I got to go to Baltimore’s very first Limmud last week. Chicago is holding its fourth annual festival of Jewish learning this February, and from the vantage point of the wise, old experienced Limmudnik, I can tell you that the spies of this week’s parasha, Shelach l’cha and Limmudnikim have something in common.
Both were up against tough odds, both believed in the future of their own communities, and both believed in what a dedicated group of people can accomplish.
But back to the Torah story: The Israelites were close to the end of their journey, at the edge of Canaan. God told Moses to send twelve men out, one from each tribe, to scout out the new land. They were gone for forty days, and when they came back, they were carrying really big grapes, proof that the land was “flowing with milk and honey (Numbers 13:27). They also brought back reports of huge giants there. They were doomed to try and live in this new land. The giants were so big that the Israelite scouts felt like grasshoppers to them, and they were all going to die.
At least, that was the report of ten of the twelve men. Only two had a different take on the situation – Joshua and Caleb. Courageously they said, yes, there were giants, but it really is a beautiful land, and they’ll be fine as long as they believe in the God that has protected them thus far, and with faith they will do just fine.
Which version do you think the people bought? Right. The people ranted, “Oy, we should have died in Egypt, or in the wilderness!” It was chaos. The people decided to head back to Egypt. Moses and Aaron managed to stem the panic by (once again) falling on their faces. Caleb and Joshua spoke about how God would take care of them if they kept faith. God came down in a cloud and had a tantrum (“How long are these people going to rail against Me?!”) Well, that worked. Moses calmed God down enough to forget about annihilating the Israelites, but still had one card up the Divine sleeve: The people were condemned to wander another 38 years, so the faithless generation would die out. Only Caleb and Joshua would stay alive to see the Land, rewarding their unwavering belief
Back to Limmud: There are now more than a dozen Limmud events in North America alone, joining the over 50 cities where Limmud takes place worldwide. It’s a radical concept, yet so simple: a group of Jews can look past their differences, sit down and learn from each other – rabbis, educators, everyone, all on a first-name basis. This will build a stronger community that revels and gains depth from its own diversity. The original Limmud, held in the UK over 30 years ago, (nor any Limmud since, I’d dare to say), didn’t happen because the organized religious leadership thought it would be a good idea. A handful of people envisioned a different way, and with no more than the idea and their passion, they made it happen. That’s certainly how it happened in Chicago. The organizations and congregations are like the ten tribes who only saw the pitfalls. Too many still operate from that place of fear, seeing themselves as grasshoppers protecting their little piece of the field, hoping the giants won’t notice them, and leave them alone.Well, those folks are condemned to wander in the land of “this is how it’s always been done”, till they fade away. And the vision of the future will come from those who have faith in the kind of community that values diversity, respect, courage, volunteerism, empowerment, and arguments “for the sake of Heaven”. Limmudniks are not blind to the challenges, but they see the milk and the honey, like Caleb and Joshua did, not only the giants. Joshua and Caleb stood up for their vision. Will you stand up, too? Find a Limmud near you (limmudinternational.org), and if you’re in the Midwest, put Feb. 17 on your calendar for Limmud Chicago (limmudchicago.org) Take part in stepping into that sweet land. You’ll love it there.