"Strengthened or Weakened by Adversity"
Dvar Torah from Rabbi Saul I. Grife
Parshat HaShavuah, the Torah portion this week is Shelach Lecha, in Sefer Bemidbar, the Book of Numbers 13:1 - 15:41. "Shelach Lecha" means "send out", referring to Moshe who sent 12 scouts to investigate and assess the nature of the Promised Land along with the Israelites' ability to successfully conquer the land. The men who were sent were the leaders of the future land owning tribes of Canaan. Therefore, the tribe of Joseph sent out two leaders, one from the half-tribe of Ephraim and one from the other half-tribe of Menasheh. The tribe of Levi was not represented because they would not own land but instead would occupy themselves with the care of the Tabernacle. The 12 scouts were leaders, chieftains and men of renown. Moshe charged them with learning "what kind of country it is. Are the citizens strong or weak? Many or few? Do the people live in the open or in fortified cities? Is the soil rich or poor? Is the land wooded or not?" These 12 scouts were responsible for bringing back the report that would either encourage or dissuade the Israelites from proceeding and tackling this mission.
According to Numbers 13, the scouts returned with a mixed message. On the one hand, they all agreed that the land was inhabited by strong populations, and that it was a bountiful land "flowing with milk and honey." However, when it came to assessing how capable they were of conquering it, they were divided into 2 camps of 10 and 2. 10 of the leaders insisted that acquiring the land was beyond their grasp because the inhabitants were too strong. But Joshua ben Nun and Caleb ben Yefunah insisted that in spite of that determination, the victory would belong to the Israelites because God had promised it and was on their side. Jumping to the end of the story, only Joshua and Calev would survive the desert experience because they embodied great faith in reaching this goal. Near the outset of this week's parsha, Joshua joins the list of those Biblical leaders who witnessed their names being changed at a pivotal place in their lives. His name was emended from Hoshea to Yehoshua or Joshua. Joshua will succeed Moshe in leading the Israelites and will take them into Canaan to establish it as an Israelite homeland.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks asks the question, "What made Joshua and Calev different than the other 10 leaders by insisting that the task at hand was attainable?"
Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck wrote a book entitled Mindset. Based on case studies she discusses the difference between people who thrive in the face of adversity and those who do not. Why do some of us like being tested and challenged and others of us do not? She concludes that it depends on one's "mindset" towards new trials and adversity. For example, if one's overriding approach is that new opportunities represent potential occasions for embarrassment and failure, then one will not greet new situations with optimism and hope. If on the other hand one believes that we grow through our efforts and that consequent failures are viewed as stepping stones on the path to success, then one welcomes new opportunities and is willing to stretch, to grow, to fail and to leave one's "comfort zone" to attain new heights. Dweck would argue that the 10 pessimistic leaders eschewed the opportunity to fight for the land of Canaan if they feared the task would put them at risk, expose their inefficiencies and would prove them inadequate as tribal ambassadors to achieve success. Joshua and Caleb, on the other hand, viewed the situation as a chance to acquit themselves admirably and fulfill God's will. Sacks points out that Calev came from the tribe of Judah who demonstrated a rich history of learning, growing and putting themselves on the line to achieve success. Joshua's change of name is indicative of how his life changed and how he grew into the next leader of the entire people. Neither of them was afraid to fail. Both of them were willing to see how far they could travel to achieve success. Both of them distinguished themselves apart from the other 10 capable leaders and have left us with a lasting legacy of faith, hope and perseverance. We owe them great thanks for enabling our ancestors to transverse the trials of the Red Sea, the desert and to navigate through the battles for Canaan.
It is always a pertinent question for the sake of our well-being, our hopes and our dreams to know just how capable and bold we are. How willing are we to travel outside our "comfort zones" to change, to grow and to achieve? Do we view challenges as vehicles to be shunned or embraced? Are we afraid to fail or perhaps also afraid to succeed? When confronted with a test, are we more likely to be the first one in or remain behind the pack? We are often pushed in new directions by life, by others and by new opportunities. How will we confront them? How will define ourselves? How will the world see us? Each new day presents us with chances to redefine ourselves and travel closer to becoming the people we want to be. I hope the story of the 12 scouts informs, enlightens and inspires us to locate and identify the best within us and be the best we want to be. Our future success depends on it. When it's all said and done, let us make peace with trying and failing rather than never trying much at all. We'll never know just how much we can accomplish and how greatly we can change ourselves and our world until we just try. Joshua and Caleb were capable of seeing a world that didn't presently exist for them but one that they were willing to go for. The 10 others were not ready to promote and fight for the same vision. Thanks to these 2 leaders of worth, we established a homeland in the Promised Land!
Our world has benefitted from the vision and dedication of many who boldly dreamed and surged forward despite others pessimism and ridicule. May this week's parsha remind us that sweet success does not come easily but has been attained by many in the face of all odds. All they had to do was to be willing to try and not fear failure. Moshe, Joshua and Caleb were among that number.
Shabbat Shalom to all!