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Rabbi Jonathan Ganger
by Published on June 19, 2020

It is hard to see the world in the way we are supposed to- with a lens of optimism and positivity. This is especially true now with all of the tumult in society today.  But the reality is that it is always challenging to see the world correctly. The Torah records the initial visual impairments when the spies sent to Israel to scour the land.  This one episode led to a thirty eight year extension in the desert.  Apparently, Jewish vision always had its issues. 

            After a taste of giant fruit, the spies begin to denigrate the land and its inhabitants despite G-d’s promise that they had prime real estate: ‘The land through which we have passed to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants all the people that we saw in it were men of measures! There we saw the Nephilijm, the sons of a Giant from among the Nephilim; we were like grasshoppers in our eyes and so we were in their eyes’[1].  Now what exactly was the sin?  They were sent to observe the land and this is what they saw!?

            A fascinating insight by the Alter of Slabodka is that there was a problem with vision-[2] the spies denied their own greatness.  How could a human being compare himself to a grasshopper?!  Man must always remember that upon creation, G-d consulted with the angels as it says,’ And G-d said let us make man according to our image’[3].  Lest anyone confuse this line with polytheism, Rashi comments that the verse is a reference to the consultation G-d had with the angels about the creation of man to defuse any potential jealously they would have.  Read it quickly and we miss it! Angels would have been jealous of man.  Now, if we view ourselves as grasshoppers, then what would an angel be jealous about?  Granted, we are after the sin of Adam, and the failings within man are great, but the key is to remember that the sin of Adam did not remove the greatness, rather it covered it with layers of dirt, which means the greatness is still there, but harder to unleash. Greatness means growth, giving, sensitivity- qualities we touch at times but which we strive to touch all the time. 

            Aside from denying their greatness, the spies also misplaced where greatness comes from.  They saw the world physically and gave merit to the physical strength of the inhabitants.  Even though war is technically a battle of physical strength, Jews understand it differently. G-d gives strength through merit of action when it comes to Israel as it says, ‘For G-d gives strength to have valor’[4].    

            Hence, the Jews received a seemingly strict punishment to die in the desert over forty years; however, the land of Israel is a place intended to make great people, but that becomes a worthless gift if we don’t have clear what greatness is and that we have it in potential.  And so it was lost for that generation, but the foundation was set.  Throughout history, the Jewish people’s struggles will be to have a proper vision of themselves and the proper notion of what makes people great.