Parashat Sh’lach Lecha: We looked like grasshoppers to ourselves

Adrian M SchellI think it’s fair to say that just about everybody knows that the Israelites were condemned to wander in the wilderness for forty years – a biblical generation. But what led to it, is less well known. This week’s parashah—Sh’lach Lecha—tells that story.

Israel is on the verge of entering the promised Land. Moses, on directions from God, has sent in an advance scout team. After forty days of exploring the land, they return and report of a Land that truly “flows with milk and honey”. But, they also tell of fortress cities and the inhabitants of the Land, of a people 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, two of the twelve scouts, want to continue on with their sacred journey. For this, they will merit the reward of eventually crossing the Jordan River. As for everyone else, they will neither enter the Land nor return to Egypt. They will drift aimlessly in the wilderness of Sinai until they die. The question is why? What was their sin? What was so grievous that prohibited an entire people from ever reaching their destination? And perhaps even more to the point, what lesson is Torah trying to teach us?

The obvious answer is that the people lost faith in God. But in this story, in particular in the scouts’ recounting of their observations, lies another possibility. “The country … is one that consumes its settlers. All the people that we saw in it, 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 (Menachem Mendel Morgenstern of Kotzk) that their sin wasn’t simply that they lost faith or that the scouts had misrepresented what they had seen. Their failure wasn’t even that they had low self-esteem, that they saw themselves as grasshoppers – for this they could be forgiven. Rather, it was their preoccupation with how others saw them.

How often do we see ourselves through the eyes of others? How easy it is for us to define ourselves in relation to the other? We wonder what s/he will think. We worry about how we look, as if somehow our appearance in the eyes of someone else is all that matters. But it is nothing more than another form of slavery, this preoccupation not with who we are but with how we think we are perceived.

The name of this week’s Torah portion is often rendered simply as Sh’lach. It is the verb “to send.” However, the full name of the parashah is Sh’lach Lecha. The second word, Lecha is instructive. Literally the phrase means “Send to yourself” or “Send for yourself.” This is how we should interpret the phrase. No matter the task, no matter 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.

Shabbat Shalom Rabbi Adrian M Schell  (Source: Rabbi Steven Kushner)

Torah Reading for Shabbat Sh’lach Lecha

Numbers 13:1-15:41
(Reading Num 13:16 – 14:5; P p.979; H p.623)

Haftarah Joshua 2:1-24 (P 998, H p.635)

In our Parashat, Moses sends twelve spies to the Land of Israel to report on the inhabitants and the country. Despite the positive report of two, the people are frightened. In response God announces that all those who left Egypt would not enter the Land of Israel. Our section of the Torah ends with Moses instructing the Israelites regarding setting aside challah, the observance of the Sabbath, how to treat strangers, and the laws of tzitzit. Torah Study this Shabbat morning at 08h45

Podcast of Rabbi Schell’s weekly Sermons Tuesdays on Radio Today (10h30) or: http://goo.gl/LsHQrY.

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