Thursday, June 3, 2010

Shelach Lecha

What kind of person do you strive to be?  What kind of leader do you hope to become?
In this week’s Torah portion, Shelach Lecha, we see two kinds of leaders, two kinds of people.  There is Moses, the most important personality in the entire Torah.  He stands up to Pharaoh.  He leads us from slavery to freedom.  He parts the Sea of Reeds, ok with God’s help of course.  He communes with God on Mount Sinai and gives us the Torah.  He talks to God face to face.  So close in fact is his relationship with God that when he doubts, he consults God.  Moses asks and God answers.  Then there is Joshua, the leader who takes over the reins from Moses.  We learn part of Joshua’s character traits in this portion.

In Shelach Lecha we read the story of the twelve spies who are sent to scout the land of Israel.   Ten return with a negative report.  “The country that we traversed and scouted is one that devours its settlers.  All the people that we saw in it are men of great size… and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.” (Numbers 13:32—33)  Joshua (and Caleb), on the other hand, report: “The land that we traversed and scouted is an exceedingly good land.  If the Lord is pleased with us, He will bring us into the land, a land that flows with milk and honey, and give it to us…  Have no fear then of the people of the country, for they are our prey: their protection has departed from them, but the Lord is with us.  Have no fear of them!” (Numbers 14: 7-10)

How is it that all twelve scouted the same land, but came back with different reports?  The answer is not they described a different reality.  It is instead that their assessment of this reality differed.  And it is their assessment that gives us a clue for measuring leadership and character.  Joshua saw things differently.  He looked at overwhelming challenges and rather than cowering in fear reasserted his faith and renewed his dreams.

How is that he was not afraid when others were terrified?  He saw the same things.  He saw the same challenges.  But for Joshua nothing seemed insurmountable.  The ten spies saw conflict, and battles, ahead.  Joshua saw beyond these.  Joshua understood the difficulties, but held in his heart the promise of what would result after struggle and challenge.  That is what makes for Joshua’s greatness.

The majority always focus on difficulties.  The majority worries about failure.  Joshua reminds us that greatness is found in looking to the future.  Joshua never ignores reality.  He sees what others see.  But he does so through the lens of future dreams, of promised gifts.  This is the faith that carries him to tomorrow.  This is why in his eyes even the mightiest of foes is not a giant and he is never as tiny as a grasshopper.

Joshua also appears to summon this faith from within.  With all due respect to Moses and his many achievements, he in some ways had it easy.  Moses asks for advice and God answers.   Joshua on the other hand had to summon the answers from within. Few, if any, can be Moses.  Many of us can be Joshua. He sees hope where the majority sees failure.  He believes when the majority loses faith.   

Moses is an impossible model to emulate.  Joshua is difficult, but not beyond reach.  Let us look to Moses’ Torah for wisdom and learning.  Let us look to Joshua as an example to follow, a person who sees reality clearly but also and more importantly never loses hope in the future.  

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