A fellow was stuck on his rooftop in a flood. He was praying to God for help. Soon a man in a rowboat came by and the fellow shouted to the man on the roof, “Jump in, I can save you. The stranded fellow shouted back, “No, it’s OK, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me.” So the rowboat went on. Then a motorboat came by. “The fellow in the motorboat shouted, “Jump in, I can save you.” To this the stranded man said, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me.” So the motorboat went on. Then a helicopter came by and the pilot shouted down, “Grab this rope and I will lift you to safety.” To this the stranded man again replied, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me.” So the helicopter reluctantly flew away. Soon the water rose above the rooftop and the man drowned. He went to Heaven. He finally got his chance to discuss this whole situation with God, at which point he exclaimed, “I had faith in you but you didn’t save me, you let me drown. I don’t understand why!” To this God replied, “I sent you a rowboat and a motorboat and a helicopter, what more did you expect?”
What does this humorous story tell us about our relationship with God?
The parsha of Shelach begins with the well-known story of the spies who were sent by Moses to survey the land of Canaan at the request of the people. The spies (except for Joshua and Caleb) and the generation of those taken out of Egypt are punished with wandering through the desert for 40 years, allowing for the next generation to be the group ready to enter and conquer the land. After the episode with the spies, the Torah describes the mitzvah of taking Challah. The mitzvah is the removal of a piece (or loaf) of dough from the entire batch which is then dedicated toward God. The question that remains is why these two episodes are put next to each other in the Torah. What does dedicating a portion of challah have to do with the sin of the spies?
The reason that this generation was not ready or capable of entering the land of Israel was due to the fact that they did not understand their partnership with God. Despite the miracles of the ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the giving of the Ten Commandments, the Manna, and the water, the Israelites were not ready to see themselves as being able to partner with God in their future tasks. The spies came back with beautiful fruit from the land, but their fear quickly took over as the reality of the task ahead became clear. They did not have the full trust that was necessary in order to be able to accomplish the task ahead with God by their side.
The Challah is a symbol of man taking the gifts of nature given by God, and fashioning them into something valuable, sustaining and beautiful. We are meant to be partners with God who doesn’t just hand us everything ready- made. In our “take –out” oriented society, we have begun to lose the pleasure and pain of creativity. Thankfully, there are some trends today toward DIY (do it yourself) projects and the value of creating things on our own. When we put the necessary effort into our actions and mitzvot, then we are recognizing the creative power that we have to change the world together with God. The spies were not ready to see the riches waiting for them after the task of conquering the land. They were paralyzed with fear and not ready for the effort involved.
The secret of challah is the challenge that we have in balancing our expectations from God together with our responsibilities in the world. The mitzvah of taking challah was to remind us that we need to be partners with God. we need to understand that even though life has challenges, we can persevere. We need to be reminded that our purpose in this world is Tikkun Olam. Like baking challah, God provides us with the raw materials and the tools and we are expected to be his partners in the creative process.