We recently studied the Torah portion Shelah-Lecha, Numbers 13:1-15-41. this is the portion where Moses orders the spies, men respected in the community, “one man from each of their ancestral tribes, each one a chieftain among them,” (13:2) to scout out the territory of the Promised Land, to examine the people and produce therein, and give a full report on what they find. (13:17-20)
For forty days, the spies surveyed the terrain, taking with them a huge cluster of grapes they carry on a wooden beam (the logo for the municipality of Jerusalem) and report back to Moses. (13:21-24)
The spies report that the land is indeed fertile; but, say the spies, “the people who inhabit the country are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large” (13:25-29). Except for two of them-Caleb and Joshua- the spies say, “we cannot attack these people, for they are stronger than we are,” and they add, “we looked like grasshoppers, to ourselves and so we must have looked to them.” (13-25-33) The Israelites, hearing this report, go into hysterics and cry, “We should have stayed in Egypt! Let’s go back to Egypt!” (14:1-4) But the two dissenting spies, Caleb and Joshua, insist, “the land we have traversed is an exceedingly good land. If the LORD is pleased with us, He will being us into that land, a land that flows with milk and honey.” (14:6-10)
God gets ready to wipe out the entire population for their lack of faith, but Moses pleads with GOD to pardon the iniquity of the Israelites. God does not eliminate the population, but for their lack of faith they are to stay, for forty more years, in the wilderness and are not allowed to enter the Land. (14:11-25)
This portion deals with issues I’ve dealt with forever-of self-esteem and self-confidence. The spies are leaders of the tribes, men of respect, and so the people paid attention to what they said in their report. The spies say that they people don’t have it in them to take on the tribes inhabiting the Land; the spies themselves say “We looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we looked like that to them,” projecting the low self-image the spies have of themselves. the spies, the leaders of the people, had no self-confidence in themselves or their people. The leaders of the tribes saw themselves as little crawly insects to be stepped upon. If the “leaders” of the people were so lowly, how much more so the rank-and-file Israelites? To me, these “leaders,” except for Joshua and Caleb, were mis-leaders, destroying the self-esteem and self-worth of the people.
How often have we had some person we have been taught to respect-a parent or a teacher, any authority figure-tell us we’re too damn stupid to make a difference of to attain any goal we have for ourselves? For me, as for others, it was hundreds of times.
Contrast this to the Haftorah portion, the second chapter of Joshua, where Joshua orders spies to infiltrate the city of Jericho, to see how well protected they are. The sex worker Rahab tell the spies how terrified the people of the city are of the Israelites; word of the power of God has reached the people of Jericho. thus the Israelites did not know their own strength or ability. (Plus, a sex worker, Rahab, someone society teaches us to look down upon, is the hero of this piece.)
We are constantly told of our failings, but do we really know our strengths, our powers? Let us constantly keep looking into ourselves for our power.