Parshat Shelach Lechah: Numbers 13:1-15:41; Joshua 2:1-24.
By Rabbi Joseph Krakoff
One thing is for certain: Relationships are never easy. They are hard work, challenging and fragile. They must be cultivated, nurtured and cherished.
In a relationship that endures, there is honesty, trust, openness, constant communication and the recognition that we accept one another for who we are and not try to change others into who we want them to be.
In this week’s Torah portion, the relationship between Moses and God transforms into a new phase. Until now, God has been advising Moses as he leads the people through the desert, ever reassuring Moses and encouraging him to keep moving forward despite the distractions and frustrations along the way. On more than one occasion, Moses reaches a breaking point and is ready to be done. He is angry that the people regularly complain that slavery in Egypt was much better than what they have now in the desert.
The constant edginess of the Israelites has pushed Moses’ buttons and he doesn’t want one more minute of leading this ungrateful group through the desert. He is prepared to quit and leave the leadership to someone else. But God again and again assures Moses that times will get better and, in so doing, sustains Moses in his role.
This week though, the tables are turned, and Moses is the one who needs to strengthen and uphold God. At this juncture, it is the Almighty who struggles with the disappointing and rebellious behavior of this “stiff-necked” people. In Numbers Chapter 14, not once but twice God expresses frustration with the Israelites. In verses 11-12, God says to Moses: “How long will this people spurn Me and how long will they have no faith in Me despite all the signs that I have performed in their midst? I will strike them with pestilence and disown them …” And later in verse 27, God again laments: “How much longer will I have to put up with this evil group?”
With the opportunity now to advise and strengthen God who threatens to abandon the people for their disloyalty, Moses pleads with God to pardon the people and to give them another chance. Due to the trust and honesty established thus far, Moses feels comfortable appealing to God to spare the people. And because this relationship has evolved and matured over time, the Almighty heeds Moses’ plea; this relationship stands the test of time. This is no different for us.
Chaotic and stressful moments often call into question the strength of bonds with one another. In such times, it feels easier to focus on the disagreements, frustrations and misunderstandings and to just allow the relationship to be broken. Yet, those difficult times also create an opportunity to focus instead on all the good moments, shared experiences, and times of exaltation and blessing.
While relationships are never easy, if we grow, evolve and nurture along the way, and if the honesty, trust and openness remain, we have the ability to allow the most difficult of times to yield to a bond between us that is even stronger than it previously was.
Rabbi Joseph H. Krakoff is the senior director of the Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network.