May 21, 2024
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Helping Our Children Believe in Themselves

The sin of the spies is the central event of this week’s parsha. Yet many aspects of this sin remain shrouded in mystery. What exactly did the spies do wrong? Didn’t they do what Moshe told them to do? And if the spies’ report was truly a dramatic sin, how could these great leaders of the Jewish nation sin so greatly? Finally—and perhaps most importantly—why was Am Yisrael given such a harsh punishment for believing the spies? Wasn’t it reasonable to believe the report of the majority? This generation had gone through so much to reach Eretz Yisrael. Was it really fair for that to be taken away from them in punishment?

I would like to share a novel explanation to this story that is suggested by my father, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, in his book “Unlocking the Torah Text,” which provides a new perspective on this tragic event. He notes that if you look closely at the spies’ report to the nation, one phrase seems out of place. As they describe the land of Canaan and its inhabitants, they conclude by proclaiming “and we were in our eyes like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes.” These words are strange; if the spies are relaying their impressions of the lands and those who live within it, why are the words “and we were in our eyes like grasshoppers” relevant?

My father suggests that these few words form the basis for truly understanding the failure of the spies and the ensuing fallout. The failure of the spies, and later the entire nation, was not that they didn’t believe in Hashem or in His ability to take them into Eretz Yisrael, but rather that they didn’t believe in themselves. They didn’t believe themselves capable of conquering the nations in Eretz Canaan. Perhaps we can suggest that this resulted from the slave mentality that many commentators note remained a part of the identity of this generation. Despite receiving their physical freedom, they continued to see themselves as inferior—never able to remove the slave mindset ingrained in them for years.

We can now answer the various questions raised above. This spies’ sin was not necessarily a deliberate attempt to rebel against Hashem and prevent entry into the land. Rather, through the spies’ report and Am Yisrael’s reaction, underlying feelings of inadequacy that coursed within the people were now brought to the fore. Faced with the realization of what entry into Eretz Yisrael would entail, the nation was forced to face its inner demons—and, unfortunately, the results were tragic.

We can now also better understand God’s response to it all. God’s declaration that this generation will not enter Eretz Yisrael was less a punishment and more a statement of reality. If this generation didn’t believe in their ability to conquer the land, then they were destined to die in the desert. Only their children, who were never enslaved and therefore didn’t suffer from this slave mentality, would be able to successfully conquer the land. It’s as if God says to Moshe, had the issue been that they didn’t believe in Me, that is something we could have worked on and overcome. But if the issue is that they don’t believe in themselves, there is nothing I can do.

We have spoken before about raising our kids with healthy self-esteem, particularly in today’s world where low self-esteem and depression is rampant among children. This point cannot be stressed enough. While we must certainly strive to raise our kids with a love of Hashem and His Torah and mitzvot, we must ensure that to lay the foundation whereby each child loves himself and believes in his abilities. From a very young age, we must prioritize building our children up and helping them understand their own self-worth. Perhaps the best way to convey this message is to tell them, and show them, how much we believe in them and who they can become. If we demonstrate this belief to them in a real way, hopefully that belief will penetrate deeply within them and produce in them a strong sense of self.

In Tehillim, Dovid HaMelech strives “lehagid baboker chasdecha ve’emunat’cha baleilot, to talk about Your kindness in the morning and Your faith at night.” The standard understanding is that “Your faith at night” refers to our ability to believe in God even during times of challenge, of darkness. However, Rav Shlomo Carlebach suggested that “Your faith” doesn’t refer to our belief in Hashem, but rather to Hashem’s belief in us. Even in moments of hardship or challenge, we must realize that God believes in us and our ability to succeed.

At the precipice of entering Eretz Yisrael, the spies and the Jewish nation reveal to themselves and to God their lack of belief in themselves and their capabilities. Faced with this reality, God declares that such a generation cannot enter Eretz Yisrael. The nation’s failure to believe in themselves is a “game changer” that dooms this generation to die in the desert. As we raise our children in this complex, we must relay to our children from a young age how much we, and God, believe in them. If we are successful in this effort, we will hopefully ensure that they will, throughout their lives, believe in themselves.

Shabbat Shalom!


Rav Yossi Goldin is a teacher and administrator who teaches in a number of seminaries and yeshivot across Israel. He currently lives in Shaalvim with his wife and family. He can be reached at [email protected].

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