2014-06-11 / Religion Column

Grasshoppers or giants: Fulfilling our true destinies

Temple Emanuel

Parashat Shelach Num. 13:1-15:41

As we approach the summer months, and eventually the High Holy Days, we all worry about how others will view us. We are so consumed with the thoughts of others and how they view us. Do they like us? Do they dislike us? Do they like my clothes, my hair, what I look like? Will I be judged by the car I drive or the neighborhood in which I live? And, how will the way others view us shape our own self-perception? Will other people and their views influence how successful we may become?

This is not a new issue, especially for us as a Jewish community. In our Torah reading of Shelach from the book of Numbers, the Israelites are approaching the Promised Land and want to know what the land is like before they enter. God tells the Israelites to send scouts to check out the land and bring back information to help them in their journey, including some fruit of the land. (Why not! Who doesn’t like a good piece of fruit?) The majority of the scouts returned with pessimistic views of the future. They stated, “The country we traversed and scouted is one that devours its settlers. All the people that we saw were of a great size…we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves and so we must have looked to them.” (Num. 13:32-33).

Torah scholar and former professor of Bible at Tel Aviv University, Nehama Leibowitz, z”l asks an important question: “How did the spies know what the ‘giants’ thought of them? They don’t report any interaction with these bizarre ‘Nephilim;’ if they really were giant beings, then one could understand the feeling that ‘we seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes,’ but how did they know if the ‘giants’ even noticed them?”

A midrash from the ancient rabbis, in which God rebukes the spies: “I take no objection to your saying: ‘We looked like grasshoppers to ourselves,’ but I take offense when you say ‘so we must have looked to them.’ How do you know how I made you to look to them? Perhaps you appeared to them as angels!” (Numbers Rabbah 16:11).

This midrash sheds light on what it means to be human and, even more so, what society can be like in 21st Century America. The society we live in can be so judgmental, telling us what to believe, to think, and how to act that we believe we are constantly being judged. But the reality is that more often than not, we might think someone is talking about us when in reality, it is each of us who might be somewhat insecure, afraid to be content and happy with who we are because of who and what we believe we should be. No one can define who we are but ourselves.

Our own security doesn’t come from others; it comes from us, from our own self-perception. If we are secure in whom we are, the faith in ourselves and the faith in God can enable us to grow, evolve, and become what we’re meant to be. We are the creators of our futures. It depends on whether we view ourselves as grasshoppers or as giants that will make the difference. .

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