This is a talk I gave at Temple Beth Israel in Eugene, Oregon in 2010. Though it is now almost a decade later, and we continue to lurch from Gaza-Israel crisis to crisis, as I just re-read it, it seems very applicable to this time.
In this week’s Torah portion, called Shelach Lecha, we find the Israelites at a critical crossroads in their early history as a free people. A little over a year has passed since they escaped slavery in Egypt, and they’ve arrived close to the border of their destination – the Promised Land. God commands Moses to select a team of 12 leaders – one from each of the tribes – and assign them the mission of scouting out the Promised Land. They are to take a full tour of the land, and then return and make a report to Moses and the Israelites.
After spending 40 days scouting out the land, the team returned to the Israelite encampment in the wilderness of Paran. They brought samples of the land’s produce, including a cluster of grapes so large it had to be attached to a large wooden pole and carried by two men.
My wife attended a lecture earlier this evening by noted Israeli journalist and author, Ari Shavit. I wasn’t feeling well, so I didn’t go, but I eagerly awaited her report on the event when she came home. One of the things she said Shavit said was that the Western world should focus its energies on supporting long-term, deep and fundamental positive change throughout the region as a whole, and that this kind of strategy would be more likely to yield eventual good fruits than strategies that seek to push and prod Israelis and Palestinians into a two-state solution. I don’t know if he’s right about this, but the thought has stimulated a question in my mind, as someone who really would like to make a positive difference. The question is, if I were to work for the kinds of positive change that are genuinely enduring in the Middle East, what would that look like?