Gradual Growth

The Struggle

In Canada and in the US, this is the season of liberty as both countries will soon celebrate their Independence Day. Canada won its independence peacefully, but for the US it was a long struggle; one that proved beyond doubt that all growth is gradual.

The Colonists’ primary complaint against Britain was taxation without representation. Britain prided itself on the maxim, “No man shall be taxed, but by his own consent,” and yet felt no compunction about taxing the colonies without allowing them representation in parliament.

Addressing the House of Commons in a vigorous debate, noted political philosopher, Edmund Burke said, “to prove that the Americans ought not to be free, we are obliged to depreciate the value of freedom itself; and we never seem to gain a paltry advantage over them in debate, without attacking some of those principles, or deriding some of those feelings, for which our ancestors have shed their blood.”

King George III and his government certainly had a blind side when it came to freedom. They championed freedom and equality, but only for those they deemed worthy. This blind side was roundly criticized by the Colonists, who ironically had their own blindside. Their self-evident and inalienable rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness were denied to the American woman and to the black man.

Seismic shifts in perspective come in stages. When a radically new idea is proposed, we might embrace it on its merits, but we don’t immediately realize its full application. It took Britain a full century and a half to acknowledge that the colonies were worthy of independence. It would take yet another century before the same would be offered to Canada. Not surprisingly, the same was true for the Colonists. It took nearly a century to free the slaves, another half century to grant women the right to vote, and yet another half century to secure full civil rights. This goes to show, that growth is gradual. Galactic paradigm shifts, take root over time.

Even the Colonists, who saw this fault in their adversaries, couldn’t discern it in themselves. It is common for those who criticize others to be guilty of selfsame. In another, we see fault readily; in ourselves, we miss it completely.

The Baal Shem Tov taught that this was what our sages’ meant when they said “G-d punishes man, with and without, his knowledge.” G-d arranges for us to meet others with faults similar to ours and when we condemn those others, we unwittingly condemn ourselves. The condemnation occurs with our knowledge, we are aware that we have condemned the other, but also without our knowledge because we are unaware that we have condemned ourselves.

The Fallen

This explains a curious biblical episode. Moses sent spies to scout out the land before he led the Jews to Israel. Upon their return, the scouts discouraged the move to Israel, predicting that the Jewish army would fail to conquer the land. To dramatize the strength of the inhabitants, they related that in Israel they encountered the fallen; offspring of the great giants. Who were these fallen giants?

Our sages explained that these were the children of fallen angels. Shortly before the great flood, the angels complained about mankind’s abhorrent behavior. G-d replied that it was wrong for them to judge man’s behavior on earth, while safely ensconced in heaven. The angels offered to be born into human bodies to demonstrate that earthly temptation can be withstood. G-d consented, but the angels were more unethical than humans. These angels were born into giant bodies and it was their offspring that the spies saw. They noted these mighty giants in their report to dissuade the Jews from entering Israel.

If the spies merely wanted to convey that they had encountered giants, why was their lineage important? Why did the spies mention that these giants were descended from fallen angels?

Gradual Growth

To answer this question we must first ask another. Why did the spies turn against G-d’s wish that the Jews enter Israel if the Torah itself testifies that the spies were, at first, kosher men?

The spies were reluctant to enter Israel precisely because they were kosher, which brings us back to paradigm shifts. At Sinai G-d presented the radical new idea that it is possible to live a heavenly life even on earth. The spies saw that this was achievable in the desert, where there were few distractions and even fewer temptations. But they worried that in Israel, where they would enter real life, Torah would become irrelevant. You can’t pave roads, collect taxes, dig sewers and raise armies by studying Torah. To live in reality, they would need to do real things and let go of the idyllic spiritually they had enjoyed in the desert. They feared that by moving to Israel, they would fall from Divine grace and become earthly, sinful and spiritually corrupt.

They therefore pointed out that even angels had “fallen” when they were made to live in the real world. If this could happen to angels, it could certainly happen to humans.

The spies had yet to absorb the full magnitude of the Sinai paradigm shift. Heavenly living wasn’t intended only for the desert. It was intended even for real life. By logic, this is too much to expect, but because it is a Divine mandate, we are endowed with the ability to succeed.

The Condemnation

The spies believed their analysis to be correct, but they were wrong. As the angels had fallen, so had the spies and by condemning the angels for their fall, they inadvertently admitted their own.

The spies made this analysis while they were away from the desert – out of the bubble. On the outside, they didn’t perceive reality through the lens that was used inside the bubble. They were no longer looking at things G-d’s way, they were looking at it their own way. They had fallen and thus came to the faulty conclusion that heavenly living in the real world is impossible.  The truth, as Joshua and Caleb put it, is that “If G-d desires us… we will succeed.” Living in the real world as a real Jew is a challenge even today. But Jews have faced even greater challenges throughout history and, have always succeeded.

We too often condemn those who are less observant than us while justifying that we are less observant than others. Those others live in an orthodox bubble, we say, so they can afford to be observant. I live in the real world, where full observance isn’t possible. The truth is that the heavenly lifestyle can be lived