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Spying on Judaism?

  • ParshaRabbiasherDeren
Someone came in to my office on Tuesday with questions. Pretty strong ones too. About religion, G-d, and Torah; questions that I've heard before. But after 45 minutes he stood up and said words I very rarely hear: "Thanks rabbi, you've answered my questions."
by Rabbi Asher Deren, The Shul of Blouberg - West Coast | Jun 15, 2017

But this is rare. Yes, very rare that questions are asked in genuine pursuit of answers. All too often they're not really questions. Excuses is probably a better description.

This week we read about 10 of the most famous and colossally tragic sceptics of all time. The 10 spies out of the 12 who come back from the land of Israel, sceptical that the Jewish people would be able to enter the land. Only Joshua and Caleb remain faithful to the mission.

But weren't they just doing their job? Isn't the whole premise of a spy sent by an advancing army to explore the possibilities (or lack thereof) to conquer the suggested territory?

The truth is, while we often think of them as "the spies" that Moshe sent, they weren't really spies. In fact, in the entire story in the parsha, they are never once referred to by that name as spies (or meraglim in the original)!

Their mission is not to spy, but to scout or tour (Latur et Ha'aretz (similar to the Hebrew for tourists which is tayarim)).

A scout is also sent to explore and verify the land to ensure. But a scout's position is not one that will undermine the premise of his mission. He gathers information.

A spy on the other hand is someone with the power and influence to not only gather information, but with the ability to radically alter the premise and change the plans. A scout comes for information. A spy comes with an agenda.

Questions are good. G-d wants us to scout the land and question the territory in front of us. Whether it's the ethical premises of Torah or the spiritual value in mitzvot or anything else on our mind. Of course we should question. But are we questioning our Judaism or spying on it?

As a sceptic by nature, I was blessed to study as a student of the Lubavitcher Rebbe obm, in a community where questions and exploration was and still is embraced. The Rebbe wasn't worried about those who asked questions, but he was concerned about those who weren't looking for answers.

As we approach Gimmel Tammuz, the 23rd yahrzeit (on June 23), I take inspiration from Caleb, one of the two faithful scouts, who resisted the allure of cynical scepticism with the faith he gathered at the resting place of his ancestors in Chevron.

In that spirit the Rebbe's ohel is a place where I can come to so that the strength of my questions overwhelms the toxicity of my cynicism. That’s what gives me strength to keep on going, and asking. 

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