Promised Land Delayed
Just about everybody knows that the Israelites were condemned to wander in the wilderness for forty years, as told in this week’s sedra. The setting is clear: Moses has sent an advance party who now return with tales of a Land of extraordinary wonders, a Land that truly “flows with milk and honey”. But they also tell of fortress cities and inhabitants whose physical size is both intimidating and daunting. The people respond with cries of fear and want to go back to Egypt. Only Joshua and Caleb want to continue their journey. Everyone else will now drift aimlessly in the wilderness until they die.
So, what prohibited an entire people from reaching their destination? And what lesson is the Torah trying to teach us? The obvious answer is that the people lost faith. After everything that G-d had done for them, to assume that they would fail in this next obstacle indicated that they had learned nothing. However, in the scouts’ recounting of their observations lies another possible message.
“The country that we traversed is one that devours its settlers. All the people that we saw are men of great size . . . and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.”
On this passage the Kotzker Rebbe writes: “This was one of the sins of the scouts. The determination that ‘we were like grasshoppers in our eyes’ is possible to understand, but ‘and also in their eyes’? — how would they have known how the Canaanites viewed them?
In other words, their sin wasn’t simply that they had misrepresented what they had seen. Their failure wasn’t even that they saw themselves as grasshoppers. For this they could be forgiven. Rather, their failing was their preoccupation with how others saw them. For the Kotzker, the essence of one’s mission in life is to be true to oneself.
We are not so different. Often, we see ourselves through the eyes of others. How easy it is for us to define ourselves in relation to what others will think. We worry that somehow our appearance in the eyes of someone else is all that matters. It is a preoccupation not with who we are, but with how we think we are perceived.
This sedra is often rendered simply as Sh’lach – the verb “to send.” In fact, the full name is Sh’lach L’cha. Literally, “Send to yourself”. In other words, regardless of the task or the challenge, the success of my mission depends entirely on how I see myself as being integral to its fulfilment. If my concern is focused on how I will appear, if my focus is on whom I will please or displease, then I act without integrity. The opening words of this sedra—Sh’lach L’cha—are in the singular. It speaks to you!