Friday, June 13, 2014

Jews are not supposed to rely on miracles

 This week’s Torah Portion is called, Sh’lach (Vayikra, 13:1-15:41). It contains the story of Jewish spies in the Wilderness who betrayed G-d by reporting that the land of Israel could not be conquered. G-d had told the Jews that the land was theirs—and would be good. But the spies reported that the nations there were too strong, the cities too fortified to go there.

Our Talmud suggests that the sin of the spies was that they doubted G-d. Their negative report suggested that G-d wasn’t strong enough to help the Jewish people (Arachin, 15a).

Commenting on this tragic episode, the Ramban (1194-1270) takes a slightly different approach. He suggests that the original role of the spies was related to G-d’s requirement that we must act to receive G-d’s blessings. He suggests that we are not allowed to sit back and wait for G-d to give us what we want. We must act. That’s why the spies were sent out in the first place.

But in order to be successful, our actions must be based upon two foundations. We have to believe in G-d. We also have to believe that we can overcome the challenges we face.  We have to believe in ourselves. The sin of the spies was that they didn’t believe in G-d or themselves. They said, ‘can’t be done!’

From this episode, we learn how to live well. We learn that we win when we concentrate on our work—and on seeking G-d’s help.  We win when we believe in G-d and ourselves.

The Ramban tells us that Scripture “does not rely on miracles in any matter (emphasis mine”) (see Ramban on the Torah, The Art Scroll Series, Second Impression,  Bamidbar, p 247). We must act. To a large extent, we set our future. Perhaps that’s why our Talmud says that, on the path we choose, that is the direction G-d will lead us (I can’t recall the source).

From this Ramban commentary, we can see that the focus of our lives is not to rely upon miracles. The focus is to identify the actions we must take.

Many of the most religious among us do not agree with this. For example, they say that they won’t move to the modern state of Israel. They are waiting for G-d. He will bring them there.  

Yes, that’s an oversimplification. Bu t it’s true. These religious Jews reject modern Israel. They refuse to act to support Israel. They will not go to Israel.

They speak only of our future Redemption. They say we must not work towards that Redemption. They say we are obligated to wait. We must leave everything to G-d. He will take care of us. He will do everything for us.

But this ‘hands-off until G-d does it for us’ approach appears clearly to be based upon what the Ramban tells us not to do. In a sense, the focus for too many religious Jews is not on Redemption. It’s on the miracles that will bring that Redemption.

The Ramban is clear. When it comes to Redemption, we do not refuse to move. If the path we wish to travel is a not forbidden path, we must act.

Nothing will happen unless we act.

In fact, this concept is repeated in our Heritage. G-d told Moshe that the Sea of Reeds would split. But nothing happened. The sea didn’t split. It didn’t move until Nachshon ben Aminadav (or, the entire tribe of Benjamin) acted—and walked first into the water. There is a Talmudic statement (I can’t recall the source) that says that G-d doesn’t make rain come so farmers can plant. G-d brings the rain because farmers have acted—and planted first.

For the Ramban, our G-dly Source (Scriptures)is clear. We must not rely upon miracles. This is the way of the natural world. Waiting for a miracle is not an option. Refusing to act is not an option.

G-d does not bestow His blessings upon those who wait. He gives those blessings to those who act.

Too many Jews choose to wait. Worse, they choose to wait for a miracle.

The Ramban teaches otherwise. He suggests to us that, at the first Redemption, the golden prize—the land of milk and honey—did not go to the Jews who waited. It didn’t go to Jews to who said, ‘we can’t act’.  

Why do so many believe that the Final Redemption will be different?


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