When I was a senior in high school, we had a week off when the rest of schools were still in session. A bunch of us decided we were going to visit some of our old teachers from middle school. I remember walking into my old elementary school building and strolling through the hallways for the first time since I left after eighth grade. It was only four years but the hallways that I once saw as long and wide suddenly appeared strangely narrow and short, almost claustrophobic. The gym, which I remembered being cavernous suddenly seemed no bigger than a large classroom. The building hadn’t been renovated. It was the same as I had left it just four years earlier. But my perception of it was that it was much bigger. The kind of tricks our minds can play on our perceptions of things is nothing short of amazing.
In this week’s Torah portion we read about the twelve scouts that Moses sent to reconnoiter the land in advance of the Israelites arrival to Canaan. When they returned, the majority came back with negative and dismal reports about the land. Specifically, they refer to the giants they saw living in the land. They convinced their fellow Israelites that it would be impossible to defeat these ogres in any battle to conquer the land. They said, “we must have looked like grasshoppers to them.”
My guess is that these “giants” were no different in size than the Israelites themselves, but they perceived them in their minds to be much bigger. Their minds played tricks on them, because of their bias and fears. The rabbis speak to this when in their commentary on these words they chastise the scouts. How could the scouts have known how those dwelling in the land perceived them? They were imposing their own perceptions on the residents of Canaan.
In the end, two of the scouts rally the people behind the idea that they are ready and prepared, with the help of God, to conquer and settle the land. Caleb and Joshua were able to separate themselves from their predispositions and worries. They refuse to let perception overrule reality. Sometimes there are moments and events in our lives were we have to extract ourselves and do a reality-check to make sure our perceptions meet actuality.
Shabbat Shalom. Wishing everyone a happy Fourth of July! Happy Birthday America.
Rabbi Bradley Tecktiel has been Midbar Kodesh Temple's spiritual leader since August 2008. Rabbi Tecktiel was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in May of 1996. He holds two Bachelor of Arts degrees, one from List College and one from Columbia University. He also holds a Masters of Arts from the Jewish Theological Seminary.
You can follow him on Twitter @RabbiMKT.