By Rabbi Yoseph Kahanov, Jax, Fl.
“A mind troubled by doubt cannot focus on the course to victory.”
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Back in the 1930’s, a large shoe conglomerate with stores all over North America, wished to explore the developing market of the emerging African Continent. Two high level representatives were dispatched to scout the villages across the continent and assess the opportunities.
Before long, the first rep. reported back: “The mission is a disaster. No one in these parts even knows what shoes are, let alone wears them! The situation is hopeless.”
Soon after, the second scout filed his own report. His cable read: “Urgent! Send 10,000 pairs of shoes ASAP. The place is ripe with opportunity. Nobody here owns a pair of shoes!”
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“We were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we were in their eyes.” (Numbers 13:33)
Have you ever met a Jew who is embarrassed or apologetic about his heritage? Have you ever felt that way yourself? If you have, you will know that it can be very stifling; even paralyzing. It is almost pitiful to watch such people bob and weave through life, trapped in an existence that leaves them neither secure nor comfortable.
Should a Jew rightfully feel apologetic or ashamed of his faith and heritage – over the fact that he is different, or that his religion perceives him to be part of “The chosen people?”
Fourteen months after their Exodus from Egyptian bondage, the Children of Israel stood poised to conquer the Promised Land. On behest of the people, Moshe dispatched twelve scouts to survey the land and report back on its nature and conquerability. Forty days later, on the tragic date of the Ninth of Av, the twelve men – each a leader of his tribe – returned sharply divided.
The story of the infamous twelve scouts, and their ill-fated mission, is related in illustrious detail in this week’s Parsha, Shlach. While all the tribal leaders returned lauding the land’s material abundance, ten of the twelve proceeded to defame it as “A land that consumes its inhabitants.”
They wailed and raved about how fortified were the cities and how strong were its people. They confessed to feeling completely inadequate and intimidated by its population: “We were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we were in their eyes.”
Adamant that the Jews had best remain encamped in the desert, they implored the people to abandon their mission of conquering the Land. So successful were they in striking terror and doubt into the heart of the people that a national hysteria consumed the nation. Not only did they discard the mission, they actually demanded a new leader who would return them to Egypt.
Only two of the spies – Calev from the tribe of Yehudah and Yehoshua from the tribe of Ephraim – insisted that the Jews can and must proceed with the Divine directive to enter the Land.
Considering the fact that Moshe had personally handpicked these tribal leaders, hopeful that they would act responsibly, it remains to be understood what caused them to turn so sour. How could they have so patently denied G-d’s ability to conquer the land of Canaan? After all, these ten men were the spiritual elite of Israel.
The question is farther exacerbated in light of the unfathomable wonders which they have experienced during their short sojourn from Egyptian bondage. Could the G-d who turned water in to blood, split the Red Sea, obliterated the mighty Egyptian army and defeated the Amalekites, somehow lack the capacity to prevail over the inhabitants of Canaan? Could the Heavenly Master, who manifestly transformed the sterile desert into a habitat for an entire nation, be outwitted and overpowered by a group – any group – of armed mortals?
The answer, according to Chassidic thought, is that it was not G-d’s capacity that these men called into question, but rather their own. Their paralyzing trepidation was the result of a low self esteem and lack of faith in themselves. What frightened these high-minded spiritual personalities was not the Almighty’s ability to get them into the land, but rather their own ability, as a people, to survive in the land.
For over a year they had experienced a wholly spiritual existence. Manna fell from heaven and water flowed from a miracle rock; “Clouds of Glory” sheltered them from heat, cold, scorpions and enemy arrows – guiding and paving their way through the desert. Free of all material concern, they set their goals and aspirations to absorbing their newly acquired Divine wisdom. Now, having scarcely adjusted to their idyllic routine, they were being asked to leave their desert paradise, raise an army, conquer and settle the land, and eke earthly bread out of its soil. Why?
Here in the desert, they reasoned, sustained by the Manna from heaven and shielded from the corporeal and hostile world, “Our souls are free to ponder the depth of the Divine wisdom and cleave to the heavenly source. There, we shall be overwhelmed by the political and economic distractions intrinsic to an earth-bound existence. ‘It is a land that consumes its inhabitants,’” they warned, “Why abandon our secure celestial existence for a life subsisting off the land?”
Yet the spies erred in doubting Israel’s ability to execute their Divine mission: to conquer and settle the land of Canaan as the “Holy Land” – to realize the land’s potential for holiness and sanctity.
“G-d’s desire lies with us,” argued Yehoshua and Calev. The Divine “desire” – that lies at the heart of creation – to inhabit and transform the land, is with us. It is we who possess the capacity to tame the material earth and construct of it an abode for the Divine presence.
As a result of this blunder, Israel’s inheritance of the land of Canaan was postponed for forty years, until a new generation, prepared to take on the challenge of the land, had reached maturity.
