Mel Alexenberg
Author of "Through a Bible Lens"

A Different Spirit

Shelah/Send forth is the fourth portion of the biblical book Numbers read in synagogues in Israel on Shabbat, June 25, 2016.  It tells of the failure of eight of the ten representatives of the Israelite tribes to see that spiritual essence of Torah is to make the Land of Israel a holy land by sanctifying of every aspect of life.  The “different spirit” of Calev of the tribe of Judah is sorely needed in Israel today.

My wife Miriam and I created the “Torah Tweets’ blogart project to link our story to the biblical narrative through digital photography and tweet poetry disseminated worldwide through the blogsphere and twitterverse.   Below is our “Torah Tweets” post for this week’s Torah portion Shelah (Numbers 13:1-15:41) followed by quotations in my book, Photograph God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life, on seeing spirituality in the mundane.

Send forth men, if you please, and let them explore the land of Canaan that I give to the Israelites…. They brought forth to the Israelites a disparaging report on the land that they had explored…. Among the men who explored the land, Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Yefuneh tore their clothes in grief.  They said to the whole Israelite community, “The Land that we passed through to explore is a very, very good Land!” (Numbers 13:1, 32, 14:6-7)

10 of the spies feared that entering Canaan would rob them of a purely spiritual life and force upon them the drudgery left behind in Egypt.

Those Israelites who desired a life of Torah study divorced from enacting Torah in a mundane world were sentenced to die in the desert.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that “The miracles which sustained the Jews in the wilderness were not the apex of spiritual existence.”

“They were only a preparation for the real task: taking possession of the Land of Israel and making it a holy land.”

“The purpose of life lived in Torah is not the elevation of the soul; it is the sanctification of the world.”

Only Joshua and Calev with his “different spirit” could envision holy sparks emerging from commonplace tasks and hard work.

Calev saw that the same activities forced on us as slaves in Egypt could be transformed into acts of spiritual significance when done freely.

God said, “The only exception will be My servant Calev, since he showed a different spirit and followed Me wholeheartedly.  I will bring him to the land that he explored, and his descendants will possess it.” (Numbers 14:24)

In our day, the descendants of Calev of the tribe of Judah are being ingathered from the four corners of the earth to the Land of Israel.

Most Jews in Israel descend from the tribe of Judah.  Most descendants of those tribes that rejected entering the Land are The Lost Tribes.

Seek the spiritual side of birthing a calf, baking pizza, defending our country, paving roads, sweeping streets, and collecting garbage.


“For the Lord thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp.” (Deuteronomy 23:15)


“Judaism does not direct its gaze upward but downward … does not aspire to a heavenly transcendence, nor does it seek to soar upon the wings of some abstract, mysterious spirituality. It fixes its gaze upon concrete, empirical reality permeating every nook and cranny of life. The marketplace, the factory, the street, the house, the mall, the banquet hall, all constitute the backdrop of religious life.” (Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik)


“It is not enough for the Jew to rest content with his own spiritual ascent, the elevation of his soul in closeness to G-d, he must strive to draw spirituality down into the world and into every part of it – the world of his work and his social life – until not only do they not distract him from his pursuit of G-d, but they become a full part of it.” (Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson)


“If there is a religious agency in our lives, it has to appear in the manner of our times. Not from on high, but a revelation that hides itself in our culture, it will be ground-level, on the street, it’ll be coming down the avenue in the traffic, hard to tell apart from anything else.” (Novelist E. L. Doctorow, author of City of God)


“The first message that Moses chose to teach the Jewish people as they were about to enter the Land of Israel was to fuse heaven to earth, to enable the mundane to rise up and touch the Divine, the spiritual to vitalize the physical, not only as individuals but as an entire nation.” (Rabbi Abraham Y. Kook)

About the Author
Mel Alexenberg is an artist, educator, writer, and blogger working at the interface between art, technology, Jewish thought, and living the Zionist miracle in Israel. He is the author of "Through a Bible Lens: Biblical Insights for Smartphone Photography and Social Media," "The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness," and "Dialogic Art in a Digital World: Judaism and Contemporary Art" in Hebrew. He was professor at Columbia, Bar-Ilan and Ariel universities and research fellow at MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies. His artworks are in the collections of more than forty museums worldwide. He lives in Ra’anana, Israel, with his wife artist Miriam Benjamin.
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