If You Could See You Like I See You – Parshat Shlach Lecha 5781

I struggle with body dysmorphia. It isn’t something I talk about often, and this is probably the first time I’ve shared it so very publicly. I’m not exactly sure how I got to this point, but when I look at my physical self, I see my flaws instead of my strengths. What’s even more frustrating than this disconnect is the fact that I’m aware of it. I know the way my eyes view my body is a distortion of the reality of what others see. It’s like I’m at war with myself. My body birthed two incredible babies, and my legs carry me an average of 130 miles a week; yet, there are days when I look in the mirror and can’t see past my own perceived flaws instead of the strengths that I know are there. 

If you know someone who struggles with body dysmorphic disorder, you know there’s no “cure” or any way to talk them out of it. It’s an uphill battle no matter how much you praise their strength or beauty or how much you gently try to remind them that the issue is mental and not physical. When I get stuck in these moments, the thing that helps most is going back to a list I’ve made for myself of things I love about me. It’s not just physical things, but things that make up my entire being. This is usually the most reliable way to help me become “unstuck” from that destructive thinking mode.

While not all of us might have to deal with body dysmorphia, we all go through moments of doubt. Each of us is likely to experience times when we let negative feelings creep in. Our Torah portion this week reminds us that while being in a self-doubt rut isn’t helpful, there’s power in reframing our reality.

This week we read Parshat Shlach Lecha and the story of the spies. The parshah begins with Moshe sending 12 spies, one from each tribe, into the land of Cana’an to bring back an accounting of the land. The spies return with their report, and it’s pretty discouraging. Two spies report back with a positive message, but the negativity of the other ten reports instills so much fear into the nation that they decide they do not want to make the journey into the promised land after all. This infuriates God, who then decrees that anyone who went out from Egypt at age 20 or older will not be allowed to enter the land of Cana’an. This generation will purposefully die out so that a new generation, unfettered by the destructive mindset of their predecessors, can start anew.

At the end of chapter 13, the spies come back and share their story. They use a lot of negative language when they compare themselves to the Canaanites. They use phrases like “we cannot rise up” and “it is stronger than we” and “we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves.” Each statement is another way of saying “We’re not good enough, we are unable, unworthy, weak.” It’s not based in reality, as we find out, but in their perceptions. The Israelites lose sight of the fact that not only is God with them, but they have already overcome so many battles and struggles.

Somehow, the Israelites cannot imagine that others would see them as strong, brave, worthy or powerful. Instead of taking stock of how awesome and incredible they are, they’re comparing how they measure up to others. This toxic outlook spread beyond the spies to the entire nation, and it would have been the single viewpoint, were it not for Joshua and Caleb and their perspective. It wasn’t merely a different accounting of the land. Joshua and Caleb reminded the Israelites of God’s power and of their own strength, and they fought to push the other, more negative narrative aside. 

Like Joshua and Caleb reminding the Israelites how strong and courageous they are, Parshat Shlach Lecha is a reminder to us all that our perspectives of ourselves are sometimes so skewed that they leave reality in the dust. As we start to reopen our communities and see each other more often face to face, let’s remember that the version of someone you’re seeing might not be the version of themselves they saw for the last 15 months. Instead, let’s promise to recognize and reconnect with each other’s inner beauty and strength. That is truly how we’ll lift one another up.

If Only – Parshat Shlach Lecha 5780

Different choices, different paths

As someone who is a poor decision maker, I often find myself second guessing the choices I’ve made. Usually, the bigger the decision, the more doubt I have, even if the decision truly is the right one. My mind always wanders down the path not taken, wondering what would have happened. How would my life have played out differently if any of my major decisions had gone the other way? That’s not to say I’d necessarily change anything if I could. Yes, like most people, I may always have to deal with a little bit of self-doubt, but this type of natural curiosity is also a part of living life.

There also seems to be quite a bit of this “what if” mentality making its way into discussions everywhere as we attempt to battle contagious diseases and racial inequality. Unfortunately, we rarely get to see both sides of the coin. We rarely have the opportunity to see what would have happened under different circumstances, or if different decisions had been made.

