In this week’s Torah portion, G-d commands Moses to send people to scout out the land of Canaan which G-d had promised to the Israelites. Moses asks them to look over the land and its inhabitants – to see whether they are strong or weak, few or many, and to see whether the land is rich and fertile. When the scouts return, they come with remarkable reports about the land. The land flows with milk and honey. The people are fierce and the cities are fortified.
Caleb is excited. “We should go up at once and possess it: for we are well able to overcome it.” But the other spies are not so hopeful. They believe that the people who dwell in Canaan are stronger than they are. They say, “We were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.”
When G-d sent the spies to look over the land, what were they meant to discover? Perhaps the test here was not one of the land, but of the people themselves. Notice the order of the two clauses: First – “We were IN OUR OWN SIGHT as grasshoppers.” And then : “And so we were IN THEIR SIGHT.” It wasn’t that the people who observed them saw them as small and insignificant, but rather that the people themselves saw it this way and thus it became a self-fulfilling prophesy. Having just come out of slavery, they were not ready to see themselves as warriors, nor did they really believe that they were worthy. Another generation in the wilderness would need to pass before they would be ready to conquer the holy land. Success begins with faith – faith in G-d, but also, and perhaps equally important, faith in themselves.
After hearing this report from the spies, the people weep, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt.” They immediately believe this idea that they are grasshoppers. It is so easy to become discouraged, and that despair is viral. The line from the old movie comes to mind – “patience young grasshopper…” The people needed more time in the wilderness – not just for a generation to die off, but to become the people they were meant to be. To learn how to be a cohesive group, to form a system of laws and values, to become ECHAD – One. We can all become wise and mighty. We are apprentices in this life. It’s okay to be a grasshopper, as long as you don’t let it defeat you, but rather use it as the basis to leap into life to see what greatness lies ahead.
Cantor Sally Neff