The Torah understands that humans are risk-averse and afraid to change the status quo, even when it will lead to a great blessing. Shlach opens with G!d’s command to the Israelites to “Send men to scout the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelite people…” (Numbers 2:2). Twelve scouts or spies are sent out and report back to the whole Israelite community. They all agree that the land is good, “flowing in milk and honey,” just as G!d promised. But, except for Caleb and Joshua, the spies also report that their enemies are too strong, and some are even giants! The whole community becomes frenzied with fear that they cannot conquer the land and are being led to their death. G!d becomes angry with their lack of faith and declares that over the next 40 years, everyone except for Caleb and Joshua will die in the wilderness. As a result of their fear, no one of that generation realized the blessing of entering the Promised Land.
A similar dynamic appears during the shmita year when the Torah commands us not to plant our fields. Anticipating our fear, G!d responds: “Now if you should say to yourselves: What are we to eat in the seventh year? For we may not sow, we may not gather our produce! Then I will dispatch my blessing for you during the sixth year so that it yields produce for three years.” (Leviticus 25:20-21) Like in parashah Shlach, taking the radical actions commanded during the shmita year leads to a great blessing — a more just society.
In both cases, radical action that pushes us out of our physical and psychological comfort zone is required to bring great blessings into the world. Fear becomes the obstacle to creating necessary change. We can also substitute the significant issues of our day; the progression of multiple environmental crises, growing social inequality, and the legacy of racial injustice into this framework. Each of these issues requires massive shifts at an individual and societal level but promises to build a sustainable world with thriving communities where historically marginalized peoples experience safety, equity, and dignity.
Fear can keep us all from reaching our own individual and collective promised lands, fear of upsetting the status quo, fear of change, fear there is not enough, and fear of the unknown. However, if we move forward with the faith that, one step at a time, we will be taken care of, we will be guided, and there is enough; perhaps we will receive the blessings on the other side of our most significant challenges. Ultimately, the Torah tells us that the next generation of Israelites took the leap of faith and finally entered the Promised Land.
Bruce Spierer is the Public Education Manager at Hazon, overseeing and directing the development of public education programs that challenge and support Jewish institutions to develop and integrate commitments to addressing the climate crisis. Bruce brings ten years of experience working in urban agriculture, community composting, and public horticulture. He holds a Masters degree from New York University in Environmental Conservation Education and is a graduate of the Pardes Year Program. Bruce is an amateur naturalist, lover of composting, and an avid fermenter of food and drink.