Interestingly, our Torah portion this week presents us with such an example. In the Torah, we’ve now reached the point when the Israelites are ever closer to reaching the Promised Land and their own new beginning. Parshat Shlach Lechah, our Torah portion this week, teaches us about the nature of change and the emotions that come with it. The text begins with Moshe sending out twelve men, one from each tribe, to look at the land of Cana’an. As the spies venture out, one can imagine Moshe standing and watching them fade into the distance, hoping they’ll come back with a positive report. Like any parent or teacher, he knows they might be nervous or scared, and he hopes that they represent their community with good faith and integrity. 

After the spies come back and share a horrific accounting, we hear the people’s response to the entire situation. “All the Israelites railed against Moses and Aaron. ‘If only we had died in the land of Egypt,’ the whole community shouted at them, ‘or if only we might die in this wilderness!’” This in turn leads to a series of “why.” Why did God do this? Why are we here? Why didn’t we stay in Egypt? In other words, if only we’d done this differently, maybe we wouldn’t be hungry or scared. 

Typically we ask the “if only” questions when we feel a sense of helplessness or inadequacy. We often use it as a coping mechanism for our inability to deal head-on with the problems presenting themselves. Luckily, the Torah continues with the antidote, faith. Also in Parshat Shlach Lecha, two other spies, Joshua and Caleb, offer a much more positive outlook, rooted in good faith and a sense of hope in the possibility of a brighter future. 

It’s human nature to doubt ourselves and wonder what might have happened had we made different choices. But as humans, we also have the ability to trust in ourselves, to consciously let go of the “what ifs,” and to live in the present and put faith in God and each other. We are resilient, even when it may feel difficult. The key is to open ourselves up to that different interpretation, to give ourselves the opportunity for a second opinion, and to realize that one misstep or bad choice doesn’t decide it all. Perhaps then we can turn our “if onlys” into “even ifs.”

Putting a Face with the Name – Parshat Shlach Lecha 5779

face-with-the-name.jpg

I’ve written about naming and the meaning of names before, but it seems it keeps catching my eye in various places in the Torah. I always recall how we named our two children. With our daughter, we had a few good alternatives, but Shiri was our favorite girl’s name. For Matan, it was a little different. Most of you know that his English name is Max, and his Hebrew name is Matan (meaning “gift”). But we never actually use his English name. You see, for both children we were more certain about the girls’ names than the boys names we picked, but we didn’t know if Matan would be a boy or a girl. Although “Max” was a top contender, it somehow didn’t seem to match as perfectly as we hoped when Duncan had to tell the hospital his name after he was born. Even at his bris I wasn’t so sure about it, and by the time we did realize that we were calling him Matan instead of Max, it was past the time when it would have been easy to legally change it. Despite the fact that filling out medical and other legal forms is somewhat complicated now, saying his Hebrew name each day is still a delight and joy to remember how incredible this gift is.

Names convey an identity in a couple of ways, including how we relate to family members as well as to our religion. As you probably know, the Torah is full of examples of how religion influences names. Think of the changes of Avram to Avraham, Sarai to Sarah, Jacob to Yisrael. Moshe gets his name because the Hebrew root means to be drawn up as he was drawn out of the water.

This week we read Parshat Shlach Lecha and the story of the spies. The parshah begins with Moshe sending 12 spies, one from each tribe, into the land of Cana’an to bring back an accounting of the land. The spies return with their report, and it’s pretty discouraging. Two spies report back with a positive message, but the negativity of the other ten reports instills so much fear into the nation that they decide they do not want to make the journey into the promised land after all. This infuriates God, who then decrees that anyone who went out from Egypt at age 20 or older will not be allowed to enter the land of Cana’an. This generation will purposefully die out so that a new generation, unfettered by the destructive mindset of their predecessors, can start anew.

We tend to think of Joshua as the hero of the story because he was one of the two spies who returned with an honest, unexaggerated report of the land. However, in the list of the spies we’re given in chapter 13, verse 16 it says, “Moses changed the name of Hosea, son of Nun, to Joshua.” By adding the letter yud, the meaning of his name becomes “God will save.” Rashi interprets this change to mean “May God save you from the malign and influence of the other scouts.”

As early as the Torah, we’re given this lesson that perhaps there’s something more to a name than just an identifier. We have the power to change them, and sometimes they have the power to change us. In Judaism we have a beautiful tradition of changing the names of our loved ones in times of trauma by adding “chayim” (life) to strengthen that person with life. Imagine if we always interpreted the sound of our names being spoken out loud as very short, individual blessings bestowed on us by others. Imagine how much strength would that build. Shabbat shalom.

