When the Democrats lost control of the House in 2010, then President Obama humbly took responsibility and claimed to have learned a lesson. In a November 3rd press conference, he shared: “I’m not recommending for every future President that they take a shellacking like they — like I did last night. I’m sure there are easier ways to learn these lessons” (emphasis mine).
It’s a funny term, shellacking. I remember my father using it while putting the finishing touches on our family canoe or the backyard fence; I remember professional athletes using it to describe a particularly brutal defeat. So when I learned that this week’s parsha (Torah portion) is parshat Shelach, I wondered what craziness were Moshe and the Jews up to now!
As are most things in life, it’s a matter of etymology.
The origin of the English shellacking rests in the slapping of varnish onto some object in need of sealant or shine, which translates then into the idea of being slapped up or beaten into defeat. It’s this definition that best describes the past few weeks of my life — I’ve definitely felt the repeated buffets of life, of change, of uncertainty and fear.
The Hebrew term shellach (שְׁלַח) stems, however, from the fourth chapter in the book of Numbers. It means “send,” “send to you,” or “send for yourself,” and is referring to the twelve spies that Moshe sent into Israel before the Jews were supposed to enter. And it’s this definition that best describes the coming few weeks of my life — I am being sent out of my home of twenty-seven years into a new land, Georgia.
Forgive the hyperbole, but packing up a family of five with too many dogs, cats, and even a snake to drive three thousand miles to the other coast feels biblical in proportion. Especially since we don’t have twelve spies to do our reconnaissance.
I mean, we know the South has trees, rivers, lakes, less traffic, peaches, and some of the friendliest people around, but it also has the Braves, hunting, humidity, golf, Junior League, and some people who consider Obama a four letter word. But that’s where G-d is sending us. And we know it’s a blessing.
Nonetheless, being sent is hard.
It means leaving things behind, leaving friends, colleagues, and students. This blog. It means leaving memories and hopes in the rear view mirror. And it means starting over, meeting new friends, colleagues, and students. It means feeling unsure if more memories will be made, if there is any hope of flourishing anew. It means feeling thoroughly shellacked.
So I come back to parshat Shellach (thanks to the weekly emails from my Yeshiva’s Jewish Awareness Club). And the concept of perspective (thanks to my dear colleague and friend, Shira).
I come back to HaShem, to G-d.
For ten of Moshe’s spies returned with a negative report about the new land: there were giants, fortified cities, and oddly large fruits (I imagine giant peaches). They told Bnei Yisrael “we will never succeed in capturing the land!” Although I have absolutely no interest in capturing the Peach State, I can definitely relate to their being terrified, and I may have even cried one or two… or seventeen times.
But Calev and Yehoshua — the other two spies — returned with a different perspective.
Of course, they declared, with HaShem‘s help they can and will successfully go into the land, capture, and settle it. In the words of my friend Shira, “If we choose to see things through a lens of trust in HaShem, we will be able to overcome even seemingly insurmountable challenges, knowing that HaShem is always there at our side.”
So while the nation of Israel is not on my shoulders, and I’m not entering the land of milk and honey, I am leaving the the desert of Southern California and the spiritual comfort of my own personal Moshe of a Jewish community. A community that has reminded me time and again that HaShem is real, alive, and in control. He never sends us off alone.
And how can I forget that G-d also sent someone else. He sent His only begotten Son to save me. Jesus dealt with his own fears in the wilderness, tempted (but not shellacked) for forty days and nights in Judea. And lest I have learned nothing from the Gospel of Matthew, I must remember His responses to Satan:
“It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of G-d.'”
“It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your G-d to the test.'”
“Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your G-d, and serve Him only.'”
When it comes time to type Augusta, Georgia, into Waze and back our two cars out of the driveway, menagerie of animals and all, I will do so with confidence, with prayer, with perspective. And with HaShem.
And so I say one final Baruch HaShem and Thank G-d.