Are You Transmitting Fear or Courage?
As Jewish parents, grandparents, and teachers, we need to find ways to transmit the values of the Jewish tradition to each generation. In Parashat Shelach, Moses sends leaders to scout the land of Canaan in order to find a way to enter it and leave the desert behind them. These leaders return and tell Moses that while the land is flowing with milk and honey, it is inhabited by giants. Their fears overcame their better judgment and they exaggerated what they saw in order to instill fear in others.
One of the ways that many of us deal with our fears is to tell ourselves stories that misrepresent reality. When these mistruths prevent us from doing something we know we should do, they operate as obstacles. When a coach wants a team to overcome their fears of losing against a champion adversary, s/he realistically assesses the situation and encourages teammates to act courageously in facing their fears. When teenage girls want to do something that has been reserved for boys, we don’t exaggerate their fears; we support them in breaking through glass ceilings. The story of the scouts is a cautionary tale for all of us to look at our challenges honestly, assess the truth value of a situation, and face our fears with fortitude.
In our parashah, some of the people realized that they had made a mistake in believing the scouts and try to go into the land of Canaan without the support of God or their leadership, and therefore, they are killed trying. As a family or community, when someone makes a mistake, it is important to acknowledge that they can’t fix it by just doing what they should have done in the first place. Some mistakes are irrevocable, so we need to instill the value of truth-seeking and to teach skills that help us look for truth. Many of the communications that we are receiving over social media are not true or are distorted or exaggerated. Many of our news sources don’t check facts. Propaganda abounds along with false advertisements. The story of the scouts has a moral that can lead us to examine the truth value of our media messages.
As we move forward trying to sort out the truth values related to Covid-19, Black Lives Matter or anti-Israel campaigns, we need to discern what is true and what is not. We need to look for propaganda, exaggeration, and the sources of information to determine what to believe and how to act on those beliefs. One of the admonitions at the end of our Parashah is to wear tzitzit, the fringes on clothing, to remind us to keep the commandments. A teacher of mine relayed a story from his childhood when his cohort of friends wanted to steal some candy. Before he joined them, he touched his head and felt his kippah, his yarmulke, and was reminded that stealing was wrong. Perhaps, each of us needs such a symbol; a ring on our fingers, a kippah on our heads, or a chai necklace near our hearts. We can give such a gift to our children to remind them of our values and to offer inspiration and hope in facing challenges.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks teaches “The Jewish people are a nation of storytellers.” I invite you to join me to further explore Jewish values and the power of story in an upcoming Melton and More course starting on June 30th, “A Grandparents Guide to the Great Books of Jewish Children’s Literature”.
Join Rabbi Cheryl Weiner for
June 30, July 7, 14, 28
Tuesdays, 12:00 - 1:30 PM