Focus on the positive – Parshat Shelach

Focus on the positive – Parshat Shelach


Parshat Shelach is famous for the story of the spies Moshe sends to scout out the land of Israel. We know that the 12 people who were chosen were honorable, distinctive men amongst the Jewish people. After 40 days, 10 of the spies came back with negative reports while two – Caleb and Yehoshua – came back with a positive report.

The verse in Numbers 13:33 states, “And there we saw the giants and we in our own eyes were like grasshoppers and so we were in their eyes.” Rashi quotes the Tractate Sotah (35a), which states our verse, and the Talmud asks whether this is a falsity. The spies could know how they viewed themselves, but how could they know how the Canaanites viewed them? The Talmud gives an answer that the spies saw the Canaanites give a first meal to a mourner under a cedar tree; when the spies were seen, they climbed into trees. They heard the Canaanites say that they saw ant-sized people in the trees.

I would like to take a slightly different approach to understand our verse. The spies viewed themselves as being like grasshoppers, like worthless people. It was this belief in themselves that caused the spies to think that this must be what the Canaanites were thinking as well. Instead of having faith in Hashem that Hashem gave them a beautiful, fruitful land and that everything that Hashem does is certainly good, they were focused on the fact that they looked small in the face of big giants. This attitude caused them to have little self-worth and little self-esteem. They were concentrating on the negative rather than the positive.

The following story from the book “Chassidic Tales of the Holocaust” illustrates this point of thinking and feeling positive even in the face of negativity. A group of Jews were living in a ghetto under the worst of circumstances watching their families and friends being murdered left and right. One of the rabbis (the Bluzhover rebbe) of the ghetto was able to keep track of the Hebrew calendar in these horrific times and soon it was the first night of Chanukah. Some of the Jews in the ghetto wanted very much to light a Chanukah candle. They mustered together a piece of cloth from their garments and some oil from a shoe polish and they secretly lit a candle. The rabbi of the ghetto started to make the blessings. He recited the first blessing and then the second blessing. The third blessing is the blessing of “shehecheyanu,” which praises God for bringing us to this special time to be able to perform this special commandment. The rabbi comes to the third blessing and he pauses. In his mind, he is wondering if it is appropriate to make the shehecheyanu blessing under these horrific circumstances. The rabbi looks around at all the people gathered to glean light and hope from this candle and he proceeds to make the final blessing. After the blessing, one Jew approaches the rabbi and askes how he could make such a blessing when there are dead people all around. The rabbi responds, “I asked myself the same question and then I looked and saw how many people were willing to risk their lives for the sake of this commandment. This is the biggest sanctification of God’s name and therefore very appropriate to thank God for this special moment.”

In the world of outreach, this message is abundantly clear. We must constantly be aware of the infinite value of every human being, and the contribution each can make. Such awareness will naturally lead to reaching and connecting with others, establishing sincere relationships and reintroducing them to their roots. At the same time we will be immeasurably enriched by the encounter.