29 June 2016
This week’s parasha, Shelach, contains the famous story of the 12 scouts sent by Moses to explore the land of Canaan. They return, and all but Joshua and Caleb have dire warnings, including the famous line that the inhabitants of Canaan, “were like giants…and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.”
With this news, the Israelites’ joy turned to fear and despair, losing faith and challenging the leadership of Moses and Aaron to the point where they cried out for a return to Egypt. The outcome of these events is tragic. God destroys the ten scouts who incited the community, sparing only Caleb and Joshua. The generation that lost faith never saw Canaan and only their descendants were privileged to reach The Promised Land.
This episode, along with that of the Golden Calf, reflects the consequences of losing faith in God. In both instances, the lack of trust leads to death and destruction.
What can we learn from these dramatic examples? As individuals, we are often faced with decisions that, given the “facts” available to us, point us in the direction of inaction. “It’s too hard,” “We can’t,” “It’ll never work.” Sound familiar? This is not to say that facts have no place in our decision-making; to the contrary, data is critical and ignored at our peril. But many decisions in our personal lives – and in the life of our community – will require some measure of risk – and even faith. What is our individual and collective “risk tolerance,” and how much faith do we as leaders have in the strength and abilities of ourselves and our community?
I just returned Wednesday night from Paris where I attended the Board of Governors meeting of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), one of our outstanding overseas partners and largest beneficiary of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s annual unrestricted campaign. “Risk tolerance” is exactly what’s on the minds of the French Jewish community. The spike in anti-Semitic acts along with terror attacks in general and specifically against Jews and Jewish institutions in France, is deeply troubling. The number of Jews making aliyah to Israel is increasing, but most are choosing to stay as proud Jews and citizens of France. I will be writing more about my what I learned, but for now, I am proud of the Federation, our donors and the work being done on the ground by JAFI to help increase security in French Jewish day schools, expand Jewish teen youth group educational opportunities and long-term experiences in Israel and of course, to be prepared to help any Jew who wants to make aliyah to Israel.
Steven A. Rakitt.