As many of us prepare to go on summer vacation or to welcome summer visitors, the Torah gives us an inspiring send-off in this week’s portion. En route from Mt. Sinai to the Promised Land, the Israelites send out twelve scouts, a leader from each tribe, to investigate the land and bring back a report. It was somewhere between a reconnaissance mission and a tropical vacation:
They reached the wadi Eshcol, and there they cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes—it had to be borne on a carrying frame by two of them—and some pomegranates and figs. (Numbers 13:23)
When they return, the scouts eagerly tell Moses, “We came to the land you sent us to; it does indeed flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.” (Num.13:27)
Just as God had promised, the land was flowing with milk (probably goat milk) and honey (many say it was date honey, not bee honey). If the scouts had ended their report there, the entire camp probably would have packed up and headed straight to their destination.
The very next word is “However.” No matter how enticing the description of the land, regardless of the tangible fruits of the journey, ten of the twelve add their own contrary editorial slant. They claim that the land would be too difficult to settle. The people, fearful of the inhabitants of the land, refuse to move on. Long story short, the Israelites end up wandering in the wilderness for another 38 years (they had already been traveling for two). And all ten scouts who frightened the people off are doomed to die in the wilderness. Only Caleb and Joshua are privileged to live to enter the Promised Land, with Joshua as Moses’ successor.
My prayer for all of us is that we take the time to appreciate the fruits of our travels. Before you get to “However,” before revealing the uncomfortable plane ride, the inadequate accommodations, the rude guests, the poor weather—or whatever interfered with the “perfect” vacation you had anticipated—stop! Remember what a gift the vacation, or the visitors, have been. Give thanks for the good and hold onto it.
In the coming month, while I’m away from you, I will be doing a little traveling myself. Thanks to the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), I’ll be on a trip to Israel with the Jewish Labor Committee and Boston-area labor leaders to learn about workers in Israel, visit Roots (a joint venture between Palestinians and Israelis in the West Bank), and see Israel through the eyes of first-time visitors.
At the end of July, we will visit Brian’s parents in Tucson, Arizona, along with Aviva and Colin. This will be my in-laws’ first meeting with their great-grandson.
And after that, I’ll head down to Immokalee, Florida for my annual visit to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) as we strategize the coming year’s actions for allies in the faith community.
I don’t think I need point out that July is probably not the best time to visit Israel, Arizona, or south Florida. BUT, I am eager enjoy the fruits of all of these journeys and perhaps, bring back a frame of grapes to share with you.
Have a good summer! Kayitz na’im,