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“Giants,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

June 16, 2023 | 27 Sivan 5783

Welcome again to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat. You can listen to it as a podcast here.

What makes some people view a challenge as an exciting opportunity while others recoil in hesitancy and fear?

This week’s Torah portion takes us to that spot between possibility and pessimism. As the Jewish people made its way from slavery to freedom to Mount Sinai and then onward toward the land of Canaan, they wanted to know more about the land they would inhabit. They were close enough to take a peek. So, they sent in twelve representatives, one from each tribe, in a reconnaissance mission to check out the land. They entered with great anticipation, exploring and investigating the land of great promise. Two emerged hopeful and excited but the other ten saw only obstacles, giant impediments to their progress.

Thus they spread calumnies among the Israelites about the land they had scouted, saying, “The country that we traversed and scouted is one that devours its settlers. All the people that we saw in it are those of great size…and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.”  (Numbers 13:32-33)

With their self-esteem crushed, they became immobilized, passive participants. The other two, Caleb and Joshua, tried to sway the people toward an expectant and optimistic attitude. Caleb, in particular, implored the Israelites with a double verb concentrate of meaning:

We can surely ascend! Aloh na’aleh עלה נעלה
We are truly able! Yachol nuchol יכול נוכל 

This might have been the first pep talk, but it did not succeed. The people railed against Moses and Aaron, their hearts bitterly yearning to return to Egypt. They will need forty more years before they can arrive to the promised land.

There are many giants still that roam this earth though they come in many forms. Injustice, inequality, bigotry, hatred and even anger are mammoth in their challenges to us. Yet, we do not need to see ourselves as grasshoppers in comparison. As Caleb summoned:

We can surely ascend! Aloh na’aleh עלה נעלה
We are truly able! Yachol nuchol יכול נוכל 

As legend has it, when young David, not yet king of Israel, stood before Goliath, he didn’t respond as his comrades did who said, “He is so big, how can we win?” Rather, David said, “He is so big, how could I miss?”

In the end, a perspective of possibility leads us to face our obstacles, and by doing so, we can’t miss!

We can surely ascend! Aloh na’aleh עלה נעלה
We are truly able! Yachol nuchol יכול נוכל 

Shabbat Shalom!

Connect with me here. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Originally shared June 16, 2017

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