Shaarei Shamayim

A Place of Comfort, Companionship and Healing



You get a call from a friend or a member of your family letting you know that a certain house is now for sale. You’re in the market for a new home so you ask him/her to check it out. Depending on how that person goes about checking out the prospective purchase, you may or may not want to pursue it further. For example, here’s one kind of report:

The house looks solid enough. Roomy, too. It has a big yard with fruit trees. In fact, we picked a couple of peaches and figs—not bad, eh? I can’t get in to see the inside because the agent demands an accepted offer 1st. It’s been painted recently, so the price is very firm. Questionable neighborhood. Right down the street we saw some graffiti. Kids strolled by wearing their hats backwards. Could be gang infested.

And here’s another kind of report:

I got talking with the lady next door. I found out the owner is very anxious to sell—open to any offer. He just modernized the kitchen and redecorated, and then got transferred to the west coast. So he has no cash on hand to put down on a home there. Anyone with a large down payment can write their own ticket. Neighborhood Watch is very effective; no major problems.

Are these 2 people talking about the same house? Sure they are. Just as the 2 groups of spies we read about in today’s Torah and Haftorah portions. They were both talking about the same country. The difference was how they “checked it out.”

 The 12 spies Moses sends out in the Torah portion are dignitaries—princes, one from each tribe. They follow accepted protocols and procedures: they take samples of the fruit, assess the strength of the fortifications, take note of the appearance of the local population. If they only had a smart phone, maybe they could bring back pictures and videos to back up their report of 50-foot-high walls and giant men. By a vote of 10 to 2, they convince the people that—in the words of Star Trek’s the Borg, conquering the Promised Land is “futile”—Canaan cannot be conquered.

The 2 spies Joshua sends in the Haftorah are different. this is not a diplomatic mission like the 12 spies in our Torah portion but a true military mission and so the text never even mentions their names. But, according to Rashi quoting the Midrash, one of them is 80-year-old Caleb—one of 2 surviving members of the original 12 checker-outers from today’s Torah portion. Joshua himself being the other. The 2nd spy Joshua sends, says Rashi, is Pinchas. Caleb was chosen for his wisdom and Pinchas for his strength and courage.

They don’t take notes and they don’t bring samples. They spend the night with Rachav, whom the text calls a zona—from the Hebrew zan (to feed) and usually translated as “innkeeper,” one providing accommodations to travelers, but its alternate usage as “harlot” indicates that perhaps she provides other comforts as well. She then trades her inside information for a guarantee of safety, and the 2 spies return with a message: the taking of Jericho, the city protecting the eastern front will be a “piece of cake”!

The contrast of these 2 reports is phenomenal. The negative report in our Torah portion brings on a punishment of 40 years in the desert as the Jews sinned by showing that their fear of death was stronger than their faith in Gd who had saved them with countless miracles. They even suggested—can you believe this—that they appoint a new leader to take them back to Egypt! However, the positive report in Haftorah from the 2 military spies empowers the people and they proceed to take over Jericho within a week.

My friends, Gd provides us with so many opportunities in our lives. But how often do we suffocate them by over-analyzing the difficulties and make them look insurmountable—discouraging us from moving forward?

How many of us say to ourselves: I am just too old to learn to use social media—like Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin and Twitter? Who could keep up with all those hundreds of supposed “friends” and all those “likes” and “dislikes?” It took me years just to learn to effectively use my Outlook email program.

Do you ask yourself: Do I have the discipline to change my health habits? After all, those exercise machines are really no better than a good walk around the block—are they not? Didn’t you hear about the guy who lost so much weight and built up his muscles—and died anyway? I don’t trust these diets either. Perhaps I should stay in the Aspirin and Omeprazole desert for another 40 years.

Or perhaps you ask: Can I really patch things up with my sister or brother or friend or father? So much time went by. She’ll consider me stupid for trying. Whatever happened between us isn’t even the issue any more. We just have different lives now. We build 50-foot walls between us. Our antagonism is too gigantic. Better to stay in the broigez (angry) desert for another 40 years.

Let me read you the story of a 24-year-old young man:

The boy was looking out a train’s window and shouted, “Dad, look the trees are going behind!”

Dad smiled and a young couple sitting nearby, looked at the 24-year-old’s childish behavior with pity, suddenly he again exclaimed, “Dad, look the clouds are running with us!”

The couple couldn’t resist and said to the old man, “Why don’t you take your son to a good doctor? Obviously he needs help.”

The old man smiled and said, “I did and we are just coming from the hospital, my son was blind from birth, he just got his eyes today.”

Every single person on the planet has a story. Don’t judge people before you truly know them. Look for the positive in every situation. It just might surprise you.

My friends, let’s all take another look—check it out again. Maybe we can turn part of our future around. Take a message from your friendly “innkeeper”: Social media is just a tool, and it can improve your life as you connect with people you haven’t seen in years. The 1st pastry you forego, and the 1st stationary bike ride you take, can be the 1st step to feeling better. And as for your sister, maybe you and she can both conclude that time wounds all heels and let bygones be bygones. But you take the 1st step.

Like Joshua who blew the shofar as the people marched around Jericho for 7 days and the walls came tumbling down, blow your shofar loud enough, look for the good in people and things and your walls just may come tumbling down as well. Amen!

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Atlanta, GA 30329

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