Sending Ourselves In
The following words of torah were shared this week in Utah as we gathered 182 Heritage members and their spouses for their Summer Institute, MADREGOT: Stepping Up Your Leadership.
In this week’s parsha, Shelach, Moshe sends scouts to bring back reports of Canaan — the nature of the land, its strengths and limitations and samples of its produce. Most of the scouts bring back reports that the land is magnificent, flowing with milk and honey, but that it is well fortified and will be impossible to conquer. Only the scouts from the tribes of Ephraim and Judah are confident that G-d will deliver the land.
Rashi’s commentary on this parsha includes that G-d did not command Moshe to send the scouts, but that if Moshe wanted to, he could. It has been questioned why the scouts were sent in the first place, because if G-d said it was a beautiful land that G-d would deliver to the people, why should the people need to scout it?
When Jay invited us to offer Divrei Torah for this parsha and to relate it to our Wexner experience, I thought it was a little bit of a gimme, because I think all of us feel like scouts as part of the Wexner program. For those of us completing the program, prepared as we are with our Wexner learning, it is time for us to be scouts in our communities and in the wider Jewish world and to identify the issues we would like to conquer.
The first two words of the parsha, “shelach lecha,” mean “send thou” or “send yourself out” and that is what we will do; however, part of sending ourselves OUT includes sending ourselves IN. Into ourselves to look at the nature of who we are, our strengths and limitations and samples of our produce. The classes we take on ethical wills, mussar and how we exercise leadership all help us to explore ourselves. Sending ourselves in is something we must do not just on the High Holidays, but routinely. We must know who we are, our goals and plans and motivations, before we seek to conquer. Just as importantly, we must send ourselves in after we conquer to analyze our behavior and our produce and to move ahead wiser.
So we must take time to be inner scouts, and as in the parsha, we must do so as part of a group. There may be dissenting voices, but the idea is to assemble a team of scouts whose voices we trust. We are all fortunate to have each other as fellow scouts within the Wexner network, and we must enlist each other to help with both inner and outer scouting. May we all do so with G-d’s blessing, and may we all find the richest produce.
Dena Schulman-Green, WHP Alum (New England 14) is a Research Scientist in the Division of Acute Care and Health Systems at the Yale School of Nursing. She is a gerontologist whose program of research focuses on timely integration of palliative care into self-management of serious illness. Dena has long been involved in Jewish communal life and leadership. She currently sits on the Board of the New Haven Jewish Federation, serving for the past three years on the Planning and Allocations Committee. She is also a member of the Review Committee for a $1 Million grants initiative sponsored by the New Haven Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation. She is likewise active at her local day school, Ezra Academy. Previously, Dena has served on the Board of the New Haven Jewish Home for Aged, on the Hanefesh Region Youth Commission of United Synagogue and as Youth Chair and Kiddush Coordinator at her synagogue, Temple Beth Sholom in Hamden, CT. Dena and her husband Eric Green live in Woodbridge, CT with their four children, Eve, Benjamin, Mia and Lily.
This week’s parsha, parshat shelach, talks about the mitzvah of challah. We find in Numbers 15:17-21 it says: “The Lord spoke to Moses saying: Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them, When you arrive in the Land to which I am bringing you, and you eat from the break of the Land, you shall set aside a gift for the Lord. The first portion of your dough, you shall separate a loaf for a gift, as in the case of the gift of the threshing floor, so shall you separate it. From the first portion of your dough you shall give a gift to the Lord in [all] your generations”
In Judaism we do not compartmentalize G-d; we make room for G-d in every part of our lives and in every action we do. Not just when we pray or on Shabbat and holidays, but in the most mundane aspects of our lives and specifically here when we bake challah. Bread is the most basic necessity of survival, we cannot live without it, but although it is so mundane it is here that we need to put G-d.
When we think about the ingredients we use when we prepare challah in a spiritual way we can learn many beautiful lessons in refining our middos and bettering ourselves .
Flour: When we bake bread the first thing to do is sift the flour, we remove any impurities – insects, dirt etc. It is important to sift out and filter any negativity or negative people in our lives.
Water: Water is the component that binds all the ingredients together. Torah is compared to water, Torah unifies us as a nation. Without Torah we are nothing, when we have Torah and unity we open ourselves to G-d’s blessings. We pray to always be united with our family, with love and harmony; to be united as a nation and to constantly feel united and connected to G-d in our lives.
