24/25 June: Shelach Lecha : Shabbat comes in 9:08 pm, ends 10:28 pm
Parashat Shelach-Lecha- Giants and Grasshoppers
In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Shelach-Lecha, we read about ten people experiencing 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, as our 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, Shelacḥ 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.