• Leann Shamash

Those Who Fell in the Desert

Updated: Jun 2, 2021

#shalach #bones #missingthemark #slaves #paintingthelintels #thereatsinai #caleb #joshua #moses #thespies #onceaslave #shlach #parshatshlach


Parshat Sh'lach describes the scouts who leave the camp of the Israelites and go to explore the land that was promised to them. Their encounter with the land left them impressed with the quality of the produce, but frightened of the tribes living there. They feared their size and the military prowess. Ten of the twelve scouts returned to the camp and said that they could not return and conquer the land. They feared the return and made a negative report of the land. Only two of the scouts, Caleb and Joshua, returned with a positive outlook to return and go to conquer The Land.

God became angry with the scouts and the people who agreed with them and promised that anyone over the age of twenty, because of this outlook, was not deserving or ready to enter the land, so God decreed that this generation would die in the desert and never enter the land of large grapes and giant pomegranates.

This generation of slaves, who were freed from Egypt, experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows during their lifetimes. This poem imagines them and wonders about their deaths.

*****

Those Who Fell in the Desert


When it is you who fails

Miserably

Pathetically

Fully and wholly

When it is you who disappoints

When it is you who gets it wrong

Mistaking

Misspeaking

Missing the mark

When it was you who was raised in poverty

When it was you who worked with bricks

When it was you whose hands were torn

When it was you whose back was scarred

When it was you who painted the lintels

When it was you who waited cowering behind the door

When it was you who escaped the angel of death

When it was you who left Egypt behind

When it was you who crossed the sea

When it was you who held your old mother's hand

When it was you who reached the other side

When it was you who praised miracles.

When it was you who encountered the desert

When it was you who knew no other way

When it was you who was frightened

When it was you who was a follower


When it was you who peered at the fire and clouds

When it was you who surrounded the mountain

When it was you who heard the thunder

When it was you who gave gold for the calf.

When it was you who could not leave well enough alone

When it was you who longed for the past

When it was you who complained

When it was you who disobeyed

When it was you who didn’t fully believe

When it was you who didn’t see the warning signs

When it was you who thought it couldn’t happen to you

When it was you who judged wrongly

When it was you who followed along

When it was you who didn’t think for yourself

When it was you whose voice bitterly complained

When it was you who wanted meat, meat, meat

When it was you who saw the glory of God

When it was you who witnessed the demand for obedience

When it was you who failed to listen

When it was you who failed to appreciate


When it was you who wanted more

When it was you who wanted less

When it was you who rebelled

When it was you who rejected


*** ** *** **


Then it was you

who decried the land

who called its inhabitants giants

Then it was you

who was punished

who was left to die in the desert

Then it was you

who would never enter the land

who was doomed to wander and die


Then it was you

whose bones littered the desert floor

What was your life?

You experienced the top of the mountain

only to die in the desert.

*** ** *** **

It is said that we stand on the shoulders of giants

We also stand on the shoulders of slaves.

On the shoulders of small people.

On the shoulders of the ordinary.

On the shoulders of those who made mistakes.

On the shoulders of those not quite ready.

On the shoulders of those who could not yet read the signs.

Who did not yet understand the rules.

And died one by one in the desert.


Their bones forming question marks on the desert floor.







Numbers 14:21-23(Translation from Sefaria)

Nevertheless, as I live and as the LORD’s Presence fills the whole world,

none of the men who have seen My Presence and the signs that I have performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, and who have tried Me these many times and have disobeyed Me,

shall see the land that I promised on oath to their fathers; none of those who spurn Me shall see it.

Numbers 14:29 (Translation from Sefaria)

׃ In this very wilderness shall your carcasses drop. Of all of you who were recorded in your various lists from the age of twenty years up, you who have muttered against Me,

not one shall enter the land in which I swore to settle you—save Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.


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