19/20 June: Shelach Lecha :Shabbat comes in 9:07 pm, ends 10:28 pm
Parashat Shelacḥ Lecha- Giants and Grasshoppers
In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Shelacḥ Lecha, we read about ten people experiencing this same dissonance of self-image and outside view. Ten of the twelve spies who are sent to scout out the Promised Land come back to report on a rather dire situation. The people in the land are giants, they say – and furthermore (Numbers 13:33): ‘We were in our own eyes like grasshoppers, and thus we were in their eyes.’
The ten spies were certain that they looked like grasshoppers to the inhabitants of the Land – but they were actually wrong. When we enter the Promised Land in the Book of Joshua, where the Haftarah this week is selected from, we’ll learn that the inhabitants of the land were afraid of us. So much for giants versus grasshoppers.
This week’s parashah births one of my favourite midrashim (pieces of creative rabbinic interpretation). In this midrash (Midrash Tanḥuma, Sh’laḥ 7), God responds to the statement of the spies. God says that there could be forgiveness for the spies seeing themselves as grasshoppers, but takes offence to their assumption that they looked like grasshoppers to the inhabitants of the land. The Holy One says: ‘Who’s to say that I didn’t make them look like angels?’
It strikes me that these are all statements about power and perception. The spies imagine themselves as grasshoppers: small, weak, easily stepped upon. They imagine that this is how they look to the giants (who are strong and tall and ready to squash them). God, however, turns this power on its head: it doesn’t matter how small an angel is; an angel’s power comes from somewhere other than brute strength.
How do we see ourselves? In the grand scheme of the world, do we envision ourselves as small and powerless, or as giants able to throw our weight around? I think that the lesson of the midrash deliberately inserts a new paradigm for strength: that it is possible for our strength to come from somewhere deep and holy, and that it is possible for others to see it in us when we feel easily squashed.
May we each find great inner strength, and learn to use our strength well. Shabbat shalom,
So in terms of a punishment for the people of Noah’s time, the flood and the destruction of all living things does seem a bit extreme. One of my rabbis, Rabbi Brad Artson argues, that is exactly the point the Torah is trying to make.
Destruction, even when it comes from the God who is “slow to anger and abounding in kindness” bursts beyond any manageable or fair limitations. Even punishments, originally intended to be measured and reasonable, provoke unanticipated suffering and hardship.
Rabbi Paul Arberman.
Abraham Joshua Heschel believed that Adam’s sin was primarily in hiding from God and from himself. This is not, in Heschel’s eyes, an abstract idea; we all hide from God and from ourselves. Heschel expresses it thus in the third verse of his poem I and Thou:
” Often I glimpse Myself in everyone’s form,
hear My own speech – a distant, quiet voice – in people’s weeping,
as if under millions of masks My face would lie hidden. ”
Heschel is describing a personal experience in which he has hidden from himelf, his essence absorbed within society. His face is masked, hidden from view, making the idea to “know thyself” impossible.
I’m not sure why we hide from ourselves so well when we are young — or perhaps we just don’t take the time to think through who we are — but I can say definitively, that one of the great joys of getting older is the unmasking — getting to know yourself — what you actually enjoy or don’t enjoy doing.
Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman