How do two people from similar backgrounds internalize an experience in entirely different ways? This question is at the heart of this week’s Torah portion, Sh’lach Lecha (Numbers 13:1-15:41).
Moses gathers the leaders of each of the twelve tribes and sends them on a mission to go into the Promised Land. They are to bring back Israel’s fruit, and present their report on the land, its soil, terrain, people, and towns. After a forty-day excursion into the land, all the scouts agree that the land is desirable and exceedingly fertile. They disagree, however, on their experience within the land.
Ten scouts report before the entire community “…the people who inhabit the country are powerful, and the cities are fortified and exceptionally large… The country that we traversed and scouted is one that devours its settlers. All the people we saw in it are of great size [like giants]… We looked like grasshoppers.” (13:28-33)
These ten scouts, beaten down by years of slavery, believed that they could not overcome obstacles in their way. They reacted to the challenges they observed with fear and raw emotion. The Israelites quickly jumped on board, wailing, and begging to return to Egypt. Despite witnessing the same fortified cities and the giants who inhabited them, Joshua and Caleb did not internalize the experience like the other ten. They understood that conquering the Promised Land would be far from easy, but they balanced their fear with their trust in their people’s ability, and God’s promised help to protect them. Whereas ten scouts are reactive, Joshua and Caleb are proactive. What allowed them to overcome their initial worry and concern? The answer appears to be silence.
As the ten scouts lament, and the people begin to wail, Caleb hushes the people (13:30). He quiets the voices in their midst and asks the Israelites to consider the possibility that they will succeed. We are left with the impression that this practice of quiet is what sets Joshua and Caleb apart. Rather than reacting to the hectic and sometimes threatening world around them, these scouts prioritize time for silent reflection. Before responding, they consider all aspects of the situation, so that they can present a thoughtful vision to the people. Their inner calm and their optimistic perspective are a direct result of their meditative practice.
Tonight, we honor the leaders and volunteers of our sacred Temple Shalom community. Each of them leads with their hearts and souls, caring so deeply for our Temple family. At times, we have disagreements, but together we learn to be quiet and listen to one another to ensure the strength of our community. Temple volunteers and members of our choir exemplify this each and every time they take the time to provide for each of us.
Each week we are gifted a day of rest and reflection. May this Shabbat be a time for thoughtful reflection so that we can approach the week ahead with strength, perspective, and a sense of calm.