SEEING THE DIVINE WITHIN US ALL

By Rabbi Elana E. Perry
SPECIAL FOR THE AJT

“Seeing is believing” as the old adage goes. But sometimes seeing is not believing. Sometimes the things we see do not reflect reality. And sometimes, there are things that are only seen if we believe in them first. This is one of the lessons of this week’s Torah portion.

In Parashat Sh’lach L’cha, 12 delegates are sent out from the Israelite camp to scout the Promised Land, charged with bringing back an accurate portrayal of what lay ahead. They return and report: “We came to the land to which you sent us; it does indeed flow with milk and honey…But, the people who inhabit the country are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.” When the Israelite people express dismay, Caleb – one of the scouts – hushes them and says: “Let us by all means go up, and we shall gain possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it.” But ten of the other spies disagree: “We cannot attack that people. We looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.”

In this passage the scouts reveal their self-perception. When they see their own reflection, they only see grasshoppers. As a result, they do not believe in their own potential for success. A Chasidic commentator once observed that the worst part of our people’s slavery in Egypt was that they came to think of themselves as slaves, seeing themselves in the image cast by their oppressors rather than as children of God. So, too, the scouts failed to see their inner strength, their own potential.

According to Midrash Tanhuma, this misperception upset God. The midrash teaches that God said to the scouts: “You don’t know what you have just let your mouths utter. I could put up with your saying, ‘We were in our own eyes as grasshoppers.’ But I take offense at your asserting, ‘And so were we in their eyes.’ Could you possibly know how I made you appear in their eyes? How do you know that in their eyes you were not like angels?” In other words, God says it is bad enough that the scouts’ poor self-esteem robs them of seeing their own greatness, but it is completely unacceptable to rob others of seeing what they cannot see.

How many people today suffer from the same affliction as that of the scouts? How many compare themselves to neighbors and see only grasshoppers? When others see in us strength, beauty, confidence and kindness, what do we see? Somehow we must all be reminded of our inner strength and beauty, even when we are feeling doubtful.

Perhaps the most powerful words in our parasha are those of Caleb, one of only two scouts who maintains his faith and optimism. He says: Ki yachol nuchal lah, “For we shall surely overcome it.” He was unique in his confidence, trying to persuade those involved that they were not grasshoppers but human beings, capable of changing their own destiny. Where did this confidence come from? We are told that Caleb had in him a “ruach acheret” – a different spirit. This represents Caleb’s ability to see the Divine spark within himself. His spirit was unique because he understood that God was with him throughout whatever challenges he faced, and it was such an understanding that gave him confidence and poise.

When we doubt ourselves, perhaps we can look for the ruach acheret within us. Perhaps we can strive to see a bit of God when we look in the mirror. And then, maybe we, too, will be able to say: Ki yachol nuchal lah, “For we shall surely overcome it.” In our personal and communal struggles,we can draw on divine energy to
lift us higher than we ever thought we could go. For when we believe, we can begin to truly see our own potential. May we see ourselves fully, may we believe in ourselves fully, and may we go from strength to strength.