Parshat Shelakh L’kha: The Blame Game

Parshat Shelakh L’kha: The Blame Game

Although we often react to Congress with dismay, anger, frustration and despair, we can rely on one D.C. constant: The Blame Game. Whenever legislation fails to pass a vote or is modified out of oblivion, our indignant representatives will usually hold others accountable for the failure. One party blames the other: conservatives blame liberals, liberals blame conservatives – you get the picture. Rarely do Congresspeople accept personal responsibility. Honesty may reflect integrity, but in Washington such honesty often translates into a one-way ticket out of the Beltway following the next Election Day.

Aside from Congress, The Blame Game is a favorite past time for most of us. When we desperately need an excuse to disaffiliate from an organization, to justify an embarrassing personal decision or even to explain a botched recipe (there must be something wrong with the oven comes to mind…) we assign blame. The blamer frequently makes a vituperative attack against the blamee (not really a valid word), to rationalize and justify the blame. Most of us at one time or another have played both sides of The Blame Game, as if just being honest is a capital offense.

The Blame Game lies at the center of our Torah portion this week: Shelakh L’kha. Moses (at God’s command) directs twelve scouts to survey their future homeland, to report back on the character of the terrain and the people. Except for Joshua and Caleb, the scouts return filled with pessimism about their future. When the masses hear the report they mount yet another uprising against Moses. In what seems to be a common occurrence, the people blame Moses for everything and for subjecting them to a future life of misery. With a what have you done for me lately mentality, the people were suddenly overcome with amnesia. They forgot about their oppression in Egypt; they forgot about their miraculous liberation; and they have already ignored the benefits that freedom will provide to their descendants for generations to come. Rather than looking inward and taking responsibility for their lives, the masses make insurrection against their leaders. They blame Moses and Aaron for even liberating them from Egypt! To his credit, Moses holds his ground with patience and with a sense of simpatico. He does not give in to their anger.

Perhaps the last paragraph in Shelakh L’kha appropriately reflects the Torah’s ultimate response to The Blame Game. The people are commanded to wear fringes (tzitzit) on their garments – a daily, physical reminder to observe their new mitzvot. The fringes will also awaken the people to appreciate their obligations toward themselves and toward the nation. The fringes will be a daily reminder to stop The Blame Game and to take control of their own lives.

Accountability for their future rests with them. As the saying goes, The ball is in their court. Time for The Blame Game is over…

Ending The Blame Game seems like prudent advice for us as well…

Major Themes in this week’s portion:

  • Moses sends twelve scouts to check out the future Land of Israel
  • Except for Joshua and Caleb, the scouts are pretty pessimistic
  • Panic attack: The report puts Moses and Aaron under siege from the angry masses
  • God/Moses tete-a-tete: God pardons but the Egypt generation will not go to Canaan
  • New laws: Sacrifices, intentional/unintentional errors, donating dough in gratitude
  • Man who gathers wood on Shabbat (a no-no) gets clobbered
  • The original tallit: Fringes (tzitzit) worn to remember the mitzvot

Question of the Week: The poor wood gatherer gets stoned to death for violating the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36). Remember that he was breaking a new law just introduced to a new and insecure nation. Can we offer any justification for such a draconian response?

For more information about these intriguing subjects, join us this Shabbat morning for our regular service. We begin at 9:30 am.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Klayman


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