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Parashat Sh’lach L’cha (Numbers 13:1-15:41)

“I the Lord am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God:
I, the Lord your God.” (Numbers 15:41)

Sh’lach L’cha is a parable of imagination and faith. Moses sends twelve spies to reconnoiter Canaan to determine whether or not it’s a good land (Num. 13:17-20). They bring back grapes, pomegranates, and figs, evidence it is fertile (Num. 13:23-26). But ten spies infect the Israelites with a fear the land cannot be conquered and they spend the next forty years wandering in the wilderness as a result.

This is but the first of many expeditions to assess the land. The British Peel and Woodhead Commissions of 1936 and 1938, respectively, visit Palestine to examine the increasing hostility and violence between the Jewish and Arab communities. The committees’ conclusions lead to the British government’s White Paper of 1939, restricting Jewish immigration severely. The recommendations rely upon (some say hide behind) the assessment the land cannot support more than two million residents, mostly because of a lack of water.

Seth Siegel (businessman, activist, and writer) claims the White Paper spurs the Zionist Movement to prove the land can support many times that number. Israel’s decades-long application of technology to achieve that goal (Israel, with a population of about eight million, is a net water exporter) relies, however, upon a cultural premise. Because it is a fundamental resource, water in Israel is a “common good” and not a personal property right (as in the US). Thus, the state owns the water and the government regulates its distribution and usage. Water policy is driven by societal need; individual awareness and responsibility become civic obligations and cultural norms.

Two “nations on the way.” One fails, the other succeeds. Imagination makes all the difference.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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