Let’s Not Go Back to Mitzrayim: Parshat Sh’lach

Rabbi Ariana Katz (Photo by Elena Jackendoff)

By Rabbi Ariana Katz

This week’s parshah, Parshat Sh’lach, asks us, “Who do you believe in?”

G-d tells Moses to gather scouts to survey the land. A group of 12 is assembled in order to “see what kind of country it is. Are the people who dwell in it strong or weak, few or many?” (Numbers 13:18).

What ensues is a reminder of how subjective our realities are.

Ten of the scouts return with giant enemies, and giant fears. “We will never overtake our enemies, we will never be able to live in peace!” The nation responds with wailing and lament, “We will never survive this! It would be better if we were in Mitzrayim — let us go back!”

Joshua and Caleb saw it differently: “I saw the future. There is a place of bounty, and peace, if only we have faith.”

Today our country is witnessing powerful black-led uprisings in defense of black life. In all 50 states, people are coming together to demand justice for those murdered by police violence, for a future without white supremacy. For many, part of that vision includes the call to defund the police.

Defunding the police means disinvesting from policing, and reinvesting it in schools and social services. Organizing Black in Baltimore has released demands that challenge a reality that cannot imagine a world beyond police, and teach us how to reinvest the Baltimore Police Department’s potential budget of $545 million a year:

“1. We demand an immediate divestment from the Baltimore Police Department.

“2. We demand 50% of BPD’s 2020 operating budget to be invested in Baltimore’s black communities.

“3. We demand the immediate abolishment of LEOBOR.

“4. We demand the City of Baltimore gains control of the Baltimore Police Department.”

For some white Jews, defunding the police might be a fearful thing. Who will protect our synagogues from anti-Semitic violence?

Who will come in case of interpersonal violence?

Like our ancestors hearing the spies’ report, the fear in us cries, “It is impossible; we should stay here.” But in Maryland from 2013 through 2019, 80 black people have been killed by police, according to mappingpoliceviolence.org. There is no narrower place than the way things are right now. We cannot go back to Mitzrayim. There is a world where safety is the work and business of our communities, where the threat of death for black people does not wait at every traffic stop, at every snack run, or even at home.

The Joshuas and Calebs, visionary black leaders, call out: The future is “exceedingly good,” if you have faith in G-d.

Rabbi Ariana Katz is the rabbi of Hinenu: The Baltimore Justice Shtiebl.

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