Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Shlach Lecha
To dedicate this lesson



Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Sivan 5777
What’s in a word? A lot, of course, and sometimes even "nothing" can be a whole lot of something.

The portion of the M’Raglim, the spies, or scouts in our Sedra, is a dramatic turning point in Jewish history. We were poised to enter the Land of Israel, to complete our transformation from slave people to preeminent nation.
We had been miraculously liberated from Egypt, had received the Torah at Har Sinai, we had built the magnificent Mishkan. All that remained to complete our metamorphosis was to take control of our G-d given homeland of Israel.

But, alas, it was not to be. We suddenly, tragically lost faith and declared that we were unable to conquer the land. As a result, we would wander in the desert for 40 years, and a whole generation of 600,000 souls would die out.

What happened? What fatal flaw brought us down?

The answer can be encapsulated in just one word: "Efes." In classic Freudian style, the spies throw in this word – which essentially means, "nothing" and actually has no meaning at all in the pasuk (13:28) – as a subconscious reflection of themselves. It is what they thought, deep down in their psyche, of their ability – or lack thereof - to invoke Hashem’s blessing and win the land.

In short, the spies primarily lost faith not so much in G-d, as they did in themselves. They saw the other nations as giants, while they saw themselves as tiny, insignificant grasshoppers. They revealed their faults in a simple sentence: "So we were in our own eyes, and thus we appeared in their sight." If you think of yourself as a nobody, a nothing, that is exactly how others will view you. It was this crippling self-doubt that weakened the spies' resolve and prevented them from going forward.

For years, the Arab enemies on our northern border looked down from the Golan Heights and shot at everything that moved, killing many of our people and forcing us to go about our lives in great danger, But we never capitulated, never ran away. When finally we captured the Golan – making it a permanent part of Israel – we found a record of what the Syrian commander there had said about us: "From this great height," he remarked ironically, with awe and grudging admiration, "the Israelis look 10 times bigger!"

The lack of self-confidence and self-esteem is the single greatest barrier to our walking tall and claiming our rightful destiny. A human being, and certainly a Jew, must know that he counts mightily in G-d’s eyes. In fact, if we do that which He expects from us, we are no less than Number One. And that is a world away from being an Efes, a zero.
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