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“Exaggerated Hyperbole is not Tautology” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

June 28, 2024 | 22 Sivan 5784

Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat. You can listen to it as a podcast here.

Sometimes two words that have similar meanings that are said together create a synergistic expression of emphasis rather than just a repetition. We see this in this week’s Torah portion.

The people have traveled through the wilderness and arrive close to the land of Canaan they will soon enter. Moses gathered leaders whom the Torah refers to as a “people of consequence”. They represent someone from each tribe. He charged them with the following instruction of where to go and what information to gather:

“Go up there into the Negev and on into the hill country,
and see what kind of country it is.
Are the people who dwell in it strong or weak, few or many?
Is the country in which they dwell good or bad?
Are the towns they live in open or fortified?
Is the soil rich or poor?
Is it wooded or not?
And take pains to bring back some of the fruit of the land.”
(Numbers 13: 17-20)

These scouts followed the directions to bring back fruit which were grapes since the Torah described that it was the season of the first ripe grapes. The sweetness of the fruit, however, did not match the bitterness of their calumnious report full of exaggerated hyperboles.

“Thus they spread calumnies among the Israelites about the land they had scouted, saying, “The country that we traversed and scouted is one that devours its settlers. All the people that we saw in it are of astonishingly 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.” (13:32-33)

Then it got worse:

The whole community broke into loud cries, and the people wept that night.

All the Israelites railed against Moses and Aaron. “If only we had died in the land of Egypt,” the whole community shouted at them, “or if only we might die in this wilderness!”

“Why is GOD taking us to that land to fall by the sword?” “Our wives and children will be carried off!” “It would be better for us to go back to Egypt!”

And they said to one another, “Let us head back for Egypt.” (14:1-4)

It is difficult to process information when the truth of what is conveyed or even debated only reflects the perversion of facts into exaggerated hyperbole.  How is it possible to decipher what is real and what must be discarded?  It takes a leader to rise above the panic and the fabrication to lay out a pathway into the future and to calm the anxiety of the people.

For the ancient Israelites, it could have meant the end of them.  God was prepared to destroy the people.  Moses intervened and reminded God of the attributes of compassion, forgiveness, and the ability to slow down  anger.  We cannot predict the future but we do have the ability to listen carefully and most importantly, to search out the same attributes of God in our leaders: compassion, forgiveness, and the ability to slow down our anger. Perhaps that may be the only way forward and worthy for us to enter the unknown future in our own lives.

Shabbat Shalom! שבת שלום

We celebrate Shabbat this week with Qabbalat Shabbat at 6:00 p.m. OUTSIDE in the Garden. Register here to join on Zoom .

On Shabbat morning, we gather at 9:00 a.m. in the library for a short Shabbat service and Torah reading followed by a lively discussion of this week’s Torah portion. All levels and abilities are welcomed. Register here to join on Zoom.

Thank Goodness it’s Shabbat gathers at 10:00 a.m. No registration necessary.

Gather online to say goodbye to Shabbat with a lay-led Havdalah on Zoom at 8:00 p.m

See Temple Israel’s webpage for Livesteam options.

I continue to value the many comments you exchange with me through these Shabbat Awakenings. Share with me what you think here. Your email goes directly to me!

Rabbi Elaine Zecher