Stolen Waters are Sweet

The Spy Fiasco Aftermath

It was a busy week so I’ll end it with another insight I gleaned from this week’s Parasha – Shelach

Following God’s decree that the Jewish People would wander for 40 years and perish in the desert (see post Seeing Things as They Are), a group of men decided to take action and nevertheless enter the Land of Israel by force.

When they got up early in the morning, they began climbing towards the mountain, declaring “We are now read ! We shall go forward to the place that God described. We admit we were mistaken”.

“Why are you going against God’s word?”, said Moses. “It won’t work! Do not proceed; God is not with you. Don’t be killed by your enemies! Up ahead of you are the Amalekites and Canaanites, and you will fall by the sword. You have gone away from God, and now God will not be with you.” (Bamidbar 14)

The group ignored the warning of Moses, went up the mountain towards the Holy Land and were slaughtered by the locals.

I find it rather curious that on the preceding day these same people had despaired of ever entering the land, despite God’s promise that the Jews would be victorious. Yet today after they were told of their impending demise because of the sin of the spies, they suddenly had the courage to try to break the blockade.

Because it’s there

People strive to break personal barriers for many reasons.  Take for example the words of George Herbert Leigh Mallory (18 June 1886 – 8 or 9 June 1924), an English mountaineer who took part in the first three British expeditions to Mount Everest in the early 1920s. Mallory is famously quoted as having replied to the question “Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?” with the retort “Because it’s there“. (Mallory, by the way, died just a few hundred meters before reaching the summit of Everest).

I doubt that this was the motive of the Jews in trying to get to Israel.  “Because it was there?” Not likely. Why then did they suddenly wake up in the morning and attempt an illegal border crossing?

The answer seems to be that when one has complete freedom of movement, one can remain comfortable staying where they are. The moment a border is sealed or a gate is locked and movement is restricted physically, legally or morally, human nature drives a person to break through all the barriers. The book of Mishlei (Ch. 9 V. 17) expresses the thought perfectly; “Stolen waters are sweet”. If I can’t have it legally, it must be something worth  fighting for.

Similarly with the Jews in the desert. As long as the border to Israel was open to them, they could “take it or leave it”. The moment God prohibited their free passage, the men were driven to break through all their restrictions.

stolen waters are sweet

Illegal Immigration in Modern Times

The children of Israel weren’t the only people to attempt an illegal border crossing. In fact millions of people from lower socioeconomic societies illegally cross into countries which seem to give them better opportunities. Take for example the Mexico-USA borders. According to the Pew Research Center, as of March 2010, 11.2 million unauthorized Hispanic immigrants were living in the United States. There has been a decline in illegal immigration since 2007, but 11.2 million is still a lot of people who are willing to risk life, limb and liberty to make a better life for themselves.

For those who want to experience close up what these people went through, there’s a way to do it without getting your head shot off by patrols. Three hours north of Mexico City, tourists can take part in an adventure course that simulates what it’s like for Mexican immigrants who try to cross the border into the United States in hopes of attaining the “American Dream”.

Here’s a video about the Border Crossing Experience both simulated…and real.

Shabbat Shalom !