Parashat Shlah

The Eyes Have It

The commandment of tzitzit (fringes) follows the incident of the spies, reminding us to enhance our vision with faith and see new possibilities.

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Blessed are You, Eternal One, who helps the blind to see. (from the Morning Blessings)

Your Guide

Based on Or HaChayim, Rashi on Numbers 13:1, and Tzvi Yisrael in Torah Gems, do you think that the decision to send the scouts was a good one?

How could it have had a better outcome? How accurately did the scouts assess their potential foes? Compare the opinions of Rabbi Menahem Mendl of Kotzk with that of Sanhedrin 104b. How important was it that the scouts' report be objective?

According to Rabbi Menahem Mendl of Kotzk, what is the connection between faith and perception?

D'var Torah

This week's Torah portion provides both a diagnosis and a prescription. The diagnosis: The Israelites suffer from imperfect vision. When their leaders go to scout the land of Canaan, what they see is distorted in many ways. They see the enemy as if through a magnifying glass: Everything the enemy does or has is larger than life. And they see themselves as if through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars: as diminished and inconsequential as insects are.

But the greatest failure of the Israelite scouts lies not in their inability to see the land accurately but rather in their inability to see beyond the "reality" that confronts them. Their world, like ours, gives them many reasons to fear, to despair, and to want to return to the restrictive but familiar routine life they led in Mitzrayim (Egypt). Just as insects are drawn to a flame that will burn them, the scouts' glance is constantly drawn outward toward those things that daunt them the most.

The scouts fail to look beyond the surface reality of the "what is" that scares them to the "what could be" that might inspire them. They fail to look with the inner eyes of faith and are instead led astray by eyes that see only the worst. They forget that God, the source of belief and hope, is at least as real as any giant and that miracles happen all the time.

And so the prescription: To correct superficial vision, look at the tzitzit, a symbol of faith and steadfastness, l'maan tiz'k'ru, "so that you remember." Remember that the present is pregnant with possibility even if we can't always see it with our ordinary eyes. Remember that we are not alone and never powerless.

As we confront the giants in our personal lives and the ones that plague the world, may we train ourselves to see with eyes strengthened by faith, and may that vision inspire us to walk in paths of righteousness so that we help to create a brighter tomorrow.

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Rabbi Randy E. Sheinberg is a rabbi at Congregation Rodeph Sholom, New York, NY.