Yeast: Yeast related to ego or haughtiness. Haughtiness is usually described as a negative trait, such as judging or looking down at other people, but it can also used be used for the good. We should use our pride to rise above the challenges that come our way and to rise up in our leadership roles in our communities. Let it give us the push to stand up and say “I know I can do this job, I am capable and competent and I will do it.”
Oil: Oil is oft and slippery. When oil sits, it separates from the other ingredients. In life try to let the negative things around you slip off, don’t let it get to you, don’t let it penetrate and pull you down.
Sugar: G-d should judge us sweetly, and not put bitterness in our lives.
Salt: When you have no salt the food is bland and boring but if you have too much salt is inedible. In life you need to find your balance, you need the right amount – not too much not too little. We need to find the middle road in our lives and to avoid extremes in any way.
We mix all the ingredients together and let the dough rise and grow. Then we make a blessing and pull off a piece of dough around the size of an egg. We wrap it and burn it, affirming that it is a gift for G-d and not to be accidentally consumed. Then we take the dough and shape it. Each person has a different way they like to shape their challah. Some people like to braid it with three strands, some with six, some love to be creative with their toppings, others like a more rustic loaf. When we serve G-d it is important for each one of us to do it on our own unique way, to be an individual and find our own way to connect to G-d using the unique talents and gifts that each of us have.
When i make my challah each week for Shabbat, I try to have these different kavanot, or thoughts in mind as I place each ingredient in the bowl and use it as a tool to better myself as a person. May we all find meaning and inspiration in all the mitzvos we do.
Chaya Holtzberg is married to Chesky Holtzberg, WHP Alum (New England 14). She delivered this d’var Torah at the Wexenr Heritage Summer Institute in Utah. She can be reached at email@example.com.
I learned on Monday that I share something with Rabbi Jay: we’re both fathers of Calebs, which I suppose makes us both Jephunnehs. Truth be told, Phoebe’s and my Caleb was named not only for Joshua’s partner in faith and valor but also for James Dean’s eternal cool as Cal in East of Eden. May both our Calebs grow into all these traits.
Now Caleb & Joshua had faith their ten fellow scouts lacked, but I’ve got to assume they were neither blind nor stupid. They knew that the military task of taking the land – populated by Anakites, Amalekites, Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites and Canaanites – would be a daunting one and that the odds were long.
What does such a moment call for? What do the people need to hear? What are we primed to expect? Exhortation, inspiration, Henry V (with apology to Shakespeare):
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
This, I would think, is what the Israelites needed at that moment. What, by contrast, did Caleb give them? (chapter 13, verse 30, JPS trans.): “Caleb hushed the people before Moses and said, ‘Let us by all means go up, and we shall gain possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it.’”
Hushed the people. I love that word, particularly its onomatopoeic quality. It creates what it denotes: Hushhhhhhh.
The people needed wisdom, centeredness, and quiet confidence. These Caleb gave them. Which is where this parsha, for me, connects to us as Wexner Fellows.
Leadership is often mistakenly associated with freneticism, verbiage and bombast:
Freneticism – we’re leaders because we get things done. We can slay the dragon of the in-box onslaught. We deliver. We make things happen.
Verbiage – heck, look at what I’m doing now. And I recall Erica Brown’s report of the linguist Deborah Tannen’s apt summary of the conversational style of New York Jews: “high involvement, concentric overlapping.” We are a verbose and disputatious tribe.
Bombast – heck, someone has gotten himself nominated for President on little more.
But what I take from Caleb – and what I need most in my leadership – is not these things. It is, rather, the leadership of quiet, of listening, of perspective, centeredness, wisdom and faith. These may be undervalued by our culture, but thankfully not by our tradition.
I need the leadership of Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata:
Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit.
I need the leadership of Rudyard Kipling. I realize sexism, racism and colonialism are quite the trifecta to set aside, but part of leadership is recognizing wisdom from wherever it comes. He wrote:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If yu can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
May we all bring to our work in Jewish community the inspiration of Caleb.
May we all, when we need to, remember the wisdom of hush.
Craig Levine, WHP Member (Greater MetroWest, NJ 15), is Managing Director of Civil Practice and External Affairs at The Bronx Defenders, a national model of holistic, interdisciplinary, community-based criminal defense. He delivered this d’var Torah at the Wexner Heritage Summer Institute in Utah and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.