Of Spies, Tigers and Flotillas
“Who are you
going to believe? Me, or your own eyes?!”
- Groucho Marx
the week of the “instant replay” – in sports; in Israel; in the Parsha.
course of more than one hundred years of professional baseball there have
been only 21 perfect games in all – and this month we almost witnessed 3
of them in a matter of weeks.
The hopes of the most recent of that pack were dashed in a most dramatic –
Hollywood-esque even – way. With the last out – the 27th –
the only thing between Detroit’s Galarragas and his perfect game, Jim
Joyce – an umpire for MLB since 1987 – called a player safe at first
base. At first the crowd was unsure – they were saddened, sure, but only
slightly incredulous. Then came the instant replay, played on a screen the
size of left-center field. Shock. He was
out! - And clearly so, by a half step, which in baseball, like Halacha, is
the equivalent of several miles.
unfolded next – both immediately after and over the course of the next 24
hours – was the stuff of one of George Will’s many pining-for-the
baseball-of-yore columns: Sportsmanship at its most honorable. The umpire
admitted his error (like myself, I imagine most of us as adolescents have
imagined if this scenario would ever present itself) and the pitcher did not
utter a complaint. The next day, after the umpire’s “I cost that kid his
perfect game” confession, the denizens of Motown gave Mr. Joyce a standing
above display of humanity’s ability to be humbled at its capacity to err
to the “flotilla” off the coast of Israel.
The world, the U.N., swiftly condemned, certain – certain! – that Israel
had acted the part of the brutal thug (mind you that North Korea was given
the benefit of an inquiry and the refrain from quick judgment after their
game of Battleship the week last). But then came the videos of commandoes
– commandoes! – attacked. To the credit of some – mainly UK news
outlets, there was some backpedaling. But these were the rare exceptions. To
most others, breaking away from their initial reaction seemed impossible and
instead they chose the tired middle-east reporting game of mental gymnastics
and moral equivalencies.
events – and the very different managements of them – colored greatly my
reading of a Parsha, and its central story, that we all know well.
tell, was the severe crime of the Meraglim/spies? Is there indeed an
prohibition of Lashon Hara (gossip) on Eretz Yisroel? Cannot someone exclaim
upon a return trip from Israel “My, how hot it was!”? Or, was their
crime the result of their words to
a frightened nation (their subsequent forlorn, tears, and requests for a
swift return to Egypt) – not what they said but when
and to whom they said it? Or, conceivably, it was the request for the
mission in and of itself.
and in addition to the collusion of the above reasons, let us suggest
something altogether different in the reading of this most central Biblical
event as to what was the final catalyst of our sudden and eternal crime:
something rather unique transpired as a result of this complaint of
the nation – as opposed to most others. Kalev and Yehoshua seek to have a
dialogue, to explain to the nation of their grave error and to remind
the people that nothing can eclipse a pledge from Gd for a safe and swift
victory and conquest of Canaan.
the reaction to the reasonable – if not palpable – case made by their
leaders? “Let us stone them!”
It was at this
moment – as opposed to the initial tall-tales (pun intended) of the
spies that forced Gd to descend upon the camp, thusly approaching Moses to a
harsh divine reaction.
the entire nation’s – great sin may have been in their inability to
submit to an “instant replay”, an argument that gave them a second
chance to respond was ignored in the most primeval way.
This was the critical
peccadillo and a key example of a nation defined as an Am
Oreph – A stiff-necked
week’s Haftara too, with all of its evident allusions to the
Pentateuch’s reading, hints to this theory as well: when Joshua's nameless
presented reasonable conditions tempering Rachav’s request for her and her
family’s lives being speared in the forthcoming battle, she replied,
“…K’Dvareichem Ken Hu…” (“As you say, so it should be”). It
was not enough to revisit the activities of the spies in Parshas Shlach and
“do it right” in the days of Joshua, there was one last lesson to be
learnt: the art of hearing another view out, considering it, and, if worthy,
accepting it. This, the final straw in our sin in Parshas Shlach, was now,
in Chapter 2 of the Book of Joshua, fully rectified through those words of
Rachav, a non-Jew.
The lesson of admitting error in the face of new, or forgotten,
points, is a challenging one. No doubt you, dear reader, are fantasizing as
you read this of all those who have perennially disagreed with you on
familial or spiritual issues wishing that they can come to terms with this ideal. Well, dear reader, is that
not the point? The point that you, maybe – just maybe – are the one to
take a breath and wonder if your ability to consider that, although sincere
in your views and well meaning in your approach, you too have at times
disallowed a fair weighing of arguments.
I recall an
argument in High School with a Rebbe of mine, me, the youthful idealist
taking a fanatical, or perhaps stringent view, and he seeking to convince me
to curb my passion. He made a point, a good one. Undeterred I moved on,
“Yes, but…” I started. “Moshe, hold on. Have you ever heard or
thought of the point I just made?”, he reasonably asked. “Well, no,” I
admitted. “Well, if you never thought of that before, does it not warrant
a few moments of consideration?” A simple point but an epiphany for this
of the world, incessantly and rightly, to reconsider the State of Israel and
her challenges; we argue in fun, and sometimes in seriousness, about
politics; this is healthy. Yet, while we believe we can change minds, we, at
the same time, avoid it for ourselves like the plague. The rabbi sometimes is
talking to you (and himself, actually).
May we have
the Divine assistance to have the minds of a global body politic gone mad be
opened to reason, may they have the integrity and intellectual honesty to
revere the instant replay, and may we be the beacon, through our own actions
and Talmudic honesty, of this ideal. May we soon merit the day when we can
read the final words of the Haftara “Gd has given over the Land to our
hands…” to the world’s conformity.
We all can
learn from Jim Joyce.
 Due more to the statistical shift -of going from 16 teams in 1963 to over 30 today – then sheer luck.
 Flotilla, a word not heard since our studies of Christopher Columbus. Or, am I alone in this?
 According to Chazal, they were Kaleiv and Pinchas.
Yomi takes place nightly at the Young Israel of Greater Buffalo, 105 Maple Road,
after the evening services. For complete schedule call 634-0212 or visit their
web site at yibuffalo.org