|(Imagine) If Warren Buffet befriended you and wanted to live near you, and he gifted you a few acres of land in Omaha, committed to building a house for you, and cover whatever expenses necessary to get you there. You went to check the property and found there were people living there who refused to move, construction costs were higher than expected, and the bank required a lot of documentation to finalize the transaction. Would you go back and complain to Mr. Buffet and tell him you’re not sure this will work out due to the unexpected expenses and challenges required in bringing the plan to fruition? That would be absurd; Warren Buffet said he would handle the costs and his signature is one with backing. Now imagine G-d promising you a land. You sent spies there to check it out and they reported there were strong people there and you weren’t sure if the plan would all work out–and you believe them. If it was absurd to doubt whether Warren Buffet had sufficient means to carry out his promise, doesn’t it seem even more ludicrous to doubt’s G-d’s ability to carry out His promise? But that’s what happened in this week’s Parsha, where we learn about the Jewish people’s doubts and complaints about entering Israel, the promised land.
This isn’t the first mistake our ancestors made in the desert; making a Golden Calf was also a colossal blunder. After the Golden Calf incident, Moses prayed for his flock. A main aspect of his prayer was to invoke the merits of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Ramban (1194-1270) wonders why Moses did not seek to invoke the merit of the Patriarchs in the incident above? He answers that building the Golden Calf was indeed a severe infraction but it was not a wholesale rejection of a gift given by G-d Himself but when the spies came back with a pessimistic and defeatist report about the Land of Israel, it was a repudiation of a gift central to their existence. But how is this connected with mentioning Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? The answer deals with attitude.
One can’t expect to count on the Patriarchs, who lived in and loved the Land and knew that it would also be the cultural and religious home of the Jews for centuries to come, to defend you when you turn your back on something they cherished. The negative report about the Land of Israel was a rejection of what was near and dear to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and that’s why Moses could not invoke their merit when praying for the people at that time.
The Land of Israel is a Divine gift and that’s why not appreciating it is a grave sin; when you don’t appreciate a G-d given gift, it will be taken away. The generation in the desert wandered for forty years and lost the right to enter the Land. Their rejection goes against the grain of what Judaism represents. Why are we called Jews? We are named for Jacob’s son Yehuda (Judah). But Jacob had 12 sons and all Jews are descended from them. What distinction is there in the name Yehuda? The Chassidic master Sefas Emes (1847-1905) explains that Leah, Yehuda’s mother, was especially grateful when she gave birth to Yehuda because she had received more than her share in mothering the Jewish people. She prophetically knew Jacob’s 12 sons would come from four different women; when she gave birth to her forth boy, Yehuda, she recognized that she had been given more than she deserved and appropriately gave her son the name Yehuda, which means “this time I will thank G-d.” The title “Jew” means to appreciate that you have been given more than you deserve.
If you are physically healthy, appreciate it. If you are mentally healthy, appreciate it. If you have a chemical imbalance affecting your emotional state but are on medication that allows you to work, interact, and be productive in the world in a way that would not have been possible just a few generations ago, appreciate it. If you grew up in a home with non abusive parents, appreciate it. We take all of the above for granted but being a Rabbi and chaplain has taught me not to take anything for granted. Some people are born with demons while others acquire them in the dysfunctional homes in which they were raised. A Jew is meant to view every gift as Leah did–it’s more than I deserve and I want to thank G-d for it.
Being Jewish is also a gift, and we should be careful not to reject it. We have made so many contributions to the world and continue to do so. The fact that we now have Israel is a gift, and a miracle. Since its inception, the world has criticized everything that small country has done and it’s easy to forget what a tremendous gift it is. We take for granted that we can just get on a plane and go there but our great grandparents would have done anything for that opportunity. It’s easy to get caught up in the negative rhetoric about Israel and see it as a liability (rather than a gift) but when a person has this attitude, (s)he is falling into the same trap as the spies in the time of Moses. We are Jews and must never forget what our name means.
I got more than my share is a recipe for happiness. The opposite, complaining and turning yourself into a victim, will lead you down a road of misery. When Warren Buffet gives you a house, just say thank you. When G-d gives you life, health, family, and many other gifts, don’t forget to thank Him either.
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