Office of the Chief Rabbi

D’var Torah: Shelach Lecha

 

When did an entire nation suffer from low self-esteem?

Parshat Shelach-Lecha tells us how the meraglim, the 12 spies, returned from the land of Cana’an. Ten of them delivered a highly irresponsible and misleading report to the nation. They told them that Cana’an was inhabited by giants. And how did they feel in their midst? They said:

וַנְּהִ֤י בְעֵינֵ֙ינוּ֙ כַּֽחֲגָבִ֔ים וְכֵ֥ן הָיִ֖ינוּ בְּעֵינֵיהֶֽם׃ – and we felt as if we were like grasshoppers and that is exactly the perception they had of us”. The Torah here highlights for us the direct link between the perception we have of ourselves and the perception others have of us as a result.

If we think of ourselves as nothing, useless nobodies – that will be the perception that some others might have of us. On the other hand, if we exude confidence, it will inspire others to place their confidence in us.

The great medieval commentator Rav Avraham ibn Ezra explains that the entire nation of Israel carried with them through the wilderness a slave mentality – they couldn’t shake off the inferiority complex they had gained in the land of Egypt. Consequently, Hashem determined that they Would not be the ones to conquer the land of Cana’an and indeed their mindset was reflected in the report of the spies.

Rather a new generation, to be born in the wilderness, would be the ones with  the confidence, the courage and the conviction to conquer the land.

Another biblical character who suffered from low self-esteem was King Saul. So much so that the prophet Shmuel came to him and said “הֲל֗וֹא אִם־קָטֹ֤ן אַתָּה֙ בְּעֵינֶ֔יךָ רֹ֛אשׁ שִׁבְטֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל אָ֑תָּה וַיִּמְשָׁחֲךָ֧ יְהוָ֛ה לְמֶ֖לֶךְ עַל־יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃– even though you are so small in your eyes – nevertheless you are the head of the tribes of the people of Israel”

Shmuel’s message to Shaul was not just for him – it is a message to all of us. Shmuel was telling us if ever we think that we are no better than grasshoppers we need to realise that, in reality, we are all giants. This message was encapsulated by Hillel who, in Pirkei Avot, taught “אִם אֵין אֲנִי לִי, מִי לִי? If I am not for myself, who will ever be for me?” If I do not show that I am confident in my ability, how can others have confidence in me? However, Hillel gave a word of warning. Do not take it too far. Never become arrogant “וּכְשֶׁאֲנִי לְעַצְמִי, מָה אֲנִי?” Because if you’re only for yourself and your ego takes over. The question is not only ‘who am I’ but ‘what am I?’ I stop being a mensch. I become a mere object in the world. I am of no value to society. And then Hillel concluded – when it comes to the importance of self-esteem and confidence in ourselves – we must never delay: “?וְאִם לֹא עַכְשָׁיו, אֵימָתָי – if not now, then when?”

 

Shabbat Shalom