This past week NFTY President Maya Levy shared her reflections on parshat Shelach, our Haftarah from Jacob, and the Broadway hit Wicked in the following d’var torah.
Who’s familiar with the show Wicked?
What if I were to tell you that the story of Wicked was based on the Torah.
I would be lying of course. I mean, maybe elements of it reflect Jewish values, but I really don’t think it’s based on any biblical story. At least, not intentionally.
Wicked tells the origin story of the Wicked Witch of the West from the classic story “the Wizard of Oz.” The show follows this witch, Elphaba, from birth to college, and through the events that lead to her being labeled as a wicked witch. In it we see her as a friend to Glinda (the “Good Witch”) and a political activist hoping to do good in Oz. If we just watched or read the Wizard of Oz, we would only see Elphaba as an evil character. Wicked tells another story, providing context for Elphaba’s decisions and showing the humanity and kindness that originally influenced her life. There are two sides to every story.
This week’s parsha, Shelach, discusses the Israelite spies that were sent to the land of Canaan to scope out the land. They went in, observed, stole some grapes, and returned to the Israelite camp. In their report, 10 of the spies claim the land is dangerous – it’s inhabited by giants who would destroy the Israelites immediately with their strength and great power. Two spies speak against this and claim that the people should maintain faith and believe that God will allow them to enter the land in peace and with safety. But, as Jews do, the Israelites only heard the bad news and went totally hysterical, fearing the land and losing faith that they should enter. But that’s only one side of the story.
Who knows what Haftarah is? You likely read it at your bar or bat mitzvah, maybe some of you knew why, maybe lots of you didn’t. I have never heard Haftarah read anywhere outside of synagogue. Never at camp, never at NFTY, which kind of sucks.
The Haftarah is a portion of the second and third books of the Tanach (Neviim and Ketuvim) that is paired thematically with each Torah portion. The Haftarah provides a really nice addition to the weekly parsha. Instead of just reading one story, we are given the opportunity to study another story that relates to it, therefore learning more about the theme and the lessons shared. Sometimes the connection between Torah and Haftarah is obvious, other times you have to really look for it. This week, it’s beautiful.
This week’s Haftarah, from the book of Joshua, tells the story of the spies from the other side. In it, one of the “giants” that the 10 spies had feared so much, reveals their feelings about the spies. They claim that “all the inhabitants of the land of Canaan have melted away because of you [Israelites]. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt; and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites that were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you completely destroyed. And as soon as we heard, our hearts melted.”
Excuse me, the GIANTS were afraid of US??? The spies made such a big deal about how the natives of Canaan would dominate over us, but they had no idea that the “giants” they spoke of were just as scared of them and their God. There are two sides to every story.
We can learn a lot from Shelach, and we can learn a lot from Wicked. We learn there are two sides to every story, and without both sides how can we truly evaluate a situation properly? How can we judge a person with just what we initially see, when there is so much more we don’t know about them? How can we assess and act on a situation with just the information in front of us?
I’ve learned a lot at Kutz and a lot from Melissa Frey. One of my favorite concepts that Melissa teaches is to “Assume Good Will.” When a challenge arises, don’t make assumptions, find out facts. Some evolutionary something has resulted in the human tendency to always think the worst and jump to immediate conclusions. Not only is this unhealthy for us, it can be damaging to other people. We can’t always assume the worst in everybody. There are things happening in their lives that we might not know about and that is prompting them to act a certain way. If we don’t know the whole story, we shouldn’t judge people. Simple as that.
As general people, we should always assume goodwill, but as leaders, it is even more important. We are going to work with people that we don’t like. People are going to let us down, fall through on projects. It will suck, you might want to hate all the people you work with. But just try, don’t make judgements, don’t form hatred, until you know the full story. In fact, it is our responsibility to actively seek out information and stories in order to form a more educated, sensible, and complete opinion.
Who knew that the giants of Canaan would be willing to submit so easily to the Israelites? Moses and the people of Israel could never have known that with just the Spies’ side of the story. We, sitting here at camp, could never have known that without the Haftarah. We can become our best selves with both sides of the story.
In Wicked, Elphaba proclaims, “I’m through accepting limits, because someone says they’re so.” The information we initially see and use to judge so quickly, is a large limit to our leadership abilities. We should be done accepting those limits, we should break those limits. We should look around, look at everything, gather all the information we can, instead of jumping to conclusions. That is what will take us from good leaders, to great leaders and will allow us to defy gravity.