Imagine you are one of the 12 spies that were sent to scout Israel in this week’s parsha. You are “a distinguished man, one of the heads of the Children of Israel” (Numbers 13:3). Like everyone else, you’ve experienced the daily miracles in the camp of Israel: manna from the heaven like dew, water appearing miraculously from the well of Miriam, pillars of cloud and fire to lead the way.
Not so long ago, you witnessed the powerful delivery of the Ten Commandments and the sealing of the covenant at Mount Sinai, and just before that you emerged from the sea as it closed in on the chariots of Egypt, which pursued you. At that time you sang the “Song of the Sea” with complete faith and conviction — “Who can be compared to you, Hashem? Nations heard and were afraid … the dwellers of Canaan
dissolved with fright” (Exodus 15:11-15).
But today, you are standing before the people of Israel testifying about these same dissolving Canaanites, “We cannot ascend (to Israel) because the nation there is stronger than us … we were like grasshoppers” (Numbers 13:31-33).
Oy!! What happened?! How did the spies lose sight of the fact that if God wanted us to ascend to Israel, the Creator of heaven and earth would surely be able to conquer the land. Rashi (Shlomo Yitzchaki, France, 11th century) puts it like this: “Even if Hashem had asked us to build ladders and ascend to heaven, we would have succeeded.”
If God asks us to do something, it can be done.
I have learned that my moments of inspiration and clarity need to be earned. I may believe deeply in certain ideals, goals and principals, but in the day-to-day rush of life they get lost. Most days, all I can think about is how to complete the daily checklist of duties and responsibilities. My life becomes action oriented rather than people or principal oriented. I lose clarity and don’t give the proper thought to how I am acting or treating others. One hundred percent of life’s interpersonal mistakes happen during these times of action orientation. For active people, it is a mindset that may be difficult to escape.
The only way to break free from a permanent life of action orientation is to build moments into our lives to meditate on the goals and ideals that are truly the center of who we are. For me, this is tefilla, which gives me a few moments every day to refocus on the big picture.
The spies were too entrenched in the action orientation of their mission. It was up to them, they thought, to fix the problem of getting the Children of Israel into the land of Canaan. It was a lofty task and consumed them to the point where they lost focus on their beliefs, humility and faith in God. It was in this clouded mindset that they could turn their back on all the miracles leading up to this moment and declare that ascent to the land of Canaan was an unachievable goal. In contrast, tradition teaches that the two spies who maintained their faith and encouraged the Israelites to believe (Calev and Joshua) had taken time to pray during their mission and thus never lost sight of their goal.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Shapiro is the spiritual leader of Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah Congregation.