Sh’lach:  Like Grasshoppers

What Did The Spies Do Wrong?

n our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes. (Num. 13:33)

In Torah portion Shelach, Moses sends twelve spies to scout out the Promised Land. After forty days they return and describe a lush land flowing with milk and honey, but occupied by giant-sized inhabitants who dwell in fortified cities (Num. 13:28) Two spies, Joshua and Caleb, express confidence that God will help them to conquer the land, but the other ten spies are pessimistic. “We cannot attack that people, for it is stronger than we.” (Num. 13:31) Their sour characterization of the land throws the people into panic and despair. “Why does the Lord bring us to this land to fall by the sword; our wives and children will be as spoils. Is it not better for us to return to Egypt?” (Num. 14:3) This profound lack of faith causes the death of the ten spies and a Divine decree that the Jews cannot enter the land for 40 years.

This episode is known as the “sin of the spies.” But what exactly is their sin? Isn’t it natural to express fear of an intimidating enemy? Insights can be found in the peculiar way they describe themselves as grasshoppers in both “our eyes” and “their eyes.” The Kotzker Rebbe explains that it is indeed understandable that they felt like insignificant insects compared to the giants of the land. But the sin lies in the second part of their declaration: “so we were [like grasshoppers] in their eyes.” The spies shouldn’t have cared about how they appeared to others! One who worries about what others think of him will never achieve peace and serenity, but rather will live in a constant state of worry and stress. 

Rav Yechezkal Abramski (1886-1976) points out that the way we see  ourselves determines the way other people see us. The inhabitants see them as grasshoppers because they see themselves that way. Servants of God must confidence in their Holy mission and disregard the irrelevant opinions of others.

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