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Torah Tuesdays with Hennie Black- Parshat Shelach



In this week’s Torah portion of Shelach, the spies return from their reconnaissance mission of the holy land with an evil report.

They felt overwhelmed at the sheer size of their enemies, calling them giants, while describing their own stature as “grasshoppers.” 

What was at the root of their sin? And what lesson does the story of the spies have for us today? 

In this week’s Torah portion of Parshat Shelach, we are told of the infamous “sin of the spies.” Twelve men were sent by Moshe to scout out the land of Israel and ten came back with a negative report, saying that it is “a land that devours its inhabitants. All the people that we saw in it were huge…We were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we were in their eyes.”

The spies, seeing the size of the inhabitants of the land, viewed themselves as grasshoppers in comparison. But it was only after they looked at themselves as grasshoppers did they believe that others perceived them as grasshoppers as well. Many commentators believe this statement was at the root of their sin.

Rabbi Twersky z’l explains that this is a common psychological principle: there is a direct link between the perception that we have of ourselves and the resulting perception that others have of us. 

If we think of ourselves as small, insecure, incompetent, or as nothing, that will be the perception that others will have of us. On the other hand, if we are confident, have courage, and are self-assured, others more likely will place their confidence and trust in us. It is human nature that people respond to us in accordance with our own self esteem.

It is precisely because the spies felt small and insignificant as grasshoppers that they believed the giants perceived them as such. The spies were missing the confidence and self-esteem to recognize their true self-worth, causing them to lose their faith in G-d: “Perhaps we are not worthy of receiving G-d’s miracles in defeating these great nations,” they thought.  

The Kotzker Rebbe explained that the main sin of the spies was not only seeing themselves as grasshoppers, but rather caring about how others perceived them: “It is one thing if you think that you are a grasshopper – but what do you care what other people think?”

If we wait for the approval of others, we may act based on how others will respond, rather than in accordance with who we truly are. At the root of recognizing our self-worth is remembering that we were created in the image of G-d with a unique mission in the world.  

In seeing themselves as insignificant and tiny as grasshoppers, the spies were doomed to failure. They then infected the entire nation, so to speak, with the same negative perceptions, causing them to harbor the same fear and sense of lowliness.

This psychological principle, so powerfully illustrated in our parsha, points to the very real question of how we respond to our own challenges in daily life: one way to respond is to reach the conclusion reached by the spies, perceiving ourselves as small, weak, incapable, inadequate, and as grasshoppers. When we think we aren’t anything special, others will start to think the same way about us. We will never succeed with this approach, and will be doomed to failure.

The way forward is to work through our fears, overcome our hesitations, and feel secure in our abilities and self-worth. We must learn to recognize our own value and embrace our unique mission. Our success in making the world a better place begins with believing that we have a Divine spark within us. With that in mind, there is nothing that we cannot accomplish. Let’s squish the grasshopper within and awaken our inner giant.       

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