I Think I Can’t – Parshat Shlach Lecha 5775

I Think I Can't

Watching my daughter Shiri learn to walk was a little humorous and a little frustrating all at the same time. As she demonstrated when she started to crawl, she’s the kind of kid who waits to get really excited about something until she can master it. She took her first real steps without any help at fourteen and a half months. But as soon as we’d start to cheer her on, she’d lose her confidence and plop down and revert back to crawling. Walking was new and scary, but she was an expert at crawling, so the second she’d feel a wobble or a moment of imbalance, she’d simply give up. In her mind, this was a sign that she wasn’t ready yet.

It is human nature to be concerned about doing something “the right way.” Even if I’m trying something new, I want it to be perfect. But because change is difficult, it can be a long, hard path to full confidence.

So much of the struggle is mind over matter. Often what it comes down to is getting into the right mental space to create the confidence; adopting the right mindset is critical for completing a task.

Dr. Carol Dweck is a leading researcher at Stanford University in the field of motivation. Dr. Dweck studies the brain and our thought patterns and posits that there are two mindsets we all have: “Fixed” and “Growth.”

Fixed Mindset: A Fixed Mindset occurs when people believe that attributes such as intelligence are unchangeable. This mindset is based on the notion that talent alone creates success, and effort is a sign of weakness rather than a way to reach one’s fullest potential.

Growth Mindset: A Growth Mindset is one in which people believe that these attributes can be “grown” through learning. With this mindset, people believe that their abilities and talents can be developed over time. This view fosters a love for learning, a drive for growth, and the resilience essential for great achievement.

This week we read parshat Shlach Lecha. 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 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.

This is a crucial chapter in the narrative of the Israelites. At this point we’ve already heard their constant complaining about life being better in Egypt, but this complete lack of faith in themselves and in God is a considerable blow. The distinction couldn’t be clearer between the fixed mindset of slavery exhibited by most of the spies and the growth mindset of Joshua and Caleb, who do believe that they can conquer the land. The simple fact that they believe in themselves means they are more likely to try. For the rest of the spies in the fixed mindset, it’s a lack of faith in their own abilities and a fear of failure that holds them back.

We hear a lot about the concept of self worth, but we don’t tend to talk as much about self trust. This week, parshat Shlach Lecha reminds us that a growth mindset doesn’t ignore our current abilities; it simply allows us to trust our mental capacity. May we accept and rise to the challenges before us, confident that personal potential is the most incredible strength we possess.

Send Me On My Way – Parshat Shlach Lecha 5773

As the year comes to a close, I find myself in a nostalgic frame of mind.  It isn’t easy saying goodbye to our eighth graders, many of whom have been here since before they could walk.  This is, after all, where they grew up, the place where they have learned so much and made many of their best friends, and the place they have called a home for so many years.  Now the time has come for the students to pack their backpacks for the last time and face the relative independency of high school.  Like parents on the first day of kindergarten (or just about any year, for that matter), we as the teachers and administrators hope the students have learned and internalized the lessons we have tried to impart.  Reflecting on the tools we’ve given them, we feel confident they will succeed in the world, and we anxiously wait to hear about their journeys and triumphs as they continue to grow.

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.

However, Moshe is in for a surprise when the spies return.  Not only do the majority of them turn bitter and cynical on their journey, but their negative attitude continues to infect the entire nation.  If it sounds familiar, it’s also the kind of rebellious teenage group-think that tends to crop up just when the end of the school year is in sight.  Ten of the twelve spies insist that the people in the Promised Land are masterful warriors and will certainly overpower the Israelites.  The pessimism is palpable in the retelling of their expedition.  While Caleb and Yehoshua do come back with a more positive outlook on the situation, the damage has already been done by the other ten.

In this moment both God and Moshe exhibit great frustration, and in their anger they punish the Israelites.  God decides that no person over the age of twenty at the time the Israelites left Egypt would be allowed into the new land.  The text almost reads as if God is coping with a failure with this first generation.  It’s a similar feeling when we read parshat Noach, in which God is so angered by the state of human existence that it’s time for a clean slate.

As we say goodbye to the eighth graders and to our students for the summer, we send them out with pride knowing how much they’ve achieved and grown in the past year and over the years at Levine.  We hope that the summer brings with it positivity and great memories.  Most of all, we look forward to their return with reports of the world they’ve encountered and the lessons they’ve learned.

THIS TOO IS TORAH: This parsha is called Shlach Lecha, literally “send to you.”  Since the spies return with varying reports, it’s clear that perspective plays a big role in our experiences. As modern commentator Dr. Jay Michaelson suggests, perhaps what the spies were really meant to learn about was themselves and how to confront their fears before they could conquer them.

via Send Me On My Way ~Parshat Shlach Lecha 5773.