Parashat Shelach Lecha
This week’s portion is about the Jewish people at our very best and our very worst. At our very best, we are secure in our identities, trusting in the promises of G-d in the face of immense opposition. And at our very worst, we are crippled by our past experiences of oppression and persecution, wary of everything that lies ahead.
In Parashat Shelach Lecha, we meet the Jewish people at the very threshold of The Promised Land. They have very recently been liberated from generations of slavery through a dramatic series of miracles and plagues. Hashem has:
- dried up a sea to allow them passage to safety,
- rained manna and quail upon their heads to feed them,
- met face to face with their leader, and
- given them the laws that set them apart as a holy nation.
And now, barely two weeks since the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, they stand at the threshold of the Promised Land, just as Hashem promised they would … and they are quaking in their boots.
10 spies tell them they’ve hit a dead end. “There are giants everywhere! We looked like grasshoppers in comparison! Let’s go back to Egypt, at least we’ll be safe there.” Only two spies offer hope. Joshua and Caleb. “Sure, there are giants, but who cares? We will eat them up! Hashem is with us, and will give us the Land as He promised.”
Sadly, it is too late. Fear has already been aroused in the hearts of the people, and they hurl stones at Joshua and Caleb. After a dramatic argument with Moses about the fate of his people, Hashem sentences the children of Israel to forty years of wandering in the desert, warning that not a single person from the generation that stoned Joshua and Caleb (not even Moses and Aaron) will live to enter the Promised Land.
Why, at the threshold of the Promised Land, after witnessing numerous jaw-dropping miracles, did our ancestors choose fear over faith? I think the answer to this question is in the text itself. When the 10 spies say “we felt like grasshoppers,” in comparison to giants, they betray their insecurity about their identity. They are a people too recently delivered from generations of slavery to imagine themselves as conquerors.
Because they lack imagination, they deride the optimism of the only two spies bold enough to trust in the promises of Hashem, even in the face of the community’s dissent. Because they lack imagination, Hashem raises up a new generation of Jews, one unencumbered by the experience of slavery, that is ready to claim its inheritance with boldness.
Like our people did in Shelach Lecha, I am often tempted to succumb to my own fears, and I often feel insecure in my G-d given identity. As a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, I find it difficult to trust in Hashem’s promise that we will survive as a people, and sometimes find paranoia more comforting than faith. As a Messianic Jew who has endured heart-searing betrayal and rejection as a result of my unorthodox faith, I find it difficult to trust that Hashem puts new friends into my life for very good reasons, and that it’s OK to be open about who I am.
What I have fallen into, and what we all have the potential to succumb to, is the crippling darkness of fear. In letting the pain of the past color our vision of the future, we allow fear to smother our faith in G-d’s promises. But who are we, after all? We are not grasshoppers! We are the eaters of giants! I want to bless us that we should face our deepest fears, whatever they are, and step boldly into G-d’s promises in spite of them. For if we cannot, Hashem will surely raise up a new generation that is not intimidated by the challenges of the future.