This week’s parsha is more than a little confusing. The Israelites, standing at the edge of the Jordan, are commanded to form an army and commit genocide. That’s right; God says wipe out ALL the Cannanites. God threatens them that, if they don’t follow through, there’s a comeuppance. Spoiler alert: the Israelite army can’t bring themselves to kill everybody.
The people of Cannan weren’t “evil”, per se, but God knew that if the Israelites settled down and got neighborly, pretty soon they’d all be intermarried and assimilated, and the Chosen People would choose another path. That’s not what God delivered them from Egypt and marched them across the wilderness for. They had a higher purpose. These instructions for wholesale slaughter are pretty tough to cope with literally. So what’s the deeper message here? God is telling the Israelites that they are about to enter their new dwelling, and they need to clean house.
Most of you know that Alex and I are having a big year. Moving in together – blending our family, our stuff, our lifestyles, and our routines – has been an extraordinary experience, possibly the sweetest growth I’ve ever gone through. And this year we’ve had to build our relationship, first week by week and now day by day, has truly brought us from a wilderness of trying to make it alone to the promised land of partnership. Finding our home truly ended up being a miracle. We struggled for months to find the right place, and I was in a pretty desperate situation at my old farm. It kind of felt like we were waiting to go down a water slide, with God as the lifeguard. “Wait…wait…wait…wait…GO!” In 3 weeks we packed and moved 2 houses, 2 horses, 50 sheep, blended 3 cats and 2 dogs, and lost 2 peacocks in a pear tree. We’ve ripped out 8 layers of wallpaper, green shag carpet that smothered original hardwood floors, a room full of faux paneling, the 1960s oven that needs an exorcism, miles of old fencing, and many bonfires worth of dead wood. We filled the General Store with wool, hung our family pictures in the hall, and set out the shofar and Shabbat candlesticks. It is our very first home together, a Jewish home, a farm that forms the roots of the life we will build for the next half-century, God willing.
We’re only the 3rd family to live in the 87 year old house. It’s tempting to save everything, to cherish every historic inch no matter how decrepit, but in order to preserve it, some things have to change (like electricity). Likewise, to have the best future we have to let go of the past. Before Alex and I moved, we cleaned house. Several trunk and truck loads went to Goodwill, more in the trash. Since we moved, it’s been more of the same. Each part of our home and land has been evaluated, but it’s not just the items we own that need renovation. We held onto bad habits, unhelpful coping mechanisms, expectations and behaviors that we neither wanted nor needed in our relationship. Our motto is, if you want something different, do something different. So we agreed to renovate ourselves and our skills as well as our stuff.
God said to the Israelites, you’re about to stop traveling. Clean house and make it your own. If you don’t, these Cannanites will be thorns in your side and you’ll lose your inheritance. In order to fulfill your promise, you have to let go of the wilderness. If you don’t, it will poison what I’ve given you.
How many opportunities do we miss because we didn’t let go of the desert side of Jordan? The past few months have taught me that I cannot fully embrace the blessings I have if I am holding on to anything else. And I do so want to embrace this sweet life. We stand on the riverbank every Shabbat. We pray for peace, we pray for guidance, we pray to be made whole. Every Shabbat is an opportunity to practice letting go of what is unhelpful or unnecessary so we can completely experience the blessings that God gives us every day. May we embrace them with open arms, may we lay waste to that which keeps us from our potential, and may we create an inheritance of peace.