Posted on June 4, 2021 by Rabbi Arnold S. Gluck
A certain anecdote comes to mind when I think about this week’s Torah portion, Sh’lach Lecha. I have shared it before, but it is so apropos that I can’t resist sharing it again.
Two shoe salesmen from Britain went off to Africa in the early 1900’s to seek new markets for their wares. After a week each wrote home. The first reported: “Prospects terrible — no one wears shoes. On the next ship home.”
The second sees things differently. He reported: “Market potential almost unlimited. I may never leave.”
Two people witness the exact same reality. They agree completely on the objective facts before them. And yet, they draw completely different conclusions about their meaning and implications.
This is precisely what happens in Sh’lach Lecha. 12 spies are sent to scout the Land of Canaan before the Israelites will go up to reclaim their ancestral homeland. They all agree on the objective facts. The Land is amazing — flowing with milk and honey, and also inhabited by giants who live in fortified cities.
Two of the 12, Joshua and Caleb, focus on the possibilities. God has promised them this land, and the time has come to pursue their destiny. The other 10 are seized with fear, seeing themselves as small and impotent, unable to rise to the challenge that lies before them.
We know how the story ends. Upon hearing the report, the people panic and abandon all hope of success, and God condemns the entire generation to wander the wilderness for the rest of their lives. Only the optimists, Joshua and Caleb, will lead their children to the Promised Land.
To me, the two perspectives are more than different attitudes and temperaments. Rather, they reveal the essence of what it means to be a person of faith, be it in God or human beings. To have faith means to see life and the world as filled with possibility, and ourselves as endowed with almost limitless ability to shape our destiny.
Consider the mission our nation undertook in the 1960s to put a man on the moon. Looking back, it was pie-in-the-sky crazy to accomplish with the tools available at the time. Just consider the computers they relied upon. The average smartphone of our day packs more computing power. Nonetheless, the mission proceeded step by step, its visionary leaders learning as they went, until they succeeded.
I believe that the most critical ingredient in the entire project was faith — an audacious belief that the job could be done, that the team on the job had the ability to do it, and that it was just a matter of finding solutions to the problems that arose, one by one.
Life is not without its legitimate fears. There are real dangers and pitfalls, and there are limits to the laws of nature. But the question we should ask ourselves is whether we will allow fear to vanquish faith — faith in the good that God has given us and faith in our ability to overcome the challenges we face.
Those who harbor hate and jealousy are driven by the pessimistic view that life’s possibilities are limited, and that some need to be repressed for others to succeed. History has proven this to be a fallacy. Every time humanity has reached what appears to be a limit, we achieve a breakthrough that expands the available resources and possibilities. And, notably, the more freedom people enjoy, the more creativity is unleashed to produce greater abundance.
This month we mark two milestones in the effort to achieve full human freedom: the Stonewall Massacre that launched the Gay Pride Movement, and Juneteenth, the day that the Emancipation Proclamation reached the final state in the Union, Texas.
This year as we celebrate LGBTQ Pride Month and mark Juneteenth, we would be wise to heed the lessons of Sh’lach Lecha and embrace the faith of Joshua and Caleb — the kind of faith that underlies all human progress, that sees the potential in every human being and in the world that God created — the kind of faith that can provide for all the abundant life that God has promised.
Rabbi Arnie Gluck