Parshat Shelach Lecha: Numbers 13:1-15:41; Joshua 2:1-24.
And God said, “I pardon, as you have asked.”
Though we are months from the High Holidays, these words bring to mind our prayers during the months of Elul and Tishrei. We confess our sin; we share our sorrow; we ask for forgiveness, and God grants us pardon. In this week’s portion, we find God offering pardon to the people who have cried out in fear and anger after hearing the reports of the spies.
Ten spies return and declare that the land is not fit for the people, that the land is full of giants. Only Caleb and Joshua believe that God will protect the people — that God will provide. In anger, God appears to the people in the Mishkan, in the Tabernacle, and threatens to destroy them all. Moses pleads with God and God changes their mind.
Because the spies are so exciting, people often miss the lesson here: the importance of communication, the importance of hearing distress and knowing how to help another reduce their anger in the moment.
Recently, I found myself in a group of people complaining about a number of things; and I found myself getting angry. Instead of speaking up and expressing anger, I stayed quiet and contemplated what I could do to change myself in the moment. A wise person commented afterwards that perhaps it was an opportunity for growth. The group needed direction; they needed to learn how a group conversation can be shaped and moved forward in a compassionate way.
Getting angry would have been counterproductive, but the group leader knowing how to refocus and redirect the conversation at hand would have allowed for the group to move past the conflict and arrive at consensus.
Too often in our lives, we feel anger, and rather than addressing its root cause we lash out. God plans to lash out at the people until Moses steps in and says, “Wait a minute — this is not who You are.” In this moment, Moses is the mediator between God’s anger and the people. While we know that Moses will ultimately lose his opportunity to enter the Promised Land because of his own anger, showing that our ancestors were only human, in this moment he is the calm one. The one who knows that God is better than God is acting in this moment — that God is “slow to anger and abounding in kindness; forgiving iniquity and transgression …”
May we all be too slow to anger.
Rabbi Simone Schicker is rabbi at Temple B’nai Israel in Kalamazoo.