Since I work with teenagers, this time of year always brings with it the enthusiasm of summer break in the air. Some will work at internships or summer jobs, others will take summer school or extra ACT/SAT study sessions, and many will relax and laze around on the beach or at the mall with friends. But whether it’s close by or far away, most will travel somewhere.
Soon we’ll be reading the Torah portion of Shelach, which discusses the infamous incident of the twelve spies Moses sends to scout out the land of Israel before the nation is to enter. Unfortunately, ten of the spies return with a bad report on the land. The nation weeps at the news and ignores the positive report that Joshua and Caleb give, and end up being forced to stay in the desert.
Why did the spies see such negativity? If you’ve ever been to Israel before, you’ve likely experienced the wide array of beauty and qualities this land of milk and honey has to offer. But instead of focusing on the positive aspects of the land, the ten spies said: “We are unable to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we…There we saw the giants…We were like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and so we were in their eyes” (Numbers, 13:31-33). Joshua and Caleb, however, reported: “We shall surely ascend and conquer it, we can surely do it!”
Were these twelve men looking at the same land, at the same enemy?
Let’s look closely at their words: “We were like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and so we were in their eyes.”
There is a well-known aphorism: “If you think you can, or you can’t, you’re right.” Because the spies perceived themselves as weak – lacking self-confidence and trust in Divine protection – they saw their enemies as stronger than they really were. Joshua and Caleb, however, had a powerful self-belief and trust in G-d, and therefore didn’t feel that same fear and doubt.
Often, when we think others are looking down on us, it’s really just a lack of self worth in our own eyes. Noted psychologist and author of over fifty books, Rabbi Abraham Twerski, has remarked that he could summarize all of his works into one idea: Self esteem. Most failures are less about whether one is capable enough, and much more in their lack of self-belief. The inability to accept rebuke or love, to grow and have healthy relationships, stems from a low self worth.
Having a heightened ego or a low self-esteem both miss the mark of truth. We are worthwhile and greatly capable because of the gifts we’ve been given: A precious soul connected at all times to an Infinite Divine Being capable of anything. Nothing can tarnish that reality. Humility isn’t denying our abilities at all – we must recognize them all – but realizing how massive our potential is and whether we’re doing it justice.
The incident with the spies teaches us, that when confronting life’s obstacles, approach them with trust in G-d and in our G-d given abilities. If it seems too much to handle, realize that you have the requisite strength to push through: “G‑d doesn’t ask of us more than what lies in our power to do” (Midrash Tanchuma, Naso 11).
Years later, after that generation in the desert and the ten spies had passed away, it was Joshua and Caleb who led in the conquering of the land. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. When working to accomplish a worthwhile, meaningful goal, let nothing get in your way.