Tidbits of Torah

A Pioneering Spiritheadshot white 2015cropped

Shabbat Parashat Mattot-Mas’ey

Shabbat Mevarekhim HaChodesh

July 22, 2017- 28 Tammuz 5777

Dear Friends,

You may be familiar with the Hebrew word for pioneer: chalutz, or in the plural form, pioneers: chalutzim. This ancient Hebrew word holds a great message in it….As a way of beginning to explore the depth of this special message, I invite us to do the following:

Think of someone who is a pioneer. What image comes to mind? Do you see an American pioneer in your mind’s eye? Or, do you think of an Israeli pioneer? Do you imagine someone who lived on a kibbutz in the early years of Israel’s founding? Or, perhaps you imagine someone who invented a cure for a disease. Whatever image comes to mind, it is interesting that a pioneering spirit is something our Torah envisioned even in ancient times.

In our weekly Torah reading, Moses is told by God to prepare our people for a battle against the Midianites. Moses chooses his words carefully as he addresses the people. He says: “Hey-chaltzu mey-itchem anashim la-tzava…” The JPS translation of Moses’ words is as follows: “Let men be picked out from among you for a campaign….” Note that the Hebrew word hey-chaltzu (which is related to the Hebrew word chalutz or pioneer) is translated here as “picked out.” The sense is that a pioneer somehow stands out of the crowd. A pioneer is chosen to do something special. And Moses called upon these special people to be pioneers as our people prepare to battle the Midianites.

Based on the use of the Hebrew word chalutz in various Biblical verses, the Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah, Parashat Behar, 34:15) explains that being a chalutz (pioneer)involves four distinct levels of action. It involves: removing oneself from one’s day to day framework; preparing oneself for the challenge ahead; acknowledging God’s protection; and finally – resting! All those levels of meaning and the anticipation of all those levels of action are embedded in Moses’ words: “hey-chaltzu mey-itchem anashim”. I would translate Moses’ words to the people this way: “Gather people from among you who have a pioneering spirit!”

Who is a pioneer? That is a question you might want to discuss. But, keep in mind that pioneers might not necessarily be people who are far away in time or in place.

Perhaps those people who have gathered together around our tables, or who have joined us at synagogue, on this Shabbat are truly pioneers!

Perhaps we ourselves have stepped forward to be counted among the pioneers of our people… stepping away from our daily comfort zone, preparing for the challenges of growing Jewishly; acknowledging God’s presence; and finally, enjoying Shabbat, our holy day of rest, together!

Who is a pioneer? I welcome your thoughts….

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Gilah Dror
P.S. Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av will be on Sunday night and on Monday. May it be of month of peace, of comfort and of healing!