Friday, 28 June, 2019 - 12:00 pm

Standing in front of a shredder with a piece of paper in his hand, "Listen," said the CEO, "this is a very sensitive and important document, and my secretary has left. Can you make this thing work?"

"Certainly," said the young executive.

He turned the machine on, inserted the paper, and pressed the start button.

"Excellent, excellent!" said the CEO as his paper disappeared inside the Shredder machine. "I just need one copy."

It was perhaps the single greatest collective failure of leadership in this Torah portion Shlach. Moses sent twelve men to spy out the land. The men were leaders, princes of their tribes, people of distinction. Yet ten of them came back with a demoralizing report

“We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large ... We seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.” Caleb tried to calm the people. “We can do it.” But the ten said that it could not be done. And so the terrible event happened. The people lost heart.

“The entire community raised their voices and shouted, and the people wept on that night. All the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the entire congregation said, "If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had died in this desert… They said to each other, "Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt!"

G-d became angry. "How long will these people provoke Me?...G-d tells Moses.

“I will strike them with a plague and annihilate them…”

Moses pleaded for mercy. God forgave. But He insisted that none of that generation, with the sole exceptions of the two dissenting spies, Caleb and Joshua, would live to enter the land. The people would stay in the wilderness for forty years, and there they would die. Their children would eventually inherit what might have been theirs had they only had faith.

The Torah continues: “Moses related all these words to the children of Israel, and the people mourned greatly. They arose early in the morning and ascended to the mountain top, saying, "We are ready to go up to the place of which the Lord spoke, for we have sinned." But Moses warned them against it; he said they must now remain in the desert.

There is something disturbing about this story. Throughout the entire Torah, G-d forgives, particularly after prayer and repentance. Humans sin, they accept responsibility, express remorse and resolve, and G-d forgives. In this story, the Jews repent, expressing remorse and resolving to change their behavior. They say to Moses: "We are ready to go up to the place of which the Lord spoke, for we have sinned.” Why does not G-d accept their repentance? Never before or after does, this happens!

What is more, here too, too G-d forgives. But if He forgives them for their sin, why does He still penalize them to remain in the wilderness for forty years? Why didn’t he go back to square one, and allow them to enter the Promised Land?

There is something even more disturbing in this story. When G-d tells Moses he will annihilate the entire nation, Moses argues that this will cause the Egyptians to claim that G-d was incapable of bringing the people into the land. Could Moses not find any other rationale to influence G-d not to annihilate an entire nation of some 2-3 million people, men, women, and children, save the fact that it won’t look good for the neighbors?!

Moses could have said: These are Your children; Your nation which you have taken out of Egypt and chosen as Your people! Have compassion for them!” In fact, this is exactly what he said at a previous disaster when the nation constructed the Golden Calf and G-d wanted to annihilate them.

Moses could have also spoken about all the Jewish people endured in Egypt as a rationale for their depth of fear and panic. Or he could have put the blame on the spies who demoralized them, etc. Yet in reality, his only argument to spare the lives of all of Israel was the reputation of G-d among the Egyptians?!

The Rebbe offered the following explanation.

G-d is our loving father and mother, who loves us unconditionally and eternally. G-d does not “lose it,” or “throw a temper tantrum,” because He feels out of control. G-d is our greatest fan, ally, and devotee, who wants to see us happy, content and successful. All punishments in the Torah are never about simple revenge, getting even, showing us who is boss. No healthy loving parents allow their wrath to overwhelm them and dictate their behavior to their children. This is the basic ethical rule of behavior for any good and nurturing parent. G-d does love us any less than any human, mortal and limited parent.

Note: there is not one lie, or even exaggeration, in the words of the spies. Everything they said was one hundred percent accurate. It was indeed an impossible task, an unfeasible goal, an impractical plan.

So how could it have happened? Only through one way: Faith! If they can truly put their full trust in G-d, unwaveringly and unflatteringly, that it is possible because G-d is the sole master of the universe, then the impossible becomes possible, the unfeasible becomes feasible, and the impractical becomes practical. Conversely, if they lack that faith and confidence, it is indeed unattainable.

As we know today in Quantum Mechanics, the reality is not fixed. It is multi layered and complex. What I see is what I get. Could the Jews really enter and conquer the land? The answer depended on them. If they believed they could, they were right. If they believed, they can’t, they were also right. 

It is true in so many areas of life. Those who say, “We cannot do it” are probably right, as are those who say, “We can.” If you lack confidence you will lose. If you have it – solid, justified confidence based on preparation and past performance – you will win.

Psychology Today published some time ago an experiment conducted by a Harvard psychologist named Dr. Robert Rosenthal on a group of students and teachers living in Jerusalem. The experiment went as follows: a group of physical education teachers and students were randomly chosen and randomly divided into three groups.

In the first group, the teachers were told that previous testing indicated that all the students had an average ability in athletics and an average potential. The teachers were told: “Go and train them!”

The second group of teachers was told that students in their group, based on the previous testing, exhibited an unusually high potential for excellence in athletic. “Go and train them!”

And the third group of teachers was told that their group of students had exhibited, based on previous testing, an extremely low potential for athletic training. “Now go and train them!”

Needless to say, this was all fabricated. The students were chosen randomly, and no group exhibited any more potential than the other.

The teachers were given several weeks to work with their student-athletes. At the end of the training period, the results were as follows. All those students who had been randomly identified as being rather average in ability, performed about average on the tests. All the students who were randomly identified as being above average performed above average. All those students who were randomly identified as below the average performed below the average by a considerable margin!

What the teachers thought their students’ ability was, and what the students themselves thought their ability was (based on what they heard from their teachers), went a long way toward deciding just how well they performed as athletes.

