Life Goes On – Parshat Shlach Lecha 5777


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.

See For Yourself – Parshat Shlach Lecha 5776

See For Yourself

One of the areas where I struggle the most as a parent is holding myself back in order to let Shiri explore the world on her own. It’s much faster to climb a flight of stairs when I pick her up, but she needs to be able to take each step, one by one, to truly learn how to do it. The same is true of trying new foods or engaging in any other new experience. Sometimes she even learns lessons on her own despite my guidance. Sure, I can tell her the macaroni and cheese is hot and she should blow on it before digging in, but she still may insist on putting it in her mouth, only to scream that it’s too hot. Discovery is how we learn to be in the world.

There’s a big difference between experiencing the world and being told about the world. There’s a reason that experiential and project-based learning are the trends in education. Reading about solar energy could be interesting on its own, but it can’t compare to building a solar-powered kit and then charging a battery from your creation. Education excels when we do more than read the facts, we internalize them and use them in a way that opens the mind to retain the information. We see a similar pattern in the Israelites’ behavior after they leave Egypt. Upon leaving they feel strongly that life was better in Egypt. Until they actually engage with the world around them (instead of simply projecting their feelings), they’re not able to see the beauty of opportunity.

We read parshat Shlach Lecha this week, detailing the new nation’s approach to the land of Israel. The text begins with the sending of spies, one from every tribe, into the land and continues with the report they bring back. Ten of the spies return in fear, and that fear spreads throughout the rest of the nation, causing them to question even trying to enter the land. God becomes angry with the people and their inability to accept new situations, but hopes that Joshua and Caleb, the two spies bringing positive reports, can turn this attitude around.

The text may be familiar, but there’s still a puzzling reversal from how change was viewed many generations before. Earlier in the Torah in another instance when venturing into a new land is necessary, Abraham is happy to leave his home and go where God tells him. Here though, the Israelites appear afraid. This week’s text begins “Shlach l’cha,” meaning “send for yourself.” God is saying to the Israelites the trip into the land is for their own purposes, not for God’s purposes. God, as the parent, is saying, “I already told you the land was good, but you don’t seem to trust me. So go on your own and see for yourself.”

Sometimes the only way to believe is to see it with your own two eyes. Whether it’s a toddler trying to explore and learn the world around her, or a grown-up searching for some meaning in new information, understanding the world often requires active investigation, not just thoughtful consideration. Our parshah this week is the perfect reminder that there are moments to put your faith and trust in God, and there are moments when we must go out and do and see (and spy) for ourselves.

Parenting by the Parshah – Shlach Lecha

Whether it’s a giant sand dune or a strange, foreign land, new experiences are all about perspective. In Parshat Shlach Lecha, this too is Torah.

Also, I’ll be live streaming on Facebook with an “Ask a Rabbi” segment Thursday, June 30th mid-afternoon PDT (early evening EDT). Have a question that needs a rabbinical answer? Join me! Check the page for more details:

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.