Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Sin of the Spies

We were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we were in their eyes. [Shelach 13:33]Rashi comments, "We heard them (the Canaanites) say, 'There are ants crawling in our vineyards.'"

Horav Ovadiah m'Bartenura wonders why Rashi adds the word "ants" when, in fact, the spies said, "We were like grasshoppers." He explains that when one views himself as a grasshopper, others will view him as something even smaller, such as an ant. A number of psychological insights may be derived from the spies' misconception of themselves and what the Canaanites thought of them, especially in light of the Bartenura's observation.

First, as noted by Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, in all likelihood, the spies did not understand the Canaanite language. Yet, they were certain what they were talking about. This teaches us that when one feels inadequate, he is likely to conclude that others have a similar feeling about him, that they are discussing his ineptitude and are probably expanding upon it.

Second, there is a descending progression concerning feelings of low self-esteem. The spies initially felt like grasshoppers, but this feeling soon had them shrinking to the size of ants.
Last, what one feels about himself will invariably be reflected in a less positive form by others. In other words, people think less of you than what you think of yourself, because you project the perception of your own insufficiency.

Having said this, we examine the sin of the meraglim, spies, and the tragic effect it had on the entrance of the Jewish people into Eretz Yisrael, from the perspective that their low self-esteem catalyzed the problem. Indeed, the Kotzker Rebbe, zl, comments that the spies' remark was at the root of their sin. They had no right to take to heart what the Canaanites had said about them. As Jews, we are emissaries of the Almighty with a positive mission in this world. That is all that matters to us - not public opinion.

As mentioned earlier, however, it is quite possible the Jews misconceived and misconstrued the Canaanites opinion of them. In their negativity, they conjured up an opinion of themselves that was quite removed from the truth. The spies, regrettably, saw demons at every juncture in their lives. They had become victims of their own low self esteem.

How did this occur? This was the nation that had experienced the exodus from Egypt with its accompanying miracles. They had stood at Har Sinai and received the Torah amidst the greatest wonders and miracles. How could they think negatively of themselves?

We suggest that in order to affect a solution to a problem, one must first be aware that the problem exists. In other words, the solution to low self-esteem is to live a Torah life totally committed to observing all 613 mitzvos and various Rabbinic enactments and safeguards. This lifestyle rallies a person to a status of kedushah, holiness, in which every action in his life is performed to fulfill the Divine will.

While that may be a possible solution, it can correct a self esteem problem only once it has been firmly acknowledged. Most of us are either clueless in diagnosing the problem, or blind-either purposely or unknowingly-to its existence. Correcting the self-image distortion can only occur once this malady has been acknowledged.

There are two forms of low self-esteem: first, the one in which the individual has an appropriately low opinion of himself, and the second, in which the feeling of negativity is unwarranted and unsupported. Some people feel that their inadequacies are real - and they are. Others, however, have an incorrect self-perception, thus creating a low sense of self-esteem that is unjustified.

Many people see themselves as less than they really are. Some of the most successful people see themselves as failures, refusing to accept their success and finding ways to mitigate the situation. Rabbi Twerski explains that, paradoxically some of the most gifted and competent individuals develop a negative self-image as if they are looking through a trick lens in such a manner that what they perceive is actually the opposite of reality.

Let us take the example of the physician who spends his every waking moment either in his office or in the hospital attending to patients. This goes on for 365 days a year. No rest, no vacation - utter devotion to his work. Admired by his patients, revered by his colleagues, those around him think that his wife must be a shrew. Why else would a man so consistently avoid being home?

Years later, when his wife consults a therapist for severe depression, she explains that while her husband has been a wonderful person and a great material provider, he has never been home. The children have never had a father, and she has never had a husband. The emotional relationship and support that a husband and parent should provide had been non-existent. This woman is otherwise a very gentle, intelligent and compassionate person, quite unlike the perception that her husband's behavior has implied. Wherein lay the problem?

After subsequently meeting with the physician/husband, the therapist comes to understand that although the physician knows himself to be competent as a doctor, he perceives himself to be inefficacious as a person. As a human being, he has no identity, no self-worth - a total zero! He has not felt capable of providing his family with the emotional support that they have needed. He, therefore, has gravitated away from home to the hospital, the office, or wherever it has been more "comfortable" than "facing the music" at home. He has deluded himself and, thus, has been suffering the serious detrimental side effects of his self-imposed negativity.

People can convince themselves that they are unworthy. Klal Yisrael experienced an unparalleled Divine Revelation filled with wonders and miracles. This should have elevated anyone. Alas, there are those who feel that they are unworthy of Hashem's favor, of His Revelation, of His miracles. They feel their spiritual position is not exalted. Rather than allow Hashem to make the decision, they continue on with their feelings of rejection and unworthiness.
Distorted self-perception results in unwarranted loss of self-esteem, which leads to a variety of emotional distresses and behavioral maladjustments. The spies were great people with tremendous strengths, skills and capabilities, which they should have used in the service of Hashem. Had they not been, they would not have been chosen to represent the nation in scouting out the land. Regrettably, they were not cognizant of their own exalted status; thus, they allowed their own misconceptions to prevail.

It has been called the "grasshopper syndrome." In essence, it is much more than that because the Canaanites never called them grasshoppers. It was the spies who wrongly perceived this. It was, instead, a case of misperceived self-identity. They had no clue to who they actually were.
In conclusion, perhaps the following vignette sums up the spies sin and places it and its catalysts in their proper perspective. The Kotzker Rebbe, zl, once approached a chasid who had come to his court, asking, "Why have you come here?" "I have come to find G-d," the chasid replied."It is unfortunate that you came so far and spent so much to waste your time," the Rebbe countered. "G-d is everywhere. You could have found Him just as well had you stayed at home.""If so, for what purpose should I have come?" the chasid asked."To find yourself," the Rebbe answered. "You should have come to find yourself!"

Many of us are seeking and looking for something that is right in front of us. Our problem is that we - not the object which we are seeking - are lost.More at Pure Torah

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