Our Torah portion for this week, Sh’lach, is a continuation of the People of Israel’s journey to its promised land. For many of us, when we think of the “classic stories of the Bible,” the story of the 12 Spies would make that list.
God instructs Moses to send spies to investigate the land. What the spies see, and how they interpreted those environs based on their own internal apprehensions and insecurities shaped their report. Two spies, Joshua and Caleb bring a bountiful bundle of grapes as evidence of Israel’s bounty.
Our narrative proceeds from the spies’ report, Israel’s response, another failed rebellion, to the oddly juxtaposed and jolting break in the story, and finally, the description of sacrificial meal offerings, dough offerings, and communal and individual sin offerings.
Consistent among these offerings is the use of wine. Unlike other faith traditions that relegate wine to sinfulness, Judaism honors the grape as a symbol of abundance, as well as an elemental component to our weekly ritual. There is an understanding that the grape grown in nature, with soil and water, is a sign of health, balance, and goodness. Wine is a further enhancement of just this, with the added aspect of partnership – between humans and God – transforming something elemental to something and uplifting, and transporting us from the mundane to the sacred.
At the time of Israel’s return to the land of Israel, the grapes carried by Joshua and Caleb could have served as a symbol of promise. The people of Israel neglected to see the bounty in their midst. And they missed the calling to partner with one another and God to transform the figurative grapes into wine. May we all reflect on the opportunities aplenty to add, enhance, and help transform what is elemental into so much more.
Rabbi Jay Strear
President & CEO
Please email Rabbi Strear at CEO@JEWISHcolorado.org with comments or questions.