Derech Tzofeh (“The Path of the Scout”) offers commentaries on Judaism from all diverse Jewish Scouting sources to incorporate the values inspired by the Torah, Talmud and Mishnah and relate them to the Scouting program.
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July 17, 2020 – Parashot Mattos and Masei
Imagine you and your patrol buddies sitting around your last campfire after a week of backpacking. You talk about the places you saw, and the things that happened there. How Jeremy fell into the creek when he was filling his canteen with water. The scurry to find shelter in the meadow when a lightning storm struck. The beautiful view you had from the top of the mountain. And now, after your long trail and many adventures, you are ready to go home.
That’s what happens in the second of this week’s double parashot, Mattos and Masei. In Masei (journeys) God reminds us of the 42 encampments the Children of Israel had during the years in the Wilderness (Midbar). From place to place, we retrace our ancestors’ route from Egypt to Israel.
In some places, bad things happened: Kivrot Hattavah (the “graves of craving”), where people complained about the lack of meat, and God sent great flocks of birds on which those who complained gorged themselves and died. Rismah where the Meraglim (spies) were sent from, and brought back an evil report (except for Caleb and Joshua) which caused God to decree that the Israelites would wander in the Midbar until the adult generation died, so it would not enter the Land.
In many places good things came to the Israelites: At Marah, God performed a miracle by causing the bitter water to turn sweet, and taught them about Shabbat. (Rashi to Exodus 15:25) After learning Torah, the people traveled to Elim where they were rewarded with 12 springs of water and 70 date trees.
We learn things by having experiences (like to balance yourself while drawing water from a creek or to Be Prepared to find shelter when the skies look dark). We learn even more when we review our experiences and talk about what we did, what we did well, and how we could have improved the things that did not go well.
This week, the 2021 National Scout Jamboree was canceled, to make sure we do not put Scouts and leaders at risk because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Several Jewish Scout leaders began chatting on the J-Scouts listserve about their many jamboree experiences, and the fun they had. In addition to helping everyone feel better about some disappointing news, the stories reminded us all of the fun and excitement of big Scout events. The discussion encouraged us to plan for such events when we can all get together in person for Scouting activities. We started thinking about fun things to do.
Talk to your buddies or your parents about some recent campouts, hikes, vacations or other experiences and what you learned. See if, by talking about it with others, you learn some new things and plan for great things to come.
July 9, 2020 – Pinchas
This week’s parasha, Pinchas, is about change. The Children of Israel are making changes to prepare to enter the Land of Israel.
In last week’s parasha, Balak, we learned how Moabite king Balak hired Balaam to curse the Israelites; but Balaam was only able to speak the words God told him, and blessed Israel instead of cursing it.
As a last effort, the Moabites enticed the Israelites into committing sins. This caused a plague, and 24,000 Israelites died. Pinchas, one of Aaron’s sons, brings the people to their senses by executing two of the evildoers, and the plague ends. Those who died in the plague were the last people to die before the Israelites entered the Land.
The people are prepared to enter the Land by a census. God instructs Moses and High Priest Elazar, the son of Aaron (who had died) to take a census of the tribes. This census, taken now near the end of the Israelite’s journey, is similar to the census taken after they left Egypt at the beginning of their journey. Of those men counted by Moses and Aaron at the beginning, the only ones (other than Moses himself) left were Caleb and Joshua, the only two of the twelve meraglim (the “spies” or “scouts”) who had given a true report of the Land of Canaan.
With the census determined, God gives instructions for determining how to divide the land. He instructs the people that, within each tribe, the land shall be divided among the men who are 20 years old and older, by lot. The daughters of Zelophehad, of the tribe of Manasseh, stood before Moses and Elazar and explained that their father died in the Wilderness and he had no sons. They ask why the name of their father should be omitted from the family because he had no sons. Moses asks God, who teaches that the daughters are to be given a possession in Israel.
Moses knows he has been forbidden to enter Israel, and asks God to appoint a leader to succeed him and help the people understand God’s commandments. God tells Moses to take Joshua, who been Moses’ student and helper for many years, and install him as the leader. Moses gathers the people and, as a token of passing leadership, leans his hands upon Joshua. (The Hebrew word for lean, yismach, gives rise to the term we use for recognizing someone as a rabbi, s’micha.)
Finally, God prepares the Israelites for the holy service they will conduct in their new home, by instructing them in the sacrifices that would be brought on Shabbat and other holy days.
With these many changes, the Children of Israel begin to transform from wanderers in a wilderness to a people who will take their place in a new land dedicated to God’s service through a life of mitzvot – such as distributing and working the land according to God’s rules, learning from leaders who know Torah, and celebrating our holy days. Although we were removed from our land 2,000 years ago and have been dispersed around the world, the mitzvothave kept us strong in spirit regardless of where we lived.
July 2, 2020 – Parashot Chukas and Balak
This week we read two parashot, Chukas and Balak. Chukas includes several important events.
First is the mitzvah of the Red Heifer (the Para Adumah), the procedure by which an entirely red cow is slaughtered and burned together with cedar, hyssop and a piece of crimson wool. The ashes of the heifer are used to purify people who are spiritually contaminated by coming into contact with a dead body.
Then there is the death of Miriam. With her death, the well of water that followed the Israelites is no more. The people cry for water, once again saying they would have been better off in Egypt. God instructs Moses and Aaron to find a certain rock and speak to it to give the Israelites water. Moses and Aaron fail to follow instructions, and Moses strikes the rock. The rock gushes water, but because Moses did not follow God’s commands, God decrees that he and Aaron will not enter the Land that God has given the Children of Israel.
The Israelites try to travel through the kingdoms of Edom and are attacked, but they defeat the Edomites.
They reach Mount Hor. There Elazar, the son of Aaron, is installed as the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) and Aaron dies.
The Israelites come to the kingdom of Arad, where they are once more refused passage, but are not attacked.
The people start complaining again, and God sends deadly snakes. The people ask for forgiveness, and God instructs Moses on how to stop the plague of snakes.
The Israelites journey farther, and finally rest on the plains of Moab, near Jericho.
The Jewish people are now almost arrived at their homeland. It is 38 years since they left Egypt. But if you review the parshot for the last few months, you will see the Torah has not given us many details about the journey destined to last 40 years.
Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, in his book Unlocking the Torah Text: Bamidbar, has a fascinating insight. A period of 40 units is often a signal that our ancestors are about to encounter something new. Noah encounters 40 days of rain, after which a new world awaits him.
Moses spends 40 days on Mt. Sinai where he receives the Torah. The Meraglim (Spies) scout out Canaan for 40 days and give a report that causes the people to fear the Canaanites and not trust in God’s promises to give them the land. The bad report of the Meraglim leads God to decree that the wanderings in the Wilderness will take 40 years so that a new generation, not born in Egyptian slavery, grows up ready to enter Israel.
It may be hard for you to think about 40 years, but what great new thing could you create in your life in 40 minutes? Perhaps you could read an interesting article or do something that would help your parents at home.
What could you do in 40 days that would be a change in your life? Get started with an exercise program? Earn a merit badge? Plan and carry out a patrol event?
Take 40 seconds and think about it.
Derech Tzofeh, the Path of the Scout, is brought to you by the National Jewish Committee on Scouting. ©2017 Nelson R. Block. Prior Derech Tzofeh are available at the J-Scouts message repository on Yahoo! Groups.