This week’s Torah portion, Shlach, describes the twelve spies that Moses sent into Israel. Two of them brought back a positive and encouraging report, while ten of them spoke negatively. Ultimately, this event adds forty years to Israel’s wanderings in the desert. But amidst Moses’ great plan that went awry, we learn two important details about Judaism and ourselves.
In Judaism, we are taught to be careful with our words, as they affect changes in the world. We are not allowed to speak badly of people, and we’re discouraged from speaking badly about anything. We understand that we are part of humanity, and therefore it’s understood that we are not to speak badly of ourselves. Loving our neighbours as ourselves includes the understanding that we are no better nor worse than others, and we owe ourselves the same respect we offer to others. The spies violated this rule.
Buried in their report, the spies stated that they appeared like grasshoppers to the inhabitants of the land. They referred to themselves as annoyances, nuisances, bugs. But these are the people God redeemed from Egypt, the descendants of Abraham and Sarah -to demean themselves is to diminish Jewish ancestry and God’s intervention in history. To belittle ourselves is to belittle all those who contributed to who we are.
The second lesson from this moment is that they accurately described the process of projection. They stated that ‘we appeared as grasshoppers in our eyes, so we must have appeared as such in their eyes’. In other words, the feeling of inadequacy originates within and is then assumed to be seen by everyone. Self-doubt and feelings of unworthiness are things we harbour within us, and then project outwardly to others. We conclude there is nothing else for them to see and so become our greatest barrier. We have already accepted a failed outcome.
The story of the spies teaches us how careful we must be with our words, and how greatly they influence outcomes. But we also learn the importance of self-respect. Each of us carries a divine spark within us. When we choose to recognize that spark, we understand how harmful the words of the spies truly were. We learn from their mistake by honouring ourselves and each other.
I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.