Parshat Shelach

Torah Reading for the Week of June 8-14, 2014


“Two Sides to a Coin”
By Perryne Anker, Associate Dean of the AJRCA Cantorial School and Professor of Liturgical Studies


There are two sides to almost every story; there are two sides to the coin.  In this week’s parasha, the story of the spies, there are 12 sides to the story and, as it turns out, two sides to the coin.

Moses sends twelve chieftains, one from each tribe, to spy for him.  Does he trust them?  Well, one would usually send a spy to collect secret information. Since there were so many and from different tribes, it stands to reason that they would have differing reports to give.   Two people can look at the same thing and report different findings.  Perhaps they have something important at stake and thus they would report in their favor.   In this Parasha only two of the spies , Joshua and Caleb, had enthusiasm about the promised land.  The others had wild tales to tell.  They all saw the same thing but through different eyes.

They all spoke about “the land flowing with milk and honey”; but then, all but Joshua and Caleb spoke only in negative terms.  They were fearful that their own power would be taken away upon entering the land.   Their flattery turned to evil.  They spoke of honey but turned to bitterness.

We see a painting or hear a piece of music and can come away with totally different experiences.

We hear what we want to hear and we see what we want to see.

Some of us see potential in the smallest kernel of an idea while others see only negativity. Joshua and Caleb saw possibility and success and viewed that with  courage.  The other ten saw only failure and defeat.  Thus comes the ever popular expression “is the glass half empty or half full?”   When we are asked to give an opinion or to listen to more than one side of a story, it seems to me that the first thing one must do is to search ones own heart to examine what preconceived notions we might have before offering judgment or opinion.

The famous phrase of this Parasha is “they were giants…  we  seemed to ourselves as grasshoppers and so we must have looked to them.” If we live fearful lives, if we fail to see our strengths and diminish ourselves, we will fail to seize the opportunities that are possible.  But if we live our lives believing in our creative powers, and if we have imagination, there are endless possibilities.   Sometimes if little children have a mishap building something with blocks, if one little section tumbles, they will become angry and knock the whole thing down. Once the kernel of dream or an idea is knocked down or destroyed in anger, it can be hard to go back to that kernel to begin again, to pick up the pieces.  Anxiety and fear can almost strangle the kernel of success.  How difficult it is to take a leap into the unknown or to begin again!  Having faith in oneself or in a higher power can bring comfort and strength to take that difficult step to begin again.

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