But the men who had gone up with him said, “We cannot attack that people, for it is stronger than we.” Thus they spread calumnies among the Israelites about the land they had scouted, saying, “The country that we traversed and scouted is one that devours its settlers. All the people that we saw in it are men of great size; we saw the Nephilim there — the Anakites are part of the Nephilim — and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.”
–Numbers 13:31-33 (JPS Tanakh)
Then the two men came down again from the hills and crossed over. They came to Joshua son of Nun and reported to him all that had happened to them. They said to Joshua, “The Lord has delivered the whole land into our power; in fact, all the inhabitants of the land are quaking before us.”
–Joshua 2:23-24 (JPS Tanakh)
Have you ever wondered about these two events? What set apart one generation from the next? There’s actually an involved set of sociological, psychological, and experiential factors that come into play about why the generation who came out of Egypt couldn’t conquer the Land but their children could.
The Kotzker Rebbe said that the mistake of the spies was in the words “and so we were in their sight.” It should not bother a person how others view him. (Otzer Chaim)
A person who worries about how others view him will have no rest. Regardless of what he does or does not do, he will always be anxious about receiving the approval of others. Such a person makes his self-esteem dependent on the whims of others. It is a mistake to give others so much control over you. Keep your focus on doing what is right and proper. Work on mastering the ability to have a positive self-image regardless of how others view you.
The Chofetz Chaim commented, “When you view yourself as inferior, you will assume that others also view you in this manner. The truth could very well be that the other person views you in a much higher manner. As the Yalkut Shimoni states, “The Almighty said, ‘Who says that you were not in their eyes as angels?’ ” (HaChofetz Chaim, Vol 3, p. 1060)
It has been said that “you are what you think,” or in other words, your “attitude” about a person or situation tends to dictate how you’ll respond. If you believe you are a “grasshopper” in the sight of others, often it’s because that’s how you see yourself in comparison to those others (or anyone). The result is what you do or what you fail to do.
Here’s another comparison:
And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.
And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”
But what does that have to do with the generation with Moses who failed to enter the Land and the generation with Joshua who did?
It’s all a matter of perspective. What is the world a child sees as opposed to someone who is quite wealthy when confronted with bringing the Kingdom of Heaven near?
What did the rich person have to lose and what were the children being brought to Jesus experiencing? When we become secure in our situation for whatever reason, there’s a tendency not to want to leave that security. But children don’t worry about jobs, income, and wealth. They take it for granted that the adults in their lives who love them will take care of them. They focus on the matter at hand which for them is just being a child.
When Jesus said ‘whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it,” he wasn’t saying that maturity or education had no value. He wasn’t even saying that having wealth or material comfort was such a bad thing. He was saying that we must learn to trust and value the Master and the “gifts” of the Kingdom of Heaven most of all.
The first generation of Israelites who left Egypt in some sense never really left. Whenever they encountered trouble, they responded by longing to return to the only home they ever knew: Egypt. The fact that they lived as slaves and endured terrible hardships was what they found familiar. No matter how much more beneficial it was to be free and to be protected by the King of Heaven, that life was unfamiliar and frightening. They never really learned to trust God at the core of their beings, regardless of how many miracles they witnessed.
But their children grew up trusting God and Moses rather than the Egyptians. They learned to love God as children and continued that “child-like” trust into their adulthood as they faced the Land of Canaan across the Jordan.
No, they weren’t perfect people, but the Biblical record shows us that no one who obeyed God and followed His precepts was a perfect person. Noah wasn’t, Abraham, wasn’t, neither were Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, and so on.
And yet, some part of those people who spoke with God “face-to-face” and who were called people after God’s own heart all had a quality in common with the children who were being brought to Jesus. Those who did not obey thought they had too much to lose by following the Master, even if what they were clinging to was actually degrading, humiliating, and even agonizing.
In my Torah commentary for last week, I discussed my hesitancy at attending the First Fruits of Zion Shavuot conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin. As much as I wanted to just step through the doors of the synagogue and immediately feel at home, I didn’t. I mainly live in a Christian world now, so re-entering a traditional Jewish prayer service was a rough transition. I eventually adjusted, but it was the people I encountered at the conference that finally made me feel at home.
But looking back, I understand that it was the story I told myself about who I am now and what attending a Jewish festival in a traditional setting means. In order to feel more “at home” in church and even to be comfortable in calling myself a “Christian,” I’ve had to put a lot of other stuff away and change my attitude about what it all means.
I was cleaning out my closet recently and came across the box where I have stored my tallitot, tefillin, and other items I previously used when I had adopted a more “Jewish” worship style. I’ve become more comfortable not employing those holy objects in my prayers but I’d be lying if I said that part of me didn’t miss them.
“One who romanticizes over Judaism and loses focus of the kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a carpenter who is infatuated with the hammer, rather than the house it was meant to build.”
At the conference, someone at the synagogue asked Rabbi Carl Kinbar to let them know if their services could be improved in any way. As I recall (so this is hardly word-for-word), Rabbi Kinbar had no complaint and indeed, had a compliment. He said he’s been in other synagogues and the services were technically very correct, but the prayers were horizontal. That is, the services seemed “flat.” There was excellent form but no substance or quality that ascended to Heaven.
Rabbi Kinbar said that the prayers at Beth Immanuel were “vertical.” They ascended up to the Throne of God.
In my own life (and probably in the lives of most people of faith), we have a tendency to let the context in which we worship define who we are as servants of the Most High. That first generation out of Egypt allowed their slavery to define themselves, even after they were free, and slaves cannot conquer a nation. The only difference between them and their children, was that they knew their master was God, not an Egyptian slaver.
Children tell themselves one story about life and rich people tend to tell themselves a different story. As a result, it is easier for the former to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than the latter. The story I tell myself about who I am, at its core, cannot be a “Jewish” story (and certainly not, since I’m not Jewish) or a “Christian” story (even though I am a Christian). Who I am must be based less on religous ritual and context than on a child’s trust and faith that regardless of circumstance, knows God is always there, providing, protecting, and loving, just like any good Father.
I can be praying in church, in synagogue, at home, or even in a desert, but it is not where I am that defines me, but who I am in Messiah. And then, like sweet incense, my prayers go up.
Children live in a natural state of awe. To reclaim that energy, identify what fascinates you the most about life. Set goals for living and pursue them with relentless fascination.
When G‑d told Noah to build an ark before the world would be destroyed, Noah built an ark.
But when G‑d told Abraham He was about to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah—cities corrupt and evil to the core—Abraham argued. He said, “Perhaps there are righteous people there! Will the Judge of All the Earth not do justice?”
Abraham felt a sense of ownership for the world in which he lived. If there was something wrong, it needed to be changed. Even if it had been decreed by the will of G‑d.
Moses took ownership of the dark as well as the light. He argued not just for the righteous, but also for those who had failed.
When the people angered G‑d with a golden calf only 40 days after the revelation of Absolute Oneness at Mount Sinai, Moses had to admit they had wronged. Yet he did more than plead for them: he put his entire being on the line for them.
“Forgive them!” he demanded. “And if you do not forgive them, then wipe me out from Your book that You have written!”