In this week’s portion we meet the very famous account of the scouts or spies, sent by Moses, to check out the land that they wish to cross over an conquer. It is the land that, according the texts, God has promised. So a group of men go to scout out the land and return with the good and bad news. The good: it IS a land flowing with milk and honey. The bad: don’t go there as the people are giants and we are like grasshoppers to them. (Numbers 13:33). Of course, along comes Caleb and Joshua who see the same land and report back that the land is good and they remind the people that God has promised them the land and they warn the people “you must not rebel against God. Have no fear then of the people of the country, for they are our prey; their protection has departed from them, but God is with us.Have no fear of them” (Numbers 14:9)
So here is a very interesting issue for us. Two groups of people seeing the same thing report two very different realities. Traditional commentaries will give you explanations that often revolve around God’s promise and the need to keep faith. Lack of faith in leadership is a motif that we see throughout the Torah. But I was struck as I was looking at some of these commentaries, by a different approach, one that also reflects some of our own personal growth as we age. The question is really is what we “see” really a manifestation of how we see our own self? Do we project our own self-image on the world? And do we get to a certain time in life when we do not worry about that and just accept who we are?
Dr Vivian Skolnick has written a Torah commentary that speaks to some of this. In her “Biblical Paths To Psychological Maturity”, she plays with this idea that this first group of scouts sees the people as giants and themselves as grasshoppers. “Just as in dreams”, she writes, “where the unconscious veils their meaning in often bizarre symbols, similarly here, the metaphor about insects veils the true inner cause behind their evil report…The report they brought back had more to say about their internal psychological landscape than with the external landscape they were ordered to survey.Their distorted vision that everyone else was bigger than life and more powerful, is really a reflection of how they viewed themselves as small, helpless creatures.” Of Caleb and Joshua’s report Skolnick concludes that”Their vision of the land derived from their own sense of themselves as strong, mature individuals” It was not from their sense of God mission that fortified them, rather it was from “a sense of maturity, basic self-esteem and capacity to see themselves as equal to others.”
So perhaps from this portion and this story we can take a lesson that it is crucial to how we see our own self in the world as based on how we see our own self. Our own sense of self-esteem and uniqueness, as Jewish tradition reminds us, is key to how we see our self and thus how we project that self into the world. And this lesson is valid for our entire life.
Rabbi Richard F Address