July 1, 2016
Dear Friends -
This week we read in parashat S'hlach Lecha an accounting of the scouts who went to survey the land of Israel before our people could enter after their many years in the desert, and hundreds of years in Egypt. God commands Moses to send a scout from each tribe to see the land and to get a feel for the situation. The scouts are specifically asked to consider if the country is strong or weak and even to ascertain if the soil will be good to cultivate food. Twelve scouts, one for each tribe, spend forty days surveying the land. Twelve scouts see the same land and the same soil; the same milk and honey and the same giants who inhabited the land. The scouts viewed the same situation and yet these twelve individuals come back with radically different reports.
Ten spies reported that the land "does indeed flow with milk and honey...however the people who inhabit this country are very powerful, the cities are fortified and very large." They continue by listing all of the peoples that were in the land and they later conclude that it would be "better to go back to Egyptian slavery or to die in the wilderness" than to try to come into the land. Joshua and Calev saw the same challenges with the land but they conclude that the Jewish people should go into the land.
Why are the reports so different and what in human nature makes it so that different people tend to see situations in either a positive or a negative light? Why are some of us "glass half empty" while others tend to be "glass half full people"? How can we learn to look at challenging situations and view them with optimism, without having a sense of being pollyannaish?
We don't remember the names of the ten scouts who bring back the negative reports. We do remember Joshua and Calev. Joshua and Calev do not disagree with the negative report of the other scouts; they just come to a different conclusion. They recognize that inhabiting the land will present serious challenges, but they choose to say that coming into the land will be attainable-if people trust in God, and it seems, if they trust in themselves and each other. Or as Herzel said, "if you will it, it is no dream." Im tirzu, ayn zo agada.
Jewish history has presented us with many challenging situations in which we could have chosen to abandon our faith. Instead, our people choose to be chosen. As an individual that means that we choose to see potential good even in difficult situations. We choose to be like Herzl, who amidst great anti-Semitism was able to coin the phrase, "If you will it, it is no dream.". We choose to see the glass as half full.
Some of us were born or nurtured to have personalities that tend towards Joshua and Calev's hopeful outlook. Others may find that they struggle to see their glass as half full, or overflowing with potential. For those friends I want to recommend the following short article written a few years ago in Forbes about steps to becoming more "glass half full." Click here
for the Forbes article.
Here are a few traditionally Jewish ways to become more like Joshua and Calev - glass half full people. We can actively cultivate a sense of gratitude in our lives by reciting blessings each day for the large and small blessings that we have. Some do this by saying the traditional blessings where we thank God for all that we enjoy in this world. Others join in a prayer service. Still others find a time each day to meditate on ones' blessings.
One more way to live as an optimist, like Joshua and Calev, is to live in sacred community. Many of us do have serious challenges, but those burdens seem to be lessened when they are not carried alone. As the saying goes, "many hands make light work." Many hearts also allow one to share the burdens of whatever challenges our souls. Being actively involved in the life of our community can help each of us to see that we are not alone in facing our challenges.
This week I pray that we can each live a bit more like Joshua and Calev: where we recognize difficult truths in our lives but can also see the possibility of overcoming challenges.