In this week’s Torah portion, Shlakh, ten scouts are sent to glimpse the land of promise. What they see there terrifies them. The grapes are so big that two men are required to carry a single bundle. They return to the community and report that entering this land is simply not possible: “the inhabitants are giants, and we must have looked like grasshoppers to them!”
They spread their fear to the children of Israel, and God — incensed that after all the miracles they’ve experienced, the children of Israel do not trust — declares that this generation will wander in the wilderness until they die. Their children will enter the land, but they will not. They are too caught in their own fear.
I suspect we all know what it’s like to glimpse a land of promise and then to shy away. The work it would take to get there is too vast. The personal changes required are too difficult. Maybe, like the children of Israel who came out of Mitzrayim, “the Narrow Place,” we are too shaped by our familiar constraints.
Once limits become habitual, they become invisible: we don’t even notice them anymore. We learn to live within a small space. We train ourselves not to grow beyond the box, because outside the box is scary. Outside the box the grapes are as big as beach balls. Outside the box we are afraid we will be as insignificant as grasshoppers.
Spiritual life calls us to recognize our own fear. To notice what buttons are pushed when we think about expanding beyond whatever our limits have been. To breathe into the paralyzing fear of failure, of smallness, of taking on something we won’t be able to handle. And spiritual life calls us to breathe through that fear, and to step into the unknown.
When we sing “Mi Chamocha,” the song at the sea, I often invite us to remember a time in our lives when we’ve felt like the children of Israel trapped between the Egyptian army and the sea. A time when it felt as though there was no way through. And I invite us to recognize that no matter what seas we’re facing, we don’t have to cross them alone.
We stand at the shore of the sea no less than our ancient ancestors did. And no less than our ancient ancestors, we are always at the cusp of the land of promise. A place of expansiveness, a place of nourishment and sweetness, a place of divine flow.
We will have to acknowledge our fears in order to get there. We may have to accept our own feelings of smallness. But we can choose to trust even though we are afraid. And when we do, the One Who accompanies us in all of our changes will accompany us into infinite possibility. Kein yehi ratzon — may it be so.
This is the short d’var Torah that Rabbi Rachel offered this past Friday evening at Kabbalat Shabbat services. (Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)