“Psychology Today” took special note of this experiment because it confirmed in the physical arena what psychologists had long claimed to be true in the educational and emotional arena: The concept of the self-fulfilling prophecy. Students in classrooms, workers in shops, patients in therapy, all do better when the person in charge expects them to do well when they themselves expect to do well. One’s own self-esteem, one’s own self-image, what someone thinks of themselves and thinks himself or herself capable of is an extremely crucial factor in what one makes of himself or herself.

Now, we can appreciate G-d’s words to Moses right after the story: “How much longer will they not believe in Me after all the signs and miracles I have performed in their midst?”

This was not a personal insult to G-d. It was much more. Since, notwithstanding all, they have seen and experienced—The miraculous Exodus from Egypt, following ten supernatural plagues; the splitting of the sea; manna from heaven; Miriam's well, "clouds of glory;" Revelation at Mt. Sinai.; the successful defeat of Amalek, and much more—they still could not take G-d’s presence seriously; they were still stuck in the narrow mentality that superficial, physical reality is the sum total of existence, they would not be able to conquer the land, for they would not allow themselves to be open to a higher, and deeper way of operating life.

Had the Jews internalized their experiences of the past year, they would have felt in their bones that if G-d sent them on this mission, it is the possible, practical, real and feasible. And indeed, so it would have been. Yet, what pained G-d so deeply was that they succumbed to a sense of helplessness and fear. This robbed them from the ability to get the job done. Their fear would become a self-fulfilling prophecy and they would lack the power to conquer and settle the Promised Land.

If so, why have them die a violent death in war, G-d argues to Moses. Let them die peacefully in the desert, and continue to live in the spiritual bliss of heaven.

This was not a punishment the way we usually understand punishment. In Judaism, G-d is not out to punish us. Ever. He wants to help us, not punish us. Rather, this was a natural consequence of their state of consciousness. In this state of mind, when you can only see one dimension of reality, you are not open to anything else, and you do not allow yourself to experience life in any other way.

So even after G-d forgave the people, and the Jews wanted to repent, G-d did not change the plans. For their stay in the wilderness was not a punishment for sin; it was a consequence of their inner state of mind. They were incapable of entering into the land. For them, it would have been a dismal failure. Lacking the faith and truth in themselves as Divine messengers, not subjected to the laws of nature, they would approach the conquest from a natural space, and naturally, they really were not up for this enormous task.

Moses understood this. G-d was not trying to kill out the people as revenge, but simply because they have completed whatever they were capable of achieving in this world. There was nowhere for them to go at this point. Moses’ argument was something else: The death of the people will cause the greatest desecration of G-d’s name. G-d is pained by the lack of Jewish faith, yet this act will cause the greatest absence of faith in G-d, as the Egyptians will conclude that G-d is inept. Hence, they would not die in one shot, but over forty years in the wilderness, and their children will enter into the land.

This contains a profound lesson in life.

You know the joke: A guy had been feeling down for so long that he finally decided to seek the aid of a psychiatrist.

He went there, lay on the couch, spilled his guts then waited for the profound wisdom of the psychiatrist to make him feel better.

The psychiatrist asked me a few questions, took some notes then sat thinking in silence for a few minutes with a puzzled look on his face.

Suddenly, he looked up with an expression of delight and said, “Um, I think your problem is low self-esteem. It is very common among losers.”

Each of us was given his or her corner of the world--home, family, workplace, circumstances, and environment--to transform into a "land flowing with milk and honey," a space saturated with truth, meaning, goodness and holiness, to make it a conduit for infinity and Divine love. Yet, at times, we feel stuck in the quagmire of the circumstances around us or inside of us.

Each of us has a domain in our life that needs to be conquered, a terrain that needs to be transformed into a "holy land." Yet as we look around, we often become discouraged, despondent, or paralyzed. The odds are against us. I can never become a happy person, radiating joy to others and to myself. I can never enjoy a powerful marriage. I can never create a healthy family, with my trauma inside. I can never build a magnificent relationship with my children or my siblings; I, or they, have too many issues. I can never overcome my fears with other people. Some of us need to battle all forms of fear, temptation, addiction, or shame.

And then there is always the voice of Woody Allen playing in our heads: Confidence is what you have before you understand the problem…

If you would only understand, rabbi, my situation, you would know that I am doomed!

I recently had double-bypass surgery. As they wheel you in, the doctor always gives you the last look. You know that look. That look of confidence to make you feel good. I always say to every doctor, "If I don't make it, I'll never know it."—Rodney Dangerfield

What do you do?

Here is the secret of Shlach, one of the most important insights in life. Stop taking things personally. See yourself a Divine ambassador. G-d has sent you all the realities of your life with the purpose of you transforming your life into a Holy Land, into the Promised Land. You have all the strength, resources, wisdom, talent, and creativity to accomplish it. But it all depends on your perspective. If you see yourself as a Divine messenger, then the natural obstacles—perceived or even real—melt away in the presence of the One who sent you and entrusted you with His mission.

For this, though, we can’t take things personally. Because then you get stuck in your insecurities or your ego. We need to see ourselves as messengers and emissaries of G-d. Your child is showing you an attitude? Your boss is showing you an attitude? Don’t let it become personal. It is not you against them. Then you become small and helpless. Or your ego takes over. Rather, G-d has sent you into this place, given you these circumstances, in order to bring light into this place, to extract the opportunities, to discover the meaning here, and to transform this terrain of your life into “milk and honey.” See yourself as the humble servant of an infinite G-d, in whose presence there are no barriers, darkness, or impossibilities.

And then, you will notice insane changes. As General Montgomery put it, “the difficult we do immediately, and the impossible takes a bit longer.”

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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