You could not pick a better parashah for me to write for my final Schmata! For it is in this week’s parashah, Shalach Lecha, that we learn about the infamous spy story. We see the twelve of them go to scout the land of Canaan on Moses’ command, and ten of them return and report back what they see, to convey their truth. They share quickly how the land is one of milk and honey – describing the bounty of fruit – and at the same time how the inhabitants of the land are giants. The famous line (and those who know me will not be surprised that it is underlined, bolded, and highlighted in my copy) is: “…we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them” (Numbers 13:32-33). They are banned from entering the Promised Land, and in fact, punished to 40 more years in the desert. Yikes!
I have been thinking about this a lot – the tragedy of this tale. And it dawned on me that those of us who are actively seeking and are in recovery are not Joshua and Caleb, the two who were able to see the land as conquerable. But instead, it is the other ten that inspire me to believe that we are written in this text and that this text is written for us. We are the ones who doubt, question, and perhaps even see ourselves in a similarly dim light. We are the ten spies who were punished.
It has taken these two-plus years of working, immersed in the Beit T’Shuvah ethos, to help me see the full picture and to ask the important follow-up questions: How long are we going to punish ourselves? When will we actually see our own greatness? When can we allow ourselves to know that we, too, are deserving of the land of milk and honey – that we can conquer the fears, and that we have the wherewithal to do so with courage and with faith in ourselves?
I used to read this part as a cautionary tale instructing us to be more like Joshua and Caleb, but it occurs to me now that, as with most things, it is not that simple: the story is actually about these ten spies, and it is our duty to learn from them – our people – and not from their punishment. We learn that they are not punished for having doubt, but rather for having decided to indulge in their self-doubt. Because to have faith, by extension, means to have doubt; if we do not have a semblance of uncertainty, how can we truly believe? In ourselves? In God? The precious work that we get to do in life is the moving through this doubt to choose our faith. And this requires us to grapple with the giants that we see, to acknowledge that they are scary, and at that moment to reflect upon ourselves – the deep part within us that has the kernel of truth and that says “You can do it.” You can. Because you matter.
Rabbi Mark has been my teacher and Rabbi these years of this journey, and he has worked hard to help me see this message – that I matter. I am so grateful for his wisdom, for his Torah and his vision. For me, right at this moment, it is time to do my best and see myself as mattering in order to enter the land of milk and honey – whatever that may be – to continue to develop the muscle of working towards faith and leaning into it. It is time to see this value put into action. What a blessing it is to be part of such a community of spies – the ones who doubt, the ones who question, and the ones who may see the grasshoppers within in order to find ourselves.
The parashah is completed with the commandment for the wearing of tzitzit – the fringes that hang off of our tallits, the woven tapestry of our tradition, the prayer shawl we wrap ourselves in. This is not a coincidence. It is traditionally thought that these tzitzit serve as a reminder of our commandments, which is true, but the second part reads: “…so that you do not follow your heart and eyes in your lustful urge” (Numbers 15:39). These tzitzit go beyond commandments. They are, in fact, serving as a reminder that you, we, and I matter. Somehow the tradition knew that we would need a tangible something to remind us of this lesson. I feel grateful to learn this lesson this week, grateful that I get to take my tallit with me. And when I wrap myself in it, I will feel not only the comforting weight of our tradition, but also the challenge inherent in being part of Beit T’Shuvah: to see myself as the holy soul that I am. This lesson is the greatest one of them all.
Thank you for the journey that has led me to this moment. I am forever changed and grateful for it all.