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Bar Mitzvah of the Week

Alex Nathenson

June 17, 2017

Parshat Sh'lach L'cha: Numbers 13:1 - 15:41

Moses sends twelve spies to the Land of Israel to report on the inhabitants and the country. Despite the positive report of Joshua and Caleb, the people are frightened. (13:1–14:10)
God threatens to wipe out the Children of Israel but relents when Moses intercedes on their behalf. To punish the people, God announces that all those who left Egypt would not enter the Land of Israel except for Joshua and Caleb. (14:11–45)
Moses instructs the Israelites regarding setting aside challah, the observance of the Sabbath, how to treat strangers, and the laws of tzitzit. (15:1–41)

For more information and resources on this portion, click here.

Alex's Interpretation

The name of my torah portion is Shelach Lecha. The title of this portion means “send for yourself.” Shelach means “send” in the command form, and lecha, meaning, “for yourself,” or “to yourself.”
“The Eternal One spoke to Moses saying, ‘Send out for yourself men who will scout the Land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel…’” Moses then sends twelve scouts to the land of Israel to scout out the land and see what it is like. The purpose of the mission is entirely for the people. G-d doesn’t need the scouting mission. The people need the scouting mission so that they can better trust G-d that the land is good and that they can move there.

The twelve scouts come back and report about all that they’ve seen. They saw land bountiful with fruits, flowing with milk and honey. They brought back beautiful figs, pomegranates, and grapes so big that two people had to carry one bunch draped over a stick on their shoulders. This very image is the symbol of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism today.

Ten out of the twelve scouts felt that the Israelites should not go to live there. These ten scouts say, “We came to the land you sent us to; it does indeed flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who inhabit the country are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large…”

These ten scouts who thought they should not live there concluded, “The land we passed through to explore is a land that consumes its inhabitants, and all the people we saw in it are men of stature.” They reported that the people were giants, and that the Israelites must have looked like tiny grasshoppers to them. They said, “In our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we must have been in theirs too.”

In contrast to the ten scouts, the other two scouts, Joshua and Caleb, said, “The land we passed through to scout is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord desires us, He will bring us to this land and give it to us, a land flowing with milk and honey.” Caleb and Joshua’s report focuses on G-d, and trusting in G-d’s plan to move to the land of Israel.

Why did the scouts report on the land the way they did? What might they have experienced there that led them to report that way? People can interpret things differently sometimes, even when seeing the same thing.

Maybe the two scouts that reported the land being good, and that it was fine, went another way, without the other people, and saw the enemies of the Israelites at their weakest point, and the other ten saw the enemies at their strongest point. Or maybe the two scouts that reported the land as good tried to steer clear of the enemies, and maybe the ten scouts ran into the enemies a lot. The ten scouts who reported that the land was dangerous were scared of going back. Because they were scared, they over-exaggerated all of the dangers to the Israelites. Maybe the ten scouts wanted to keep the Israelites safe from danger, and that explains why they were adamant that the Israelites should not go to the land of Israel, which they also saw was the land of milk and honey, filled with huge clusters of grapes, figs, and pomegranates.
So, it may have been that the scouts literally saw different things, or maybe they felt different things internally, and that influenced their perception. Perhaps they were most influenced by the grasshopper effect. The grasshopper effect focuses on the part of the text where the ten scouts report the land as being bad, and say that they must have looked like grasshoppers to the very large inhabitants. Remember, the ten scouts said, “In our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes.” The grasshopper effect is seeing yourself as a tiny grasshopper, because you think others have judged you as a tiny grasshopper. If I were to accept as true what I might believe others think of me negatively, and take their supposed views on as my own, it would be bad. I would not be able to be my true self, and form my own opinions. I chose to focus on the theme of the grasshopper effect because people can see me however they see me, and I try my best not to let it affect me. Allowing others to tell you who you are is not good. It’s a big problem if we allow other people’s opinions to form our self-images for us.

The Israelites were scared, and they believed the ten scouts, and decided they would not even try to go to this land, and that maybe they should just go back to Egypt and be slaves again. As Rabbi Sirkman says, it’s harder to march into an uncertain future than to go back to a bad past.

Because the Israelites doubted G-d, they ended up wandering forty years in the desert, and the whole generation of Israelites, except for Joshua and Caleb, died before getting to the promised land.

Rabbi Larry Kushner has a commentary on the grasshopper effect. He explains how the scouts got caught up in how they thought people perceived them, and allowed it to influence their own self-image. This is not helpful or healthy. The Kotzker Rebbe also has something to say about this. He remarks, “What possible difference could it make for you [to know or even care] how you appear in the eyes of others!” I summarize this as, why should we care how other people see us? I agree with these commentaries.
Of course, there is a way in which we must care, to some extent, how people see us. Ways we do this are being polite, keeping ourselves properly clothed, and our bodies clean and cared for. It’s important to respect ways of etiquette because it shows respect for others. But beyond this, if someone sees us as a small grasshopper, we should not allow their perception of us to control our lives and ways of living. When we feel like this, we can acknowledge those perceptions we might have of people perhaps seeing us as tiny grasshoppers. But we can try to put them to the side, and maintain our own positive views of ourselves.


Alex's Mitzvah Project

For my mitzvah project, I did a couple of different things. Over the past year, I volunteered my time with children who stay at the homeless shelter in White Plains. I helped host the children, ranging in age from very young, to teenagers, during fun visits here at the Temple, where we had parties and lunches together. We also had some fun outings in parks. At the holiday party that we held for them, my family and I brought tons of books to donate to the children and teenagers. They were able to choose several books that they wanted for themselves. I have become friends with some of the kids because we have seen each other regularly. My party decorations include gift baskets of books that will be donated to the children and teenagers at the homeless shelter, as well as gift baskets of supplies for animals at the New Rochelle Humane Society, where I volunteered over the years. My school inquiry project concerns collecting remaining school supplies from children in my grade, and donating them to a charity. I plan to donate them to the children and teenagers at the homeless shelter. Another mitzvah project I did was planting trees in Otter Creek in Mamaroneck. Along with other volunteers, I helped to plant about three hundred trees. I later returned with my parents to water them, using heavy buckets of water from a pond, to make sure they will grow.