D’var Torah – Shelach Lecha & the Gaza Flotilla Crisis of 2010

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.  

carmel
Logo from an Israeli winery featuring the Israelite scouts carrying the ginormous grape cluster as told in the Torah story of this week’s parashah.

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.  

Continue reading “D’var Torah – Shelach Lecha & the Gaza Flotilla Crisis of 2010”

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Toldot – my words 7 years ago – do they still apply now?

I gave this talk at Yom Kippur in the fall of 2008, not long before the U.S. elections that year. It draws heavily on parts of our upcoming Torah portion, Toldot.

Yom Kippur D’var Torah 5769                  By Rabbi Maurice Harris

A long time ago, a matriarch of our people went through an agonizing pregnancy.  Her name was Rivka, or Rebecca in English, and Genesis tells us that she went through excruciating physical pain while she was carrying twins.[1]  The text, written in poetic Hebrew, reads:  “…the children struggled in her womb, and she said, eem ken, if it has to be like this, lammah zeh anochi, why should I exist?”

Rebecca was a decisive woman, and she went directly to God to ask for guidance or an explanation.  God answered her with a prophecy:

שְׁנֵי גֹיִים בְּבִטְנֵךְ – two nations are in your womb.

וּשְׁנֵי לְאֻמִּים, מִמֵּעַיִךְ יִפָּרֵדוּ – and two separate peoples will issue out from your body.  One people will be mightier than the other, and the older will serve the younger.[2]

And God’s words were fulfilled.  Rebecca gave birth to twin boys, Esau, who came into the world red and hairy, and Jacob, who followed grasping onto his brother’s heel.  According to tradition, Jacob went on to be the forefather of our people.  Esau went on to be the founder of the ancient nation of Edom.  The rabbis later told us that Esau was also the father of their arch-enemy, the Romans.

Today we are all like our ancestor, Rebecca, on two fronts.  First, we are, as Americans, pregnant with twins.  Two nations are within us, two competing visions of what this country should be.  Similarly, as Jews who love Israel, we are also pregnant with twins.  Two Israel’s are within our people’s consciousness – competing visions of what Israel should be.  Each of these sets of twins have been locked in a painful struggle of wills for a long time, but we are on the verge of a birth here in the US and in the land of Israel as well. Continue reading “Toldot – my words 7 years ago – do they still apply now?”