Shelach Lecha 5779. Reality and Perceived Reality
The Israelite spies get scared by the giants in the land of Canaan. In truth, it is a reflection of their self-perception:
All the people that we saw in it are men of great size; we saw the Nephilim there—the giants descended of the Nephilim—and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them (13:33)
In fact, the spies only encounter three giants. But they imagine them as incredibly intimidating. Since they see themselves as grasshoppers, they suppose that the enemy look at them that way. Moreover, they term these giants as “Nephilim” mythic creatures descended from a union of mighty angels and humans – see Bereshit 6:4-5. And this encounter somehow colours their entire perception.
How often does this happen to us?
We see a goal or challenge is impossible, we imagine the likelihood of success as improbable. We perceive the obstacles as insurmountable.
Why does this happen?
What is fascinating is that the following lines give us a window to a reverse perspective in self-perception, and a reverse perspective in assessing the enemy.
1. When Moshe is praying for the people, he says to God:
“Now they have heard that You, O Lord, are in the midst of this people; that You, O Lord, appear in plain sight when Your cloud rests over them and when You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night.” (14:14)
This is a very different perspective. God is visibly present in the camp of Israel! Other nations see God’s cloud and pillar of fire in plain view. And it is an intimidating sight. Moses sees it, but somehow it makes little impression upon the nation of Israel.
2. Joshua and Calev challenge the nation and say:
“If the Lord is pleased with us, He will bring us into that land, a land that flows with milk and honey, and give it to us… Have no fear then of the people of the country, for they are our “bread”. Their shadow has been removed from them! the Lord is with us. Have no fear of them!” (14:8-9)
This passage is full of metaphors, but the Shadal explains the notion of a shadow:
“Their shadow is removed: They have no protection, and we are the opposite – God is with us! In sunny regions, people’s primary protection must be from the sun; this “shade” is a metaphor here for protection."
Now all of this goes back to a question not of reality but of perceived reality. It is the illusion of strength or vulnerability which is at stake here. This is a psychological war, a battle for confidence.
I find it fascinating that this battle against a giant is repeated, in reverse, later in history:
When the nation of Israel encounter Goliath:
"A champion of the Philistine forces stepped forward; his name was Goliath of Gath, and he was six cubits and a span tall. He had a bronze helmet on his head, and wore a breastplate of scale armor, a bronze breastplate weighing five thousand shekels. He had bronze greaves on his legs, and a bronze javelin [slung] from his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s bar, and the iron head of his spear weighed six hundred shekels; and the shield-bearer marched in front of him. He stopped and called out to the ranks of Israel and he said to them, “… Choose one of your men and let him come down against me. If he bests me in combat and kills me, we will become your slaves; but if I best him and kill him, you shall be our slaves and serve us…I herewith defy the ranks of Israel. Get me a man and let’s fight it out!” When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and terror-stricken."
The extensive description of Goliath, his height and armour and confidence, intimidates both the king of Israel and the nation as well. But David is not intimidated. “Who is that uncircumcised Philistine that he dares defy the ranks of the living God?” says David. Here too, David feels God’s insult and it is God that gives him fortitude:
"You come against me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come against you in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of the ranks of Israel, whom you have defied. 46This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hands. I will kill you and cut off your head; and I will give the carcasses of the Philistine camp to the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth. All the earth shall know that there is a God in Israel. 47And this whole assembly shall know that the Lord can give victory without sword or spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and He will deliver you into our hands.”
This is the inverse of our chapter, as David manages to sway the battle in Israel’s favour. Calev and Joshua were unsuccessful in this endeavour.
So, please discuss.
Where do we get our perceptions from?
Can you name a situation in which psychology has paid a prominent role in war?
We are not in a war right now. What situations do you feel you have the mental advantage, and when do you feel intimidated?
Is there anything to be done about it?