Image: Large bunches of purple grapes hanging from a vine (Jill111/pixabay)

This week’s Torah portion is Shelach-Lecha (“Send For Yourself”)

Shelach-Lecha was the Torah portion 21 years ago when I became a Jew. The portion always reminds me of my year of study towards conversion.

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Send men to scout for yourself the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelite people.” –Numbers 13:1-2

Like Joshua and Caleb, I was a spy in the Land of Israel, learning about it, seeing the beauty of Judaism. Like the 10 other spies, some of what I learned confused and frightened me.

When Moses sent them to scout the land of Canaan, he said to them, “Go up there into the Negeb and on into the hill country, and see what kind of country it is. Are the people who dwell in it strong or weak, few or many? Is the country in which they dwell good or bad? Are the towns they live in open or fortified? Is the soil rich or poor? Is it wooded or not? And take pains to bring back some of the fruit of the land.” – Number 13: 17-20

I took a class, met with my rabbi, studied and wondered. Since my rabbi required me to attend Shabbat services every week, I got to know the regulars in the congregation. I met many encouraging people, people for whom I developed a great fondness.

They reached the wadi Eshcol, and there they cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes—it had to be borne on a carrying frame by two of them—and some pomegranates and figs. – Numbers 13: 23

I also met a few who quietly informed me that no convert could never be truly Jewish. Whenever anyone said that, I felt like a grasshopper in a land of giants.

Thus they spread calumnies among the Israelites about the land they had scouted, saying, “The country that we traversed and scouted is one that devours its settlers. All the people that we saw in it are men of great size; we saw the Nephilim there—the Anakites are part of the Nephilim—and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.” – Numbers 13:32-33

Torah is beautiful. I loved her, and I loved her people. I felt the weight of that love on my shoulders, heavy as the harvest of fruit that the spies carried back to camp.  I felt that for Torah, for Israel and her People, I could learn to deal with the scary giants. My shoulders were ready for the Ohl Hashamayim, the Yoke of Heaven.

The spies did not know what it would be like to be residents of the Land.  They had only their imaginings: their hopes and their fears. In their case, fear won out. For me and for many other gerim [converts,] hope won out. That’s why every Shabbat Shelach-Lecha I say with enthusiasm, “Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam, sheasani Yisrael!” [Blessed are you, Eternal our God, Ruler of Time-and-Space, who has made me a Jew!]