This week we read one of my favorite stories in the Bible — the story of the twelve ‘spies’ Moses sends to explore the Land of Israel. The task of these scouts is to determine if the land is habitable, is there food and water, are there people currently residing on the land, and more. While there are plenty of stories in the Torah that relate to modern day life, this story has always stood out for its timely relevance.
It has always struck me that before the expedition takes place, we are told the names of the men Moses chose to go on the journey (Num 13:4-16). Recently, I began to see this very first step as a grave mistake. Essentially, you have put together a committee and told everyone who is on it. How many committees where everyone is aware of all the participants actually get things done? As unfortunate as it may be, sometimes anonymity is a good thing. It gives people the ability to sit in a room or go on an expedition and only worry about giving their best advice, as opposed to being individually responsible for what takes place. That said, the scouts would be better known as politicians. I believe ten of the twelve spies come back fearful that even though they know the right decision to make, they worry about what it may cost them. Or even worse, they know the Israelites are content being in the desert, and taking the risk to settle the land of Israel is scary. Anyone can tell a group of people what they want to hear. Being a true leader means telling people what they need to hear. Thankfully, Caleb and Joshua were willing to stand up and tell the truth, no matter the consequences.
While that story could be enough, for me the plot line only gets better. A few verses later (Num 13:26-33) the ten scouts tell Moses, Aaron and the whole congregation of Israel that the land does indeed flow with milk and honey. The majority of scouts went on to say that while the land is fertile, the people who inhabit the land are stronger than we are. They are giants. And finally the scouts say, “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes.” (Num 13:33). This verse is incredibly profound. Let’s be clear. It is the scouts who say, “We look like grasshoppers.” We have no idea what the people living on the land thought of the scouts. We only know what the scouts presumed the inhabitants must be thinking.
How many times in our own lives are we paralyzed because we fear what others are thinking about us? We become paralyzed by what we think others are thinking, and the reality is that while each of us cares about others, thinks about others, we are built to be narcissistic. We spend exponentially more time worrying about what others think about us, compared to the actual amount of time they actually are thinking about us.
The scouts saw themselves in a negative light. They did not have the confidence in themselves and in God to enter the land. The prospect rightfully scared them, but only because they lacked faith in each other, and in themselves, to see it through.
The Parsha this week makes it clear. Leadership is difficult. At its core, leadership requires standing up for your beliefs and leading — not checking to see which way the wind blows and then deciding on a course of action. And further, we come to learn from the scouts’ negative report, that what we think of ourselves far outweighs what anyone else thinks of us, if they are even thinking about us at all.