In this week’s parsha, Shelach, Moses sends the 12 spies to scout out the land of Canaan. Upon their return, they recount that the land does flow with milk and honey. But, they also were fearful of its inhabitants, explaining that they cannot conquer them. They tell Moses that it is a land filled with people that “devours its settlers. All the people we saw in it are men of great size. . . and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them” (13: 32-33).
The Israelites are crushed and wish that they had never left their enslaved lives in Egypt. Only Caleb and Joshua are unwavering in their faith that God can deliver them to the land. God is enraged by their lack of faith, fear: “How long will this people provoke Me? How much longer will they not believe in Me after all the signs I have performed in their midst?” (14:11). God declares that none of this generation of Israelites (except Caleb and Joshua’s families) will enter the land.
Rabbi Shai Held asks, “What is the nature of the spies’—and by extension, the people’s—failure? Ultimately, the question posed by the text is whether what we imagine possible is limited to what we see before us, or whether we can discern possibilities not immediately apparent to the eye.”
This Torah portion concludes with the commandment to wear tzizit. “This shall be fringes for you, and when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the Lord to perform them, and you shall not wander after your hearts and after your eyes after which you are going astray. So that you shall remember and perform all My commandments and you shall be holy to your God.“ (15: 39-40).
While there might seem to be a disconnect between the story of the spies and wearing tzizit, I think that tzizit, are what the spies and the Israelites are missing. We are given choices in life, which offer challenges and difficult decisions. Immediately after the tzizit commandment, it is written, “I the Lord am your God, who brought you out of of the land of Egypt to be your God: I, the Lord your God” (15:41). Tzizit are reminders of our Exodus from Egypt. They are compasses in on ongoing discovery to find our paths in life, without being held back by doubt. Yael Shy comments, “The tzittzit are corrective lenses for our self-conception. We remember that we were saved, we were chosen, and our task is to act with holiness as a result.”
The recipe I prepared this week is inspired by the description of Israel as a land of “milk and honey.” Interestingly, the honey described was probably derived from dates, not bees. Instead of using date honey, I used whole dates, cut into pieces. The recipe is dairy-free because I used coconut milk (which is creamy and delicious) and almond milk. Historically accurate milk would probably be goat’s milk (or even white wine!). Last, the addition of raisins adds a touch of sweetness and is in reference to the large bunch of grapes, carried by the spies. They “came to the Valley of Eshkol and they cut a branch with a cluster of grapes. They carried it on a pole between two [people]” (13:23). Although the recipe is vegan and without any added sugars, it’s quite a rich, sweet dessert.
Shelach: Milk and Honey Rice Pudding
1 cup brown rice
1 (13.5 oz) can coconut milk
2 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk (or any other plant-based milk)
1/3 cup raisins
3-5 Medjool dates, cut into pieces
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch of sea salt
1. Add rice, coconut milk, almond milk, raisins and 2 dates to a pot. Mix well. Cover with lid and bring to a boil.
2. Reduce heat and let simmer (with lid slightly removed to allow steam to escape) for about 45 minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed. Stir periodically to prevent rice from sticking.
4. Add vanilla, cinnamon and sea salt. Stir well and simmer a few more minutes. The rice should be creamy when finished.
5. Pour into bowls and top each serving with remaining date pieces and/or another sprinkle of cinnamon. Serve warm or cold.