Friday, June 16, 2017

Sh'lach Lecha: Feeling Low Like a Locust (Guest Post)

Hello everyone! Last week, I was on vacation, so you didn't get a blog post. This week, we have unfortunately had several deaths in the congregation, though we're also joyfully celebrating a Bar Mitzvah; but all of it means I'm swamped! Luckily, my colleague, Rabbi Kelilah Miller, offered to "guest blog," and so here is her terrific post for this week's Torah portion:

I am honored to be invited to be a guest blogger this week - thanks to Rabbi Gerber for sharing this platform so generously. Before I get into this week’s parashah, I
want to come clean about something - I spend more time than I would like worrying about what other people think. How I look, how I come off in conversation, how my voice sounds on a given day. When I wear my kipah in public, I wonder what people think about that, too. What’s funny is that when I receive information (positive or negative) about how others do perceive me, I tend to only “hear” the part that confirms my own sense of self.  If I am feeling low about myself, I am more likely to take criticism as fact, or I might even imagine that others are observing me critically.. On a rough day, this can turn into a problematic feedback loop.  

I feel reasonably safe admitting this because my guess is that I am not alone.  I think that it is easy for many of us to spend a lot of our mental and emotional energy trying to figure out what others think, and we also tend to filter our understanding of how others see us through the lens of our existing self-image.

The good news is that our tradition is very clear about the fact that this is an error, and we are warned against letting this kind of cycle run away with us. One of the most colorful warnings comes from this week’s parashah.  
Our Torah portion deals with a secret spy mission into the Land of Israel - the spies are sent to determine whether the Land is as bountiful as God had promised, and they are also told to report on the military defenses of the people who already live there. When the spies return from their mission, all except two of them declare that the cause is hopeless. They report “There we saw the Nephilim, the sons of Anak, who come from the giants; and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight” (Numbers 13:33). This assessment of the situation leads the people, as a whole, to rebel against God and Moses, asking (once again) to return to slavery in Egypt rather than die by the sword. God declares the People unready to enter the Land, and they must wait another 40 years before making the attempt again.

While the 40 years of wandering is certainly framed as a punishment in the Torah, I also like to think that God (like any good educator) is also offering a teaching
through the form of the consequence imposed. When the People of Israel are stuck in a feedback loop of self-judgment and despair, God forces them to stop, step back, and take more time before acting. This is, in fact, good advice for all of us who may find ourselves in this situation from time to time. As we spend this Shabbat in Parashat Sh’lach Lecha, I want to offer the practice of Shabbat rest as an opportunity to stop, recalibrate, and get grounded in a sense of real self worth - the self-worth that comes from honoring our common humanity, and not from how we look, what we achieve, or how we think others might judge us.

Photos in this blog post:
1. CC image courtesy of Margareta Gaik on Wikimedia Commons
2. CC image courtesy of Deepugn on Wikimedia Commons
3. CC image courtesy of Bidgee on Wikimedia Commons

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