The tragic debacle of the twelve scouts – considered the source of all the strife and struggle in Jewish history – contains many a profound lesson, not the least of which is the notion that trust in G-d is not enough; we must also trust in our selves.
Has there ever been an accomplished leader, artist, professional, author, entertainer salesperson or craftsman, etc. that failed to believe in himself prior to being recognized by others? Has there ever existed a society that had profoundly influenced the world without having faith in itself and its cause?
The fact of the matter is that it’s virtually impossible to rise to great heights devoid of an awareness and trust in one’s own ability and skill. Inspiration flows from the inside out, not the outside in. If you can’t inspire yourself then chances are you will not inspire anyone else. If you don’t believe in yourself, or your product, there’s nobody that will.
This does not mean that we don’t place ourselves in the hands of G-d and credit him for everything. Life, as G-d meant it to be, is a partnership between man and his heavenly maker. We must hence recognize our own role and potential in the Divine scheme. These two ideals; trust in G-d and in our G-d given potential and mission, provide the necessary framework for a meaningful and successful existence. This is where the spy’s erred; they believed that it was either one or the other.
Failure to appreciate our true potential and G-d given ability, often results in the squandering of our lofty mission and purpose in this world. The inevitable affect of timidity vis-à-vis our identity and mission is failure.
Given the above we ought to stop and ask ourselves: Who are we? Do we really have of what to be ashamed? Have we not earned for ourselves the title “Chosen People?”
If you are not sure, it might help to examine our historical background. You can begin with the last 70 years, when we clawed our way out of the burning ashes of Europe. Dragged to our death like sheep to the slaughter, we were at the brink of extinction – a people with no army, no country, and no place to run.
We survived the Nazi Holocaust of Germany and the Pogroms of Russia. Within 10 years we had our own country, which, in its first few hours, was attacked by seven Arab nations. Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Libya, and Saudi Arabia declared war on the tiny, barely established, Jewish State, all at once.
We won that war with less than nothing – 650,000 Jews against the rest of the Arab world. No IDF, no mighty Air Force, just a tough bunch of people with nowhere to go.
20 years later we fought the three strongest armies in the Middle East and wiped them out in six days. We fought against different coalitions of Arab countries with modern armies and masses of Soviet weapons. And, despite the odds, were victorious.
The country the UN gave us 60 years ago was 65% desert. We started from scratch and made the desert flourish, selling oranges and vegetables to the world.
Today we have a country, an army, a strong air force, a hi-tech economy exporting millions. Intel, Microsoft and IBM all develop their technology there. Our doctors win world prizes for medical developments. We built an empire out of nothing.
We sit proudly with the US, (250 million people), Russia (200 million people), China, with (1.1 billion people), and Europe – France, England, Germany (350 million people), the only countries in the world to launch something into space. Yes, Israel has sent three of its own satellites into space.
Together with the US, Russia, China, India, France and England, Israel is today part of the world nuclear power community. The above is just a tiny fraction of our long illustrious history. If it’s not enough, go ahead and study the other 99%.
The fact is that we, the Nation of the Bible – of Egyptian slavery – are still here, speaking the same language and committed to the same principles, while the others are gone; nothing more than a vague chapter in history. It’s important that we understand who we are and what is our mission.
We are G-d’s chosen people and our mission is to conquer and tame the land, and we ought to never cower, neither from our identity, nor from our mission. In conclusion I share the following pertinent story:
Chaim, a poor thirteen year old from Moscow, once received a first-class train ticket from a wealthy uncle to come visit him in Warsaw. Never having traveled before, Chaim – a timid and apprehensive soul – arrived at the station firmly clutching his ticket.
As the well-dressed, first-class passengers began to board, Chaim, certain that he was not one of them, waited behind. He continued to wait while all the other passengers boarded. Only when he noticed a group of vagrants, with packs on their shoulders, did he feel like he had found his place. And so he followed them.
The whistle blew and the train began to roll, one by one the hobos jumped aboard the baggage car. Chaim followed suit and slipped into the dark compartment, atop a pile of suitcases. He endured the bumps and dampness of the baggage car, happy to be aboard.
Suddenly, the door opened and a burly conductor entered. He demanded to see the tickets of the poor vagabonds cowering in the corners and under the baggage. One by one they were rounded up and ordered to disembark at the next station.
Trembling in fear, Chaim looked up from under his coat to see the officer staring at him. With a quivering hand he presented the officer the ticket he had been clutching ever-so-tightly. The conductor looked at the ticket carefully and looked back at Chaim. He then broke-out in a smile. “Young man,” he said, “You have a first-class ticket! What are you doing here in the baggage compartment? When you have a first class ticket, you ought to act like a first class passenger!”
Yes, we who have first class tickets ought to act like first class passengers!!!