Self Esteem

(Torah Portion Shlach) Self Esteem!

I saw a cute cartoon depicting a mouse sitting in front of a computer screen while navigating with a ‘mouse’ in the shape of a human being.

In this week’s Parsha, the Torah tells us that the Jews sent twelve men into the Land of Israel to spy on the land. Ten of the spies brought back an awful report that shocked and scared the nation. Part of their report went as follows, “There we saw the Nephilim, the sons of a giant from among the Nephilim; we were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we were in their eyes.”

Rashi quoting the Talmud says: How did they know that they were like grasshoppers in the eyes of the giants? The spies overheard the giants saying to each other, “Look over there! There are grasshoppers in the vineyards that look like men!”

However, the Medrash understands the verse literally: The spies felt they were grasshoppers in their own eyes, and they then projected, assumed and convinced themselves, that the giants saw them as grasshoppers as well.

To this, G-d said, “Okay, to personally feel like you are as low as grasshoppers, this I cannot hold against you. But to assume and imagine and then relate to the people that the giants saw you as grasshoppers, this I cannot forgive, for perhaps, I made them perceive you as angels!”

It’s all about self esteem and having a positive self image – which was lacking during the spies’ doomed mission. Yehoshua and Calev, the two good spies tried their best to employ some damage control. They spoke to the nation of the goodness and richness of the land, and pleaded with the people not to rebel against G-d. “Do not fear the people of the land, for they are our bread – their protective shadow has departed from them. G-d is with us – do not fear them!”

What did Yehoshua and Calev mean when they said – they are our bread? Rashi explains; we will eat them like bread – we will take them over as easily as bread which is eaten without resistance. The Sfas Emes points out that the word for “our bread” is Lachmainu – and the root of this word is Lochem – to fight. The good spies were telling the people that just as there are ten steps that go into the production of bread, so too, to acquire the land of Israel, it will require some ambition and merits.

They continued, “And you should know that their protective shadow has departed from them,” meaning that the process will be simple and straightforward.”

They used the words “protective shadow” to say that although the mighty inhabitants of the land may look protected and difficult to penetrate, it is comparable to a shadow. Just as a shadow has no essence to it, so too, with G-d behind you, their protection will disappear like a passing shadow.

Obviously, the ten bad spies did not share this same positive perspective. The Sfas Emes points out that their lack of self esteem which made them feel like lowly grasshoppers led them to believe that they were viewed in the same way. These negative feelings about themselves weighed upon them and remained dominant throughout their mission, resulting in their negative report.

The spies failed to internalize Moshe’s instruction before their mission when he told them V’Hischazaktem – and you shall strengthen yourselves – which Rashbam explains, consider yourselves as a strong and mighty people – and you won’t be fearful of anyone.

In the Torah, G-d praises the Jewish people, “You are small in comparison the nations of the world.” Our Sages explain that this means that the Jewish people are appealing to G-d because they minimize and humble themselves in face of the Almighty’s will. If humility is our virtue and basic nature, can’t it negatively affect our self esteem?

The Hebrew word used to describe one’s character traits is Midos. The word Midos actually means measurements. This means that one has to be cognizant and aware to measure his character traits in a healthy balance.

Yes, by nature we are instinctively a humble people. But this should not affect our personal self esteem and convictions. The Talmud teaches us that G-d felt it worthwhile to create the entire world for a single person, Adam. This should inspire each and every person to consider himself and his role in life, important, vital and significant, for after all, G-d created the world just for him!

This outlook is essential for our confidence and sense of worth. We may be small, but we must think big!

Wishing you a restful, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks