Tonight we read the story of the spies. These twelve notable men are sent to spy out the land of Canaan in preparation for our invasion. They find a land rich with agricultural wealth, though also inhabited by several different peoples and many walled cities. Two of the spies, Caleb and Joshua, remembering the might of G-D in wrenching us out of slavery and the recent experience of the theophany at Sinai and its aftermath, are certain that the people, led by Moses and blessed by G-D can conquer the land. The other ten spies, still mired in the mentality of slavery, say it will be impossible. The people side with the ten naysayers and begin the now familiar whine of wanting to go back to Egypt and the known terrors of slavery and comfortable suffering of slavery where they do not have to stand up for themselves. Better we should die in the wilderness they cry, oh, our poor children. Indeed, they threaten to stone Caleb and Joshua.
G-D is understandably unhappy. There is the usual plague and the ten pessimistic spies die. Furthermore, it is decreed that all those from the age of twenty up except for Caleb and Joshua will die during a sentence of forty years of wandering in the wilderness. And so it comes to pass.
As I reread this story this week, a thought jumped clearly into my mind. We are often playing the role of the people. Each one of us, almost a corporate body made up of hopes and fears, dreams and worries. As the people wanted to have a land of their own, we too have goals and ambitions. We also may find ourselves in situations we want to change, but our discomfort or unhappiness is one we are familiar with, like old shoes that pinch our toes. Why get new shoes that may have worse problems?
As we survey the future, we send our thoughts forward. We play the scenarios of what might happen if we make changes in our lives, if we take risks, if we try to move ahead. These thought experiments and imagined futures are the spies we send out. Even when we have had the experience of taking chances in the past successfully or, at least, without dire consequences, we often find our fear lighting on the worst possible outcomes in these stories we tell ourselves. These fantasies of disaster are often the ones that come to dominate our thinking. Like our people responding to the reports of the spies, we may find ourselves exiled to wandering in a wilderness of thwarted hopes and unfulfilled ambitions. Why? Because we did not dare.
Yet, we also have knowledge of our past successes and the support we have received from those who love us and even strangers. These can bolster our hopes, strength, and courage. We can listen to the best voice within us that says, try, strive, and, even if you fail, you will learn and grow. We can listen to our inner Joshua and our inner Caleb.
After the people heard what their fate would be, to truly die in the wilderness while their children would go into the land, some of them girded up their loins, picked up their spears and swords, and marched on Canaan. Without Moses, without The Ark, and without the blessing of The Most High, they were crushed in battle.
So too, when we do try something, we sometimes sabotage ourselves. We do not make proper preparation; we do things in an incomplete way, we insure our failure and we are able to say, I told you so. I knew I could not do it, while cherishing the excuse that we were not at our best when we made the attempt.
Come; take a step into a better future. Do not let your fears overwhelm your hopes. Do not let your nightmares triumph over your dreams. Listen to the good reports of what could be, plan carefully and bring your full self to your efforts. Then you will have a true chance to make your life better. And as with the people, even as they served out their sentence in the wilderness and the next generation as they brought the walls of Jericho down, you will not be alone. The Holy One will always be with you, in success and failure, in hope and fear. With G-D’s help, you may strive and you will find that your reach is greater than you ever thought it could be.