I was a little surprised to read that the best-selling non-fiction book this week is “Giant of the Senate,” by Sen. Al Franken. After all, it seems pretty obvious that this book has a limited audience. In the New York Times review of this book, Molly Ball wrote: “This is a book your liberal aunt will love and your Republican neighbor will never pick up, much less enjoy.”
It should surprise no one that two different people could look at this book and see something completely different. After all, when it comes to art, everyone is entitled to one’s own opinion. How much the more so when said art is politically charged.
But what about a country? Can two people look at the same tract of land and see two different things? Some people love France, while others prefer Australia. Who’s right?
This week’s Torah portion offers another example of this phenomenon. Moses sent twelve scouts to check out the Land of Canaan, the Israelites’ future home.
Ten of these scouts agreed with one another. Upon returning from their tour of the land, they said in one voice: ““The country that we traversed and scouted is one that devours its settlers (Numbers 13:32).” They recommended returning to Egypt.
However, the other two clearly saw something different. They stood up in front of their fellow Israelites and declared: “If Adonai will have us, then God will bring us into that land, a land that flows with milk and honey, and give it to us (Numbers 14:8).” Joshua and Caleb were ready to proceed into the Promised Land.
So, who was right? Was it a land that devours its inhabitants or was it a land that nourished its people with milk and honey?
It seems to me that the answer is that the land was neither fantastic nor terrible. Rather, it had the potential to be either one. It would depend on the people who settled there. If they came in seeing the worst and expecting the worst, then that’s what they would find. If they came seeing the best and expecting the best, then THAT’s what they would find.
Apparently, this was how God saw the situation. This was when God decided that the Israelites would have to wait forty years to enter the land. God hoped that as the Israelites got further from the experience of slavery, their view of the land would be more optimistic.
And, in fact, that’s exactly what happened.
Last week, in our little community, we started discussing a change to our High Holiday service structure. Some people read about the changes and were thrilled with the new opportunity. Others, however, read the very same email announcement and felt that an important part of their High Holiday experience was being taken away from them.
Neither response is wrong. This change has the potential to be great and it has the potential to be a disaster. It’s up to us to decide how it’s going to play out. If, together, we can focus on the good that this change will bring while trying to minimize the imperfections in our plan, then I am confident that we can make our High Holidays even more meaningful than they have already been.
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions regarding our new High Holiday plan, please be in touch. More details will be forthcoming soon.