Slach L’cha: Faith Will Bring Us to the Promised Land

Posted on June 28, 2024 by Rabbi Arnie Gluck

A particular anecdote comes to mind when I think about this week’s Torah portion, Sh’lach Lecha. I have shared it before, but it is apropos, and I can’t resist sharing it again.

 

In the early 1900s, two shoe salesmen from Britain went abroad to seek new markets for their wares. After a week, each wrote home. The first one reported: “Prospects terrible — no one wears shoes. On the next ship home.”

The second one saw things differently. He reported: “Market potential almost unlimited. I may never leave.”

 

Two people witness the same reality. They agree on the objective facts before them. And yet, they draw different conclusions about their meaning and implications.

 

This is precisely what happens in Sh’lach Lecha. Twelve spies are sent to scout the Land of Canaan before the Israelites go up to reclaim their ancestral homeland. All 12 agree on the objective facts. The Land is beautiful, flowing with milk and honey. It is also inhabited by giants who live in fortified cities.

 

Two of the 12, Joshua and Caleb, focus on the possibilities. The other 10 are seized with fear, seeing themselves as small and weak, unable to rise to the challenge.

 

We know how the story ends. Upon hearing this report, the people panic, abandoning all hope of success, and God condemns the entire generation to wander the wilderness. Only the optimists, Joshua and Caleb, will lead their children to the Promised Land.

 

As I see it, the two perspectives reflect more than different attitudes and temperaments; they reveal the essence of what it means to be a person of faith — whether faith in God or human beings. To have faith means to see life and the world as filled with possibility, and to see ourselves as endowed with an 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 think it could be accomplished with the tools available at the time. Just consider the computers they relied upon. The average smartphone of our day packs more computing power than the old mainframes. Nonetheless, the mission proceeded step by step, and its visionary leaders learned as they went, until they succeeded.

 

I think the most critical ingredient in the entire project was faith — an audacious belief that the job could be done, that the team 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 challenges, and we are not without our legitimate fears. There will always be dangers and pitfalls, and there are no exceptions to the laws of nature. But the question I believe we should be asking ourselves is whether we will allow fear to vanquish faith — faith in the good that God has given us, and 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 people 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 have marked two milestones in the effort to achieve full human freedom: the 1969 Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village (on June 28th, as a matter of fact), which launched the Gay Pride movement; and Juneteenth, a federal holiday signed into law in 2021 that commemorates June 19th, 1865, when the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation was finally proclaimed in Texas, the last Confederate outpost of slavery.

 

As we continue to celebrate LGBTQ Pride Month and mark Juneteenth, let us heed the lessons of Sh’lach Lecha by embracing the faith of Joshua and Caleb, who saw possibility amidst great challenge — the kind of faith that underlies all human progress, that sees the potential in every human being according to God’s promise.

 

Shabbat shalom, Bivrachah, 

Rabbi Arnie Gluck