This week’s Torah portion, Shelach (meaning: send) begins with the tale of Moses sending 12 spies into the land of Canaan. Their task: scout the land out and report back on what they observe. In this infamous legend, the men (no gender-equality back in the day) returned with glowing reports about the quality of the land itself. To prove their point, they brought back an enormous cluster of grapes, which two of them carried on a pole.
But, still, even though the land was good, ten of the spies warned against going into the land; the people, they said, were like giants. The rag-tag crew of Israelites would never conquer it. The Canaanites and others who lived there were simply too large, strong and mighty. Only two spies, Caleb and Joshua, tried to convince that the Israelites should go forth and try. Because of the other ten spies’ reluctance, the Israelites spent 40 more years wandering in the desert!
We could have many discussions and debates about this story. For example, was it ethical for the Israelites to consider displacing Canaan’s native population? But, that is a discussion for a different time. For today, I want to take a more psychological approach. Why did ten of the spies become fearful? What troubled them?
A careful look at the Hebrew wording presents an intriguing insight. The spies said, “In our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes.” (Numbers Chapter 13:14) In other words, the spies perceived themselves as weak and small, nothing more than grasshoppers. And, because of their own self-image, the spies projected insecurity and vulnerability. The Canaanites saw the spies as grasshoppers because they saw themselves as grasshoppers. The spies came from the slave generation and although they had left Egyptian bondage, their self-image had not thrown down its shackles.
How often do we fall into this trap? Our self-image becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. But, it does not need to be the case. The spies could have told themselves: “We are not grasshoppers.” I’ve spent my adult life under 5”1’ tall. I know a bit about feeling small and needing to stand tall!
When Al Pacino auditioned for the Godfather, the producers thought that Pacino (at 5'7") was too short for the role. Well, a little bit of attitude and a whole lot of talent made up for that perceived inadequacy.
Feeling small in the world has very little to do with size, and much more to do with self-perception. Yet, especially these days, it is easy to feel small. What with Covid-19 ever-looming, the economy on the decline and the hate crimes on the rise and constant political discord, it is hard not to feel insignificant, like a grasshopper. What can we possibly do against all these odds? But, if we can learn anything from this week’s parsha, it is this lesson: do not fall into the trap of self-doubt and diminishment. It is not the time to hide behind your face mask, so to say. Rather, its time to be like Joshua and Caleb, who said, “There are some mighty challenges ahead, but we’ve got this.”
Shabbat to a congregation that is anything but grasshoppers!