The Challenge of Leadership
This week’s parasha, Sh’lach L’cha, begins with God commanding Moses, “Sh’lach L’cha anashim…”, to send men to scout/spy out the land. The command, “Sh’lach L’cha” reminds us of another parasha that begins similarly: Lech L’cha. In the latter, Abraham is commanded to “Go forth” from his land, the place of his birth, from his father’s house to the land which God will show him.
Both parashiot could have begun without the second word, “L’cha.” In both parashiot the word “l’cha” is meant to show that the person being commanded has to make the decision to actually go. Abraham is told, “Go forth (for yourself) from your land, etc…” Moses is being told, “(You yourself) send men….” The commentary in the Etz Hayim chumash notes that God removed God’s-self from taking an active role in the mission. Moses must decide for himself to take this important step as a leader and send spies into the Land that God had promised them. He appoints a representative from each of the 12 tribes to scout out the Land. Moses, however, learns that the decision to send the spies did not get the consensus that he had hoped for.
Ten spies came back with a report that the inhabitants of the Land were giants who completely dwarfed them. “There we saw the sons of Anak (giants); we saw ourselves as grasshoppers, and so they saw us as such.” What an incredible psychological insight of their low self esteem!
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein tells a story about Mickey Mantle, the famous New York Yankees baseball player and member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. As a teenager playing in the minor leagues, Mantle wasn’t much of a star. In fact, due to his poor performance, the young Mantle became discouraged. Feeling sorry for himself, he decided that he had had enough and called his father to come and take him home. When his father arrived, Mickey didn’t get the expected sympathy and reassurance. Instead, the father looked his son in the eyes and said, “Okay, if that’s all the guts you’ve got, you might as well come home with me right now and work in the mines.” His father’s rebuke was like a slap in the face. Mantle decided to stick it out and went on to make baseball history.
After the pessimistic report of ten of the spies, their low self-esteem was felt by the Israelite community and they, too, became discouraged and lost all hope. The fate of the community had been sealed by God… the generation that left Egypt would not be permitted to enter the Promised Land, with the exception of the two spies, Joshua and Caleb, who returned from their mission with a positive and encouraging report.
Rabbi Eckstein reminds us that sometimes the greatest gifts come disguised as something less than pretty and appealing. It doesn’t feel good to be rebuked, but good advice or sound criticism can improve our lives infinitely. It’s up to us to be brave enough to seek out advice for self-improvement from those we trust and who love us. Those of us who support Jewish Day Schools know that they provide the kind of environment for our children’s self-esteem to grow strong and for them to become confident and positive thinking adults.
Rabbi Ira Korinow, Schechter Alumni Parent, Rabbi Emeritus, Temple Emanu-El • Haverhill, MA, Interim Rabbi, Temple Israel • Portsmouth, NH