Dean's Letter Shelach

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Dear Parents,

Parshas Shelach bears great similarities to current events. One can’t help but look at the headlines that shout anti-Semitism, domestic terrorism, and a litany of other societal concerns. These daily sound bites can leave us with a very bleak outlook.

Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetsky tells us that this problem was already discussed in Parshas Shelach years ago and he offers an explanation.

When the ten evil spies stirred up the negative passions of a disheartened nation, the people wanted to return to Egypt. But the two righteous spies, Yehoshua and Colev, tried to persuade them otherwise.

The first and most difficult task facing them was to get the Children of Israel to listen to them. They said, “They are our bread. Their protection has departed from them; Hashem is with us. Do not fear them!” (Numbers 14:7–9).

What did they mean by saying that the giants were “our bread”? Did they mean that the children of Israel would eat them like bread? Why bread of all things?

A story that circulated during the 1930s told of Yankel, a Jewish immigrant from the Ukraine who made his livelihood selling rolls on a corner in lower Manhattan. He was not an educated man. With poor eyesight and a hearing problem, he never read a newspaper or listened to the radio. He would daven, say Tehillim, learn a bit of Chumash, and bake his rolls. Then he would stand on the side of the road and sell his fresh-baked delicious smelling rolls.

“Buy a roll, Mister?” he would ask passersby, many of whom would gladly oblige with a generous purchase. Despite his simple approach, Yankel did well. He ordered a larger oven and increased his flour and yeast orders. He brought his son home from college to help him out. Then something happened. His son asked him, “Pa, haven’t you heard about the situation with the world markets? There are going to be great problems soon. We are in the midst of a depression!” The father figured that his son’s economic forecast was surely right. After all, his son went to college, whereas he himself did not even read the papers. He canceled the order for the new oven and for more flour, took down his signs and waited. Sure enough, with no advertisement and no inventory, his sales fell overnight. And soon enough Yankel said to his son, “You are right. We are in the middle of a great depression.”

Bread is the staple of life, but it is also the parable of faith. Our attitude toward our bread represents our attitude toward every challenge of faith. If one lives life with emunah p’shutah, simple faith, then his bread will be sufficient to sustain him. The customers will come, and he will enjoy success. It is when we aggrandize the bleakness of the situation through the eyes of the economic forecasters, the political pundits, or the naysayers who believe in the power of their predictions and give up hope based on their mortal weaknesses, then one might as well close shop.

Yehoshua and Colev told the people that the giants were no more of a challenge than the demands of their daily fare. “They are our bread.” And as with our daily fare, our situation is dependent totally on our faith.

If we listen to the predictions of the forecasters and spies, we lose faith in the Almighty and place our faith in the powerless. However, by realizing that the seemingly greatest challenges are the same challenges of our daily fare – our bread – the defeat of even the largest giants will be a piece of cake.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Peretz Scheinerman
Dean