What is expected of me?
What is demanded of me?
In his book Who is Man? (p. 107), R’ Heschel eloquently describes the significance of this question:
This is the most important experience in the life of every human being: something is asked of me. Every human being has had a moment in which he sensed a mysterious waiting for him. Meaning is found in responding to the demand, meaning is found in sensing the demand.
Responding to the question “What is expected of me?” can be terrifying, especially when it applies to our relationship with G!D. Despite its significance, instead of addressing this question we often respond by fleeing, looking for comfort, ease, and distraction. To what lengths do we go to feel better? Some of us eat too much; some of us eschew real life for drugs and alcohol; some of us stop eating and exercise, hoping for endorphins to take over. Some of us spend all we have on doctors and medicines, alternative therapies, the newest fad.
But maybe the terror and angst can be transformative? Maybe by facing our fears and listening to G!D’s demands from us, we can find clarity, connection, and purpose.
This week’s parasha provides us with plenty of dramatic narrative to reflect on the question of what G!D demands of us. The most notable (and tragic) incident involves the group of scouts/spies that were sent ahead of the Israelites to visit the Promised Land. As the Torah shares:
“Send agents for yourself to scout the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelite people; send one participant from each of their ancestral tribes, each one a chieftain among them.” (Numbers 13:2)
As the story plays out, the group of twelve leaders head out and eventually return with a mixed report. While all twelve leaders agree on the beauty and resources of the Land of Canaan, there is significant disagreement about the Israelites’ actual capacity to enter and prosper in the area. The majority of the group is hesitant and quite fearful about their future, unsure if G!D’s promise of delivery is realistic. Immediately upon their return, they offer this report to Moses and the community:
“The country that we traversed and scouted is one that devours its settlers. All the people that we saw in it are of great size; we saw the Nephilim there – the Anakites are part of the Nephilim – and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.” (Numbers 13:32-33)
This report crumples the Israelites’ morale, and G!D recognizes that the current generation is too hampered by the remnants of their slavery and decrees that they will have to wait forty years to enter the land.
R’ Lord Jonathan Sacks makes a fascinating observation about this situation and G!D’s response. He shares that the scouts’ failure was one of listening; that they misunderstood G!D’s call, thus failing to pursue the mission they were sent on.
Their mistake was that they were not meant to be spies… Their job was to tour, explore, travel, see what the land was like and report back. They were to see what was good about the land …. (Covenant & Conversation, “What Is Going On?” – from www.rabbisacks.org)
We need reminders to answer the question. To do what is requested of us. So G!D accommodates – with the commandment to make tzitzit (fringes) on their clothes as a perpetual reminder of the commandments. Something annoying to remind you of your Sacred Beloved!
As G!D re-iterates:
Thus you shall be reminded to observe all My commandments and to be holy to your God. (Numbers 15:40)
If we are holy to G!D, then we are able to approach G!D; therefore, the commandments are given in order to draw us to G!D. G!D gives tzitzit to remind us to do whatever it takes to remember to do right (G!D ’s version of “doing right”), and thus be holy to G!D. Because our being available to G!D is so important to Him that He is willing to give us the silliest of reminders – I mean: fringes!
The consequences of addiction range from loss of relationships, loss of money, loss of home, loss of health… all the way to loss of life. Can we accept the sillinesses of the recovery route in order to be reminded to do what leads to life and away from death?
We are told to hold on. To make the bed. To put one foot in front of the other, seeking to be a grain of sand better today than we were yesterday. A simple thing. (Often not an easy thing.) Can we accept it?
Maybe by turning and facing the tough questions of what G!D expects of me, I can traverse the road ahead, whether it is scouting out new opportunities, wandering through the desert, or getting through the day with a clear heshbon ha nefesh (accounting of the soul) toward myself, others, and G!D.
Chaplain Adam Siegel