Recently we read the Torah portion Shelach-Lecha, Number 13:1-15:41-my old time favorite, because it deals with self-image and self esteem, issues I’ve worked on forever.
Moses orders the scouts to scout out the Promised Land, to research the land and its people. The scouts were leaders of the tribes, respected men, men of distinction. After forty days, the scouts return, and they report that the land is plentiful in produce, but the people there are strong, and they say, “We looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.” This is a form of projection-the scouts thought they were weak and helpless, and so they assumed the inhabitants of the land so through of them.
The scouts were leaders of the tribes, and people looked up to them for guidance, and the people accepted their report. Only Caleb and Joshua said, “We CAN take the land! Have faith in God!”” The scouts thus betrayed the people by telling them, “They can’t do it.” How many times did we have a teacher, a parent, or some other adult tell us as kids we can’t do this or that, and what we try to do as a skill they treat it as a joke? That has happened to me plenty of times. Also, the scouts, the “men of respect,” were also frightened by the inhabitants of the land, so they were also human, with human minds.
After hearing the scouts’ report, the Israelites panic and scream, “Let’s go back to Egypt!”, the land of their slavery and powerlessness. Their period of slavery left in them a feeling of low self-esteem and self-confidence; they thought the most outlandish scenarios, “We’ll all be slaughtered, our wives and children will be captured!” Fear activates in the mind the most outrageous “possibilities.”
Later, the Israelites, ashamed of their terror and lack of faith, tell Moses they were ready to fight to take the Land; Moses tells them not to go, “for the LORD is not in your midst.” The Israelites go anyway and are beaten. With the phrase “the Lord is not in your midst,” I interpret that meaning they knew they would be defeated, but they felt compelled to fight the inhabitants anyway. That often happens you are told you simply HAVE to do something, knowing perfectly well it would end in failure, but for some reason you are forced to try anyway.
The Haftorah is the second chapter in the Book of Joshua, where Joshua, like Moses, orders scouts to survey the city of Jericho, and they hide in the house of the sex worker Rahab, on the city wall. After sending the king’s soldiers on a false lead, Rahab tells the scouts, “I know the LORD has given this country to you, because dread of you has fallen upon us, and all the inhabitants of the land and quaking before you,” and she tells how God’s miracles have supported the Israelites, adding, “the LORD your God is the only God in heaven above and on earth below,” and she asks the scouts to help her and her family, just as she helped the scouts.
Here is a couple of points: Rahab, the sex worker, working a trade demeaned by society, knows God and does God’s work. Also, the Israelites find out that it’s their enemies that are afraid of the Israelites’ power; the Israelites didn’t know their own strength-do any of us?