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40 Days In The Forest -- Chronicle Online/The WORD 06/15/23

Weekly On-line Rabbi's D'var-Torah


June 15, 2023 26 Sivan 5783 Sh'lachMost parents in this part of the world get nervous about leaving their children alone for 40 minutes—even with a pizza and a large-screen TV. Yet, somehow, four siblings ages 13 years to 11 months managed to survive for 40 days in the Amazon rainforest after seeing their mother die in a plane crash. It was nothing short of miraculous. In truth, it wasn’t completely a miracle. It was the result of the indigenous knowledge passed down to them from their grandmother, with whom they had been living. They were taught how to live in rhythm with the forest—how to find food, how to find water, how to avoid dangers. It was not a foreign and scary place to them—as it would be to most of us. Of course, the number ‘40’ is associated with some trying experiences in the Jewish tradition. The great flood lasted for 40 days. Moses spent 40 days on Mt. Sinai—twice! And, of course, the Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness as they made their way from the slavery of Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land. That forty-year period began in this week’s Torah portion after 10 of the 12 scouts sent by Moses reported back that it would be impossible to conquer the Land of Canaan. In order for those newly freed former slaves to survive in the wilderness, they were going to need some assistance. They were going to need the kinds of skills and knowledge that enabled those four kids to survive in the rainforest. After all, they didn’t learn those kinds of things growing up as forced laborers in Egypt. According to rabbinic tradition, God gave the Israelites three miraculous gifts in the wilderness after the Exodus from Egypt and leading to the conquest of the Promised Land. The first was the manna—the heavenly food that sustained the Israelites during their years of wandering. “When the dew fell upon the camp at night, the manna would fall upon it (Numbers 11:9). This gift was given through Moshe. The second gift was the Divine cloud that represented God’s presence and the protection offered by God in the dangerous desert. “On the day that the Tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered the Tabernacle (Numbers 9:15).” This gift was given through Aaron. The third gift was the well that traveled with the Israelites, providing water wherever they went. The legend of the well is rooted in the story of Miriam’s passing as described in Numbers 20. After her burial in the first verse of that chapter, the very next verse tells us that “the community was without water, and they joined against Moshe and Aaron (Numbers 20:2).” The rabbis, therefore, concluded that Miriam must have been responsible for the provision of water throughout her life. Most of us spend a lot of time, effort, and money to ensure that our children succeed academically. We want to be sure that when they grow up, they will be able to earn a living in their chosen field. We are extremely focused on their economic survival skills. However, perhaps, we should also think about what kinds of basic skills our kids need simply to survive in the world. They may not have to spend 40 days on their own in the rainforest, but the COVID lockdown surely showed us that our kids need more than just academic skills to get by. So, perhaps, those four amazing children will inspire us all to think about what skills and knowledge we need in order to make it in the world today and how to pass that down to the next generation. Shalom, RAF.

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