Parashat Shelach L’cha 5781

2 June 2021 – 22 Sivan 5781

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein

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 contemporary 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.

In many cases, from Belarus to Libya to western Black Lives Matters movements, it has been women who have led protest. Protest to change a status quo or to fight for justice, not to conquer.

Our Liberal Judaism Movement, is blessed to be led by women leaders. Perhaps we should not be surprised as the Synagogue Movement that has consistently moved beyond society’s norms of inclusion. Surely this encourages wider participation on the peer led model that our youth Movement, LJY-NETZER has successfully demonstrated for decades. In every generation there is more that we can do and it takes time for a society founded on male-dominance to attune and appreciate gender equality. We still have not reached that goal. It makes it all the more important to listen to the words and vision of women, not just hear their voices.

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