There are times in life when we make mistakes. Sometimes these mistakes are grievous or even sinful. When we get a chance to make them right we have to take advantage and correct ourselves. This is one of the lessons we can learn from this week’s parsha of Shelach and its haftarah from Yehoshua.
Yehoshua was among the original scouting party that was sent out by Moshe to prepare for the conquest of the future Land of Israel. Ten of the 12 scouts came back with such negative, discouraging reports that the Jewish people lost faith in God and subsequently wandered in the desert until a new generation could replace them.
Verse 33 quotes these scouts as saying “and we were like grasshoppers in our eyes and so we were in their eyes.” They felt insignificant in their own eyes. They lacked confidence and a sense of their own worth. They felt intimidated and overwhelmed. This selfsame lack of confidence also led them to slander
In contrast, when Yehoshua sent out his two scouts years later, their attitude was not one of “if” but “when” in terms of starting the invasion. Their names are not important and are not even mentioned. Yehoshua had learned the lesson and had faith in Hashem. He was destined to be successful. His actions showed that the Jewish nation had learned from their mistakes. They had done “teshuva” and were ready to get it right the second time around.
The Gemara in Sanhedrin (25a) relates that the true test of whether a person has done proper teshuva and has learned their lesson is to place them in the same circumstances and see if they act differently the second time around. For example, if they have been dishonest in the past, expressed repentance, and similar opportunities presented themselves, would they do it again this time? Yehoshua got it right the second time around.
Another lesson to be learned in contrasting the parsha and haftarah is to aim high in life. To use an analogy, our lives are set as thermostats. If you set your aspirations on “low,” you will achieve less. If you set your goals on “high,” you will achieve more.
As those who are familiar with me may know, I routinely take motorcycle-safety training courses. The instructor throws debris in our way and even suddenly jumps out in front of us to challenge our skills. The point of these exercises is that the motorcycle drives wherever you set your sights. If you look down and stare at the debris in the road, you will end up falling down. If you keep your head up, set your sights on your goal and your destination, you can make seemingly impossible turns and always end up in the right place.
In this week’s readings we notice a similar contrast. Both Moshe and Yehoshua sent out “meraglim” (scouts). They both saw the same Land of Israel, the same challenges and the same opportunities. The original meraglim had a doom and gloom attitude, though. They expected to fail, and therefore did so. The second set of meraglim, though, expected Hashem’s favor and knew they would be successful. So they planned for success and their expectations were met. They entered the land of Canaan and conquered it.
The lesson to be learned from the meraglim is similar to the lesson to be learned from the motorcycle class experience. If you only keep your eyes on the obstacles and challenges that are thrown your way, you end up falling and failing. If you keep your eyes on your goal, and keep your head up, staying focused and optimistic on where you need to go, you will surely be successful.
May Hashem bless us to get it right the first time and certainly the second time around. May we always keep our eyes on the prize and not only on the obstacles along the way.
Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic, clinical psychologist in private practice. He is president of the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club of NY/NJ. He leads the Summit Avenue Shabbos Gemara shiur and minyan in Fair Lawn, NJ, and is a member of the International Rabbinical Society. He can be reached at [email protected]