This Shabbat we read from Parashat Shlach Lecha which includes the story of the scouts sent by Moses to scout out the land of Canaan. It is a fascinating story especially when we read it with the eye of the rabbis who interpreted it. The rabbis of our tradition took this story and turned it into a commentary on human nature and how we address the critical issues in our lives.
Here is one example of this tradition.
When the scouts return from Canaan, they praise the beauty of the land itself but they insist that the Hebrews were not strong enough to conquer the land. In fact, the scouts claim that they saw giants in the land and “we were in our eyes like grasshoppers and so we looked to them”.
There is a beautiful commentary on these words. The commentary reads that God said: “I understand you felt like grasshoppers but how do you know that that was how you looked in their eyes? Perhaps I made you look like angels to them.”
This Midrash is teaching a critical lesson. It is one thing to feel small. It is another thing to assume that other people see you that way or to refuse to face a challenge because you fear it can not be conquered.
At this moment in our history, we are facing great challenges as a nation. We face a staggering combination of the Coronavirus pandemic which presents such a serious threat to our physical health and the stark reality of racism which, while tragically always present in our land, has been brought to our full attention once again by the horrendous murders of people of color by law enforcement officials.
As individuals and as a nation, it would be understandable if we were to claim to be “grasshoppers” and hesitate to deal with the giant issues which loom over us.
In one sense that humility will help us. In facing the pandemic, we have to recognize that we can not wish this virus away or deny its impact. It is a threat and we must accept it as such.
With regard to racism, white Americans need to honestly confront the reality of structural racism and accept our own and our nation’s failures to properly confront this issue and work hard enough for the change which must come. Certainly, humility is called for.
But we can’t be so humble that we refuse to confront the issues claiming that they are too huge for us to defeat.
We must act.
We must use our wisdom, our values, our very humanity to confront these giant threats that loom over us and, working together, make progress in our battles.
We must trust the scientists and medical professionals to guide us forward in our battle against coronavirus, not foolishly hiding our eyes from reality or succumbing to despair. We must continue to confront this invisible threat and wisely and cautiously do what is necessary to make our lives safer.
And, we must listen, truly listen, to the voices of pain, anger and frustration that we are hearing from the black community and not hide from them. As we listen, we must recognize our failures, stand up to confront the reality of racism and join hands to make the changes in our nation that must be made if we are to move forward and help this nation fulfill its promise of liberty and justice for all.
The problems at times seem too great. We may be tempted to turn back rather than move forward. We can’t do so. The threat of the pandemic and the stark reality of racism in this country are issues which must be faced with wisdom, with courage, and with just the right balance of self-confidence and humility.