Parshat Shelach: We are not grasshoppers!

When facing hardships: One approach is to act as small, weak grasshoppers, the other is to rise above fears and reach goals.

May 30, 2013 21:28
4 minute read.

Grasshopper 370. (photo credit: Courtesy)

We have been following Am Yisrael’s journeys in the desert since its exodus from Egypt via unexpected miracles, through receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai. Now we stand with the wandering nation at the cusp of its goal: the longed-for land, Eretz Yisrael.

Now we encounter a spying episode that gets complicated and, ultimately, leaves the nation in the desert for an additional 38 years.

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The nation turns to its leader, Moshe, and presents a legitimate request: We are about to enter Eretz Yisrael, but it’s reasonable to assume that the nations currently living in it will not be handing over the land on a silver platter.

It is very reasonable to assume that there will be a struggle over the land. If so, we need preliminary information on where and how we should conquer the land. Please send spies to explore it and return with important and critical information that will guarantee our success in the struggle.

After receiving qualified approval from G-d, Moshe agrees to the request and sends 12 spies to do the work and come back with the necessary information. The spies explore Eretz Yisrael for 40 days, examining and researching the land and the characteristics of its inhabitants, and come back with a radical determination: No chance! “Nevertheless, the people that dwell in the land are fierce, and the cities are fortified.... We are not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we....

The land, through which we have passed to spy it out, is a land that eats up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of great stature... and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.” (Numbers 13, 28-33) Let’s pay attention to the difficult facts the spies conveyed to Am Yisrael: The cities are fortified and very large, the land itself is a bad place, and the residents are powerful and so much stronger than we are that we seem like grasshoppers in comparison! The disappointment is huge. Why did we leave Egypt, asks the depressed nation. In order to lose the war over the land? It would have been better to have remained in Egypt to die.

The despair that fell on the nation following the words of the spies showed that the nation was not yet spiritually ready to enter Eretz Yisrael and conduct independent national life there. And indeed, the nation stayed in the desert for another 38 years during which it got ready and prepared itself appropriately for its future life in Eretz Yisrael.

We must look to see how this turnaround came about.

The spies were not actually asked to voice an opinion on whether there was a chance to conquer the land. They were sent to collect information on how to do it.

What caused them to change their minds and veer away from the purpose for which they were sent? The ones who answer this question are, surprisingly, the spies themselves.

In the course of the despairing description of the land and its inhabitants, the spies blurt out a statement that exposes what was going on in their hearts when they conducted the spying mission. “...and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.”

The spies failed where they should have made more of an effort and clung to faith. Since G-d promised Eretz Yisrael to Am Yisrael, the fact that the inhabitants of the land were strong and courageous should have, at most, made the spies wonder how G-d plans on keeping His promise.

But they reached a different conclusion. They suddenly saw themselves as small, as grasshoppers, as lacking ability.

They lost their confidence in G-d’s promise – and at the moment they saw themselves as so weak, they seemed that way in the eyes of the inhabitants of the land.

Here, we discover a human phenomenon that exists in each one of us. We have different missions – to be better, more loyal, more ideological. But it is not always easy.

Reality dictates hardships on the path to our worthy missions.

We have two choices in how to deal with these hardships. One way is to reach the conclusion reached by the spies: We are small, weak, unable, grasshoppers. In this way we weaken ourselves even if it is not true, and bring failure upon ourselves.

But the other path is to rise above the fears, overcome the apprehension and be secure in our abilities to reach the goals we have set for ourselves. If we choose this path, we will discover that we are not so weak, and that we have abilities we did not recognize. If we believe in our path and are convinced that we are acting appropriately, it will cause others to fear us and value our strength, and will lead us to success.

The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.

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