You CAN Handle the Truth – Parshat Shlach Lecha 5778

Copy of Copy of Rabbi Eve blog images.png

Sometimes it’s hard to tell how much collective integrity we have. We hear stories all the time about corporations putting shareholders’ interests above customers and employees or about people in positions of power using that power to take advantage of others. On the other hand, more people are standing up for their rights and making their voices heard. How often is your integrity called into question or into action? Have you had to speak out against an injustice, or if you needed to, could you? We try to teach our children that the right way is not always the popular way, but it can be a long road and a difficult lesson.

We find one such lesson in the Torah this week with Parshat Shlach Lecha and the story of the spies. The parshah begins with Moshe sending 12 spies, one from each tribe, into the land of Cana’an to bring back an accounting of the land. The spies return with mixed reviews. Two spies report back with positive findings, but the negativity of the other ten reports instills so much fear in the nation that they decide they do not want to make the journey into the Promised Land after all. This infuriates God, who then decrees that anyone who went out from Egypt at age 20 or older will not be allowed to enter the land of Cana’an. This generation will purposefully die out so that a new generation, unfettered by the destructive mindset of their predecessors, can start anew.

We don’t know the motive behind the negative report, but clearly Moshe and Aaron, as the leaders of the people, must have felt defeated. After having led the Israelites out of Egypt, making promises of a great new land, the very same group decides they want nothing to do with the land anymore, and we’re left to guess whether it was fear of change or a lack of courage on the part of the spies. What we do know is that when Joshua and Caleb come back, they offer a different report. In chapter 14, verses 6-10 we hear of all the good in the land. As they finish their report, they leave with a powerful message:

“Only you must not rebel against the Lord. Have no fear then of the people of the country, for they are our prey: Their protection has departed from them, but the Lord is with us. Have no fear of them!” As the whole community threatened to pelt them with stones, the Presence of the Lord appeared in the Tent of Meeting to all the Israelites.

Joshua and Caleb had the courage to speak the truth. They held integrity to their story and their belief in God in the face of a nation ready to rebel (again). Ultimately, Joshua and Caleb are right. They speak the truth, and as the Christian Gospel of John will instruct in a different context and 600 years later, the truth is literally what sets them free. The misguided majority dies out in the wilderness, and those with courage and integrity (Joshua and Caleb) live on to see their dreams realized. The lesson of Parshat Shlach Lecha is that certain truths don’t vary according to how many people agree. Shabbat shalom.

Life Goes On – Parshat Shlach Lecha 5777

life-goes-on

Living with a three-year-old leads itself to plenty of melodramatic moments. If the hair is not the right kind of Elsa braid, the world ends. No more purple shirts to wear? How can we possibly leave the house? The carrots touched the mac and cheese? Everything on the plate is unfit for consumption. Moments that make it seem as if the world is going to end don’t go away, they just change as we get older. Of course most of the time, we get over it and move on. The challenge is to find the appropriate reaction to our circumstances.

In the Torah, we’ve now reached the point where the Israelites are ever closer to reaching the promised land and their own new beginning. Parshat Shlach Lechah, our Torah portion this week, teaches us about the nature of change and the emotions that come with it. The text begins with Moshe sending out twelve men, one from each tribe, to look at the land of Cana’an. As the spies venture out, one can imagine Moshe standing and watching them fade into the distance, hoping they’ll come back with a positive report. Like a parent or teacher, he knows they might be nervous or scared, and he hopes that they represent their community with good faith and integrity.

The spies check out the land and all but two come back with a doom and gloom report of what lies ahead. New places can be scary, and the spies admittedly see that. However, new places are also full of possibility; only Joshua and Caleb have eyes to see that. As the spies share their negative experience of the promised land, the Israelites, like the melodramatic teenagers they are, react negatively. “If only we had died in the land of Egypt,” the whole of the community shouted at Moses and Aaron. Yes, rather than take on the new challenge in a new land, the Israelites, tired, overwhelmed, and scared, would have rather died.

In life there are moments where we feel helpless, inadequate, and unable to deal. But, as a part of a community, we can support one another through these moments and press on. Parshat Shlach Lecha reminds us that we always possess the power to do just that.