The Giant and the Grasshoppers
A long, long, time ago, in a land far, far away, a weary group of travelers made camp in the desert. Each night in their tents they would speculate about the journey ahead to Israel. The children would ask their elders endless questions: when we get to Israel what will we eat? Will we need to hike? Will there be other people there? What will the weather be like? Will we still be organized by tribes or can we sit with other friends? Will there be a strict dress code? Unfortunately, the elders did not have all of the answers.
So, the weary travelers sent spies out on a reconnaissance mission, to visit the land of Israel and to see what the future held.
The spies visited the land and toured its length and breadth for forty days. They collected fruit, and returned to their desert encampment, excited to tell their stories. "It is a land flowing with milk and honey! There's also lots of schwarma and good felafel" they said. "We can definitely make it there," said two of the spies, Yehoshua and Caleb. "Absolutely not!" said the ten other spies. "There are giants in the land, and we saw ourselves as grasshoppers, and that's how we *looked* to them! There is no way this is going to work." So, God punished the ten spies for their negative attitudes.
״ונהי בעינינו כחגבים וכן היינו בעיניהם״
"We saw ourselves as grasshoppers, and that's how we *looked* to them..."
The essence of the story of the spies is that how you as a group see yourselves is how others are likely to perceive you. If you see yourselves as grasshoppers, others will perceive you in this way too. So don't! I want you to know, eighth graders, that you are stronger than you think. *You* may think you're the most challenging class we've ever had (not true!). *You* may think you get into trouble all of the time (not so!). But really, here's the real truth: you have incredible strengths and incredible accomplishments. For example, you were the first class to do a Rube Goldberg project in the seventh grade, and to date, the only class to succeed at the task! You were the first class to put "Twelfth Night" on stage. You were the first class to do a kindergarten-seventh grade buddy program, and those kindergarteners loved you--even though you didn't always see it. You have shown incredible dramatic and musical talent, as well as the technical skills to manage the stage from behind the scenes. You have shown an ability to write poetry and prose, and to make analytical arguments. You have excelled in every subject of study, and in every sport and athletic pursuit. There are also many moments when you have been an exceptionally cooperative group. I felt this way while we were preparing for the Tekes and you needed less time than usual to rehearse. I felt this way on the seventh grade trip, and again on the eighth grade trip. You were always ready on time, prepared for the day, and with minimal fuss and complaining. You are excellent travelers.
Now, speaking of insects and our trip to Israel, let's flash back to seven weeks ago, motzei Shabbat on Kibbutz Ketura. Suddenly, the noisy chaos of packing our bags is pierced by the sound of screaming. Several girls are outside of their room in a tizzy. One of the chaperones rushes into and then out of the girls' room looking a bit shaken. "It's really big," she says. "Maybe it's a scorpion, but it went under the cabinet and it won't come out. *I* wouldn't want to sleep in there." We run to the front desk in the lobby and are blessed to find David there. David is one of the Kibbutz Ketura staff members who loves us, despite our noisiness and flaws. He loves that we have hundreds of questions about kibbutz life, and he loves that we appreciate his sense of humor.
Somehow, David coaxes the insect out from under the cabinet, and he comes out of the room holding a handkerchief with something large and squirmy inside. We make a big circle around David and cautiously eye whatever he is holding in his hand--presumably a large and scary possible-scorpion. He speaks loudly and tells us that this insect, scary as it may seem, does no harm to humans, and in fact, eats scorpions. David releases the insect, which is called a giant camel spider--a scorpion eating insect--and it goes on its merry way.
So the spies see themselves as grasshoppers, and therefore, the giants view the group that way too--highlighting the problems of a negative group self-image. But what if, instead of grasshoppers, they had seen themselves as giant camel spiders? They would have still highlighted the size difference between themselves and the giants, but they probably would have felt--and seemed to the giants and themselves--much stronger and more confident. If only they had chosen to compare themselves to the more intimidating bug... Let's try this out:
Parshat shelach, version 2.0: The spies visit the land of Israel and tour the length and breadth of the land. They collect fruit, and return to their desert encampment, excited to tell their stories. "It is a land flowing with milk and honey and chumus!" "We can definitely make it there," say Yehoshua and Caleb." The other ten spies laugh in a lighthearted way. "There are giants in the land, but we imagined ourselves to be giants as well--giant camel spiders--and that's how we *looked* to them! And you know what, the other giants ran away in a panic!"
Eighth graders, no matter how you see yourselves, we--the giants in *your* lives, your parents, grandparents, and teachers--see you as bright, energetic, inquisitive, creative, talented children and students. We are grateful that you have revealed your true selves to us, and we want you to know that even if some teenagers out there look scary to some adults, *you* don't scare *us*! That's because we know you, we appreciate you, and we love you. You have considerable strengths, and we all know that you are going to use them to create incredible futures for yourselves. We will miss you--and yes your shenanigans--more than you know. Mazel tov! Mazel tov!