Madness and a Touch of Faith

Madness and a Touch of Faith


Animals can speak. A touch of paint can change a flower’s color. Mice can sew. Lamps can house genies. Dragons can be trained. Toasters can have feelings.

Rachel LaVictoire
Rachel LaVictoire

If I approached you today and told you these things, you’d think I was crazy. Surely, none of these things are true. My Cocker Spaniel cannot ask for his food, a painted flower would most likely die from chemicals, neither genies nor dragons exist, and toasters are inanimate objects.

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And yet, as children we were all fascinated by even the faintest idea that maybe – just maybe – places like Oz and things like magic actually did exist.

“Impossible,” you might say. And though you might be right, what’s the harm in believing? Right before successfully defeating Underland’s Jabberwocky, Alice Kingsley let us in on a little secret:

“Sometimes I believe in as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Right now, as you sit and read, someone out there in the world is dreaming up something that the rest of the world will say is ridiculous, laughable and, ultimately, impossible. Maybe it’s a flower that changes color or a coffee mug that makes its own coffee, but most likely, it’s something I can’t describe because I can’t even imagine it.

For an example, take your cell phone. I myself have the iPhone 4S: It’s four-and-a-half inches tall and just over two inches wide, and it weighs five ounces. And I recently read somewhere that it has more computing power than all of NASA had in 1969.

Now, I’ll admit that I don’t actually know what “computing power” means, but just the idea that my phone – which isn’t even the newest iPhone – is in any way more powerful than an organization responsible for space research…well, I think that’s pretty remarkable.

So remarkable, in fact, that I bet the 1969 NASA experts would have called the iPhone 4S “impossible.”

But someone believed in that impossible, and now the tiny but powerful phone is in the hands of millions of people worldwide. Of course, such a leap of faith is not without precedent.

Caleb and Joshua believed in something comparably inconceivable – and even in the face of extreme doubt, the two men held no suspicions. In this week’s Torah portion, Shlach, G-d tells Moses to send 12 spies (among whom were Caleb and Joshua) to scout the Land of Canaan.

The men did as they were told, noting the land’s level of prosperity, strength and geography, and returned 40 days later to report what they had seen. They announced:

“We came to the land to which you sent us, and it is flowing with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who inhabit the land are mighty, and the cities are extremely huge and fortified, and there we saw even the offspring of the giant (Numbers 13:27-28).”

Intimidating, surely – but then, as if he’d seen an entirely different land, Caleb interrupted with a more hopeful take. He said, “We can surely go up and take posession of it, for we can indeed overcome it (Numbers 13:30).”

Despite such encouragement, the Israelites had already been swayed. The fear of the other spies and the giants that they spoke of destroyed any hope they had. Only Joshua stood by Caleb, crying out:

“If the Lord desires us, He will bring us to this land and give it to us, a land flowing with milk and honey…you will not fear the people of that land for they are as our bread. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them (Numbers 14:8-9).”

Still, the pair’s pleas were ignored, and the Israelites began believing they would never see the Promised Land. G-d grew angry and declared the following: with the exceptions of Caleb and Joshua, all Israelites who had previously been included in the census would die off, and the surviving children would wander for 40 years before entering the land of Canaan. This would be the Israelites’ punishment for doubting both the power and love of G-d even after witnessing the Exodus.

I can see how some might view this punishment as irrational; the Israelites never did question the existence of G-d, nor did they ever directly doubt the power of G-d. They only questioned their own potential, their physical ability to destroy giant-like men.

But if we think back to the story of Genesis, we remember the creation of man, when G-d said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness (Genesis 1:26).” Thus, in questioning their own limitations, the Israelites doubted G-d’s capacity.

It was Caleb and Joshua, the believers, who were allowed to live. They had been willing to enter the land’s strong fortress and fight the so-called giants. They knew it could be done, they knew not the word impossible, and their community thought they were crazy.

But again, I think to the Kingsley family and Charles’ fantastic response to his daughter’s worrying. After waking yet again from a dream about Wonderland, Alice asks her father if she’s gone “’round the bend,” and he says:

“I’m afraid so…you’re mad. Bonkers. Off your head…but I’ll tell you a secret…all of the best people are.”

Animals can speak. A touch of paint can change a flower’s color. Mice can sew. Lamps can house genies. Dragons can be trained. Toasters can have feelings.


Rachel LaVictoire ( is a graduate of the Davis Academy and Westminster High School, recipient of the prestigious Nemerov Writing and Thomas H. Elliott Merit scholarships at Washington University of St. Louis and an active member of Temple Emanu-El and the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. She was recently named to the board of St. Louis Hillel.


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