Moral Confidence – Shelach

Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski made an incalculable contribution to Jewish life, creating communal awareness on issues of addiction, mental health, and abuse. He was the author of more than 80 books and would comment wryly that he was addicted to publishing. But with all the subjects he tackled, he based everything on the single theme of self-esteem and sourced that value and his life’s work from a single verse in our Parsha (Bamidbar 13:33): 

“We were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we were in their eyes.”

When the spies sent to scout Canaan returned, they said that the land was inhabited by a race of giants, whereas “we were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we were in their eyes.” This can be understood in two ways that are contrasting but complementary: the way you feel about yourself is how you believe others see you, and the way you feel about yourself will dictate how others see you. These are important insights into the impact of self-esteem.

As fundamental as this issue is in our self-concept, it is equally predictive of our external impact.

Avraham is described (Yehoshua 14:15; see Rashi there) as the opposite of a grasshopper, ha’adam hagadol ba’anakim, a great amongst giants. He was described (Bereishis 23:6) as a nesi Elokim, a G-dly prince, crowned as such by the world on account of his moral and spiritual greatness. Avraham assertively played a critical role in changing the world around him. As a man of spiritual greatness, he was acknowledged as the truer giant in a community of physical titans, Chevron. Avraham stepped forward with complete confidence in what his faith had to offer mankind and without any sense of inferiority. He identified the idols, making it his business to understand what others were thinking and believing, and proceeded to dismantle the ideas that had no place in a world of truth. He went beyond those who sought shelter in his tent, inviting in others whose beliefs were not yet identical with his, engaging them on their own terms and bringing them around to the truth.

This kind of moral confidence remains critical both for our religious survival and for the fulfillment of our societal mission. The world around us is imposing and impressive and we need to be confident in what we have to offer if we are to resist surrender to its values. Like Calev, we can be surrounded by a cadre of powerful and negative influencers and if we are to uphold our values, we will need to draw on a reservoir of strength and a healthy moral self-concept. Thus, notes the Chassidic master Chiddushei HaRI”M, Calev went to the city of physical giants, Chevron, and prayed and drew strength at the graves of the Avos (Bamidbar 13:22, Rashi), those whom even those titans had to acknowledge as their superior as they had in the days of Avraham. While his colleagues viewed themselves as grasshoppers, he understood that the truth to which he was committed rendered him a giant.

Only with confidence in what we bring to the table, with the recognition that the good is far more powerful than the great, will we be able to impact the world around us.