In this week’s Torah portion, Shelach Lecha (Num. 13:1 – 15:41), God tells Moses to send scouts to the land of Canaan to find out what the land and its inhabitants hold in store. Moses sends twelve men, one from each tribe. When they return, they say that the land is productive and fertile but the residents are strong and well-defended. As they speak, ten of the scouts transmit their panic and despair to the people of Israel, who, once again, regret leaving slavery in Egypt for this existence.
An essay in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary cites an explanation in the Kli Yakar, a 17th century Polish commentary, which makes note of the two Hebrew words which begin the portion: “Shelach lecha”, literally “send for yourself”. The Kli Yakar derives that the Israelite men in the wilderness hated the land of Israel, from the verse, “Let us go back to Egypt”, (Num. 14:4) but that the women loved it, based on the words of the daughters of Zelophehad, “Give us a holding in the land [of Israel]” (Num. 27:4). If God had chosen the scouts, reasons the Kli Yakar, they would have been women. But since God said to Moses, “send for yourself”, leaving Moses to make the choice, he chose to send men.
This coming Sunday, Mary and I will attend the ordination at Yeshivat Maharat, an Orthodox seminary which trains women in Jewish law and leadership. Essentially, they are trained to be rabbis, lacking only the title. From the ancient words of Torah to the Kli Yakar’s four hundred year old interpretation, to the living Torah that will come from the work of the ordinees of Yeshivat Maharat, may we continue to find value in the contributions of both men and women to the Jewish past, present and future.