Wipe away ‘Spexit’ – stand tall as ‘Am Yisrael’
Rabbi Ilan Raanan
Yeshiva College High School
Prime Minister David Cameron, who supported the UK remaining in the EU, announced he would step down.
Spexit is an abbreviation of “Spies exit”, which refers to the Av 9, 2449 agitation by the Ten Spies to exit the journey to the Promised Land. The agitation roiled global leadership, causing the Nation of Israel to fall to its lowest levels in the millennia that followed.
G-d, who supported bringing the Nation of Israel to the Promised Land, intimated He would form a new nation from “Prime Minister” Moshe. Moshe intervenes and limits the damage of Spexit.
The “Spexit” of this week’s Parshat Shelach doesn’t simply coincide with similar media headlines, but perhaps can be understood in light of a certain aspect of the “Brexit”.
What is the meaning of “community”? Is it the collective that requires the independent free individual to give up basic aspects of his sovereignty to live within a certain framework? Or does the very framework of the collective bestow upon the individual born within that community certain rights? The answer: The community is a combination of both.
No doubt the complexities of Brexit are immense, but in a sense Brexit is the product of the clash of these two meanings of community. The centuries old Commonwealth of England bestowed upon individuals born within it certain rights.
Membership of the European Union, with all the advantages it has to offer, demands surrendering certain of these sovereign rights. To be or not to be part of the EU? Most Brits voted not to surrender their rights.
There are two words we find in our parsha that describe the notion of community. “Am”, roughly translated as “nation”, comes from the Hebrew root “amam” which means to “develop without outside interference” (M Clark, Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew).
“Eidah”, roughly translated as “congregation”, comes from the Hebrew root “Ya’ad”, which means to “arrange, set specifics” (ibid.).
It would seem that the “Am” draws its meanings from within, much like the Commonwealth, granting certain rights to those born within it. “Eidah” on the other hand is defined by external parameters, much like the Union, where membership requires conforming to certain norms.
A dramatic exchange unfolds in this week’s parsha. The Ten Spies deliver their evil report describing to the Jewish “Eidah-Union” the fearsome might of the “Am-Commonwealth” that lives in the Promised Land.
Kalev, a righteous spy, in contrast to the Ten Spies, promotes the conquest of the Promised Land by addressing the Jewish People as an “Am”! The Ten Spies have the last say, and in keeping with their “Eidah” reference to the Jewish People using external frames of reference, describe themselves with the deprecating analogy to grasshoppers.
The tragic result: “The Eidah-Union raised their voices in despair and the Am-Commonwealth cried.” The Eidah elects to return to Egyptian bondage and G-d threatens to destroy the Am with a greater “People of Moshe” to replace them.
Moshe heroically intervenes, significantly limiting the destructive impact of Spexit by preserving the contiguity of the Am.
In the wake of “Spexit”, G-d ultimately doesn’t reject the Nation of Israel but the recurring tragic day of Tishah B’Av came to be. We are an “Am”, a proud Commonwealth endowed with certain Divine rights based on our Divine calling to be His moral ambassadors to the world.
Succumbing to “Eidah” type descriptions as a union, whether from modern “spies” within our nation or from governments, the media and religious groups outside, is a recipe for tragic outcomes. It would serve us well to wipe away the “Spexit” tears and stand tall in answering our calling as “Am Yisrael”!