we say as being for their welfare. If someone we are trying to influence feels that we are motivated by self-interest, he will not heed us. In such a case, it is better to have an unbiased person speak to him.


Jerusalem 7:11   Miami 7:59  New York 8:14
L.A. 7:50  Hong Kong 6:51  Singapore 6:56
Guatemala  6:17  Honolulu   6:59  J'Burg 5:08
Melbourne 4:53  Moscow 8:58  London 9:03
Atlanta 8:35  Toronto 8:47


Don't tell God how big your problems
tell your problems how big God is.

Dedicated by...

In Appreciation to the
for His multitudinous blessings


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