Yom Rishon, 17 Av 5779
Sunday, 18 August 2019
Parashat Shelach L'cha 2015

Parashat Shelach L'cha 5775
10th June 2015 - Rabbi Rebecca Qassim Birk

Positive thinking has caught the zeitgeist of the moment. Whether it’s mindfulness or meditation the power of positivity is well understood.· It’s a matter of discipline and commitment so Daniel Gilbert the Harvard Professor suggests· in his book Stumbling upon Happiness. He writes that the one really remarkable achievement of the the human is to imagine ’To imagine, is to see the world as it isn’t and has never been but might be ‘....·

And he insists, even better is to anticipate it positively. Not always easy, but at least not buying into the instinct of fear that blocks the future. This is human beings’ greatest challenge and greatest joy apparently, which seems very true to me.

It’s an interesting lens through which to read this week’s Torah portion.· Shelach Lecha narrates the discouraging report from the ten messengers/spies that went out to scout the land promised to the B’nei Yisrael.

They are impressed by it and share the bounty when they return, of grapes the size of grapefruit, carried by four men, and describe ... indeed it flows with milk and honey..But that’s all nothing because the people of the land are fierce.... And so, in one small word they eradicate the positive imagination and introduce fear and negativity.

The spies get bad press for this manipulation of the people. Nachmanides, Spanish commentator of the 13th century writes their mistake was in the word effess which means zero. In other words, everything good about the land is of zero importance compared to its horrific possibilities. So...the entire community broke into loud cries and the people wept that night.’(14:1)

A phrase remarkably similar to this describes Israel’s response to crossing the sea of reeds; ‘Moses and the children ofIsrael sang a song to the Eternal’. Only one word recorded in the spy story is missing in the sea crossing episode. Kol. All. Some of them sang. But all the community wept in fear and negative anxiety. ‘if only we had died in the land of Egypt or indeed if only we might die here in this wilderness.....(14:2)·

How quickly and easily all of them fell into that negative and punitive view of themselves and their future. It was obviously so infectious.· The grapes were like grapefruit but we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves and so we must have done to them...(13:33) Sigmund Freud coined the term wunscherfüllung wish fulfilment in 1900 in an early text titled The Interpretation of Dreams. the satisfaction of a desire through a thought process, the working out of our own neuroses or conflicts. In other words, seeing the glass ‘half empty’ may result in the experience confirming likewise.

Could this be why God is so furious with the spies and the people? Their wish fulfilment is to see themselves negatively?

They poison the future by creating disbelief, lack of confidence and negative associations infectious and persuasive as those are. So they make disaster a reality when God exclaims. I will do to you· just as you have urged Me....(14:18).· God is angry because the human heart is a fragile thing filled with fear.· Where was the courage,optimism and self belief? The Spies’ tone is coercive and that’s why they all wept, because the word effess was so powerful.·

Low morale can be a wish fulfilment. It’s so easy to fall into. That view of ourselves and the future. This week’s parashah is a great reminder of the power of the mind to enthuse or terrify. Neither can necessarily be trusted. Daniel Gilbert suggests meeting the future evenly and openly is made easier by focusing on the positives, naming 5 causes of gratitude a night as we anticipate what’s to come. It’s no surprise this portion ends with L’maan Tizkiru... remembering our place, our past and our preciousness. Thus shall you be reminded.. I am the Eternal your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be Your God....(15:41)

We have to keep counteracting the effess we are so drawn to and try to anticipate with imagination and hope.