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Etz Chayim – the ‘Tree of Life’ – is the Hebrew name of Northwood & Pinner Liberal Synagogue.
Bar Mitzvah of Jack Mansell
The opening words of this week’s sidrah are shelach l’cha anashim. The Plaut chumash that we use translates and anashim as ‘notables’ but this it is also undeniable that the simple translation of ‘men,’ would also apply to these people who were to scout out the Land. Amongst the notables, it was hardly likely that there was to have been a woman. Therefore, we can justifiably translate these opening words: “Send out for you, men.”
The seventeenth century Polish, Keli Yakar, presents a midrash (quoted in Rabbi Lisa A. Edwards’ commentary in ‘The Women’s Torah Commentary’). God gives Moses this advice:
"With My knowledge from seeing into the future, it would be better to send women who cherish the Land because they don’t count its faults. But for you [l’cha], with your knowledge, if you think that [these men] are fit [for the job] and the Land is dear to them, then send men. Therefore, send for yourselves [shelach l’cha], according to your level of knowledge, men. But according to My level of knowledge, it would be better to send women as I said."
Moses sends out men and ten of the scouts give a negative report about the Israelites’ chances of a successful conquest of the Land and the rest is history: a disastrous attempt to win back God’s favour and 40 years of wandering in the Wilderness until the slave-generation who knew Egyptian bondage died.
But what might have happened if the scouts had been women? The midrash from Keli Yakar suggests that God thinks that there were no pessimistic, fearful, worried women amongst the Israelites; or at least the 12 that God would choose had the vision to see past the immediate issue of conquest – perhaps a primary male focus – to the essence of the Land. Putting aside for a moment our modern day concerns for the Canaanites, the people who the Israelites would supplant, the women were able to perceive in the Land, the promise that God had given to the Israelites.
The revolutionary movement in Libya was initiated by women mainly of Benghazi – the female relatives of men killed in one of Colonel Gaddafi’s jails. They were the scouts who appointed themselves – or if we follow the midrash, were chosen by God – to go out and provide a vision of a promised land. These women were the first to hold the essence of a society free from tyranny, afforded the basic human rights and more that a civilized, democratic society can bring and to act upon it.
Of course, we who thankfully can take for granted our basic freedoms, must be patient. The Israelites took many years to live in freedom in the Promised Land, to realize the vision. In the Middle East and North Africa, it will also require patience. It will take many years before the women of those lands gain their true freedom. Let us be amongst those who ‘cherish the Land - the opportunity that our contemporary reality provides - because we don’t count its faults.’ ‘Its faults,’ are those that will be encountered along the journey to freedom, just as our ancient ancestors did. We cannot ignore them but must act positively to support the progress of societies towards freedom and economic prosperity. But let us not count the faults along the way and lose the vision of the essence, the vision of a Promised Land for all peoples.
Jack, you have had a vision that has enabled four generations of the Mansell family to celebrate life together: Jack your Bar Mitzvah, your father, Rob his 40th birthday, your grandfather, Alan his 70th birthday, and Max, qwelling at the whole gantza-simcha! Jack, your determination to see through the essence of your vision has provided a sense of pride that was achieved through your immense efforts, individually, and together with your mother. If God had sent out female representatives of the tribes of Israel, I think that your mother would have been amongst them.
After this service, rest up for a bit; but not for too long. May you and we always be looking for the next opportunity to develop our selves. May we consider our soul to be our Promised Land never missing any opportunity to nurture and develop it. For so we read in Proverbs: Nayr Adonai, nishmat adam – The soul of humanity is the lamp of the Eternal One. Occasionally, our might will take us forward but more usually, it is our soul that contains the essence of life, of decency, of humanity and the inspiration of the Divine. May we be so inspired as the women of Benghazi and Saudi Arabia, to chose ourselves as scouts for goodness and so draw nearer a time when their basic human rights are assumed.
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