Does Eretz Yisrael sometimes feel like a dream, distant, redolent, but far from real life? After spending time here, you expected things would feel different when you head home, and you are back with people whom you love and believe in, but who didn’t share your experiences here.
You aren't alone.
In this coming week’s Parshah, we find that the Jews in the desert faced up to the same situation in reverse. They had to leave everything familiar to journey to Eretz Yisrael. Nonetheless, the results were tragically similar. They too found facing change painful. Their lack of belief in both G-d's willingness to see them through this, and ultimately their lack of faith in themselves, might resonate with you. The desert was vast, daunting, and in many ways, its emptiness evoked an excruciating sort of inner hollowness. Paradoxically every day put them face to face with Hashem. Their "normal" was miraculous. They ate mann, their clothing didn’t wear out, and Miriam’s well followed them until her death. More than any of this, the desert was a place in which they experienced Hashem by learning His Torah. Moshe taught the men, Miriam the women; every day was the spiritual equivalent of climbing Mount Everest and seeing terra firma from an entirely new angle.
Then the rules of the game changed.
Eretz Yisrael was always the long awaited fulfillment of their destiny as a chosen people. Heading towards Eretz Yisrael was the first demand G-d made of Avraham You would assume that Avraham's first prophecy would be about his destiny in the spiritual sense. It began by telling him about what he had to leave behind, and where his next stop along the way would be. G-d told Avraham to go to the land where (to use the words of the text), "areka" which doesn’t; translate literally as the “Land that I will show you” but the as the “Land in which I will show you you”. Hashem didn’t promise Avraham paradise. He held out the possibility of building a certain kind of paradise here, one in which Hashem could be revealed in the material grind of living in the here and now. This is the Land of self-discovery.
Centuries later, their descendants found the same promise to sound more like a threat. It was overwhelmingly daunting. The problem is that they felt that they would have to face the world WITHOUT the kind of miracles that took place daily in the desert. They had to come out of the bubble. They were afraid of the next step. They wanted to comprehend the Land, and to assess what they saw. Moshe attempted to quiet their fears by making it possible for them to see the Land for themselves. His goal was to get them to recognize that the same G-d who told them to enter and conquer the land, is the One who made it virtually impossible for them to do so without His help. They were right. The land couldn't be conquered by them alone. They are NOT alone, and never were! The spies who were sent were meant to tell the truth, unvarnished, and bare. The Land was populated by people who are bigger than life, who live in open cities because they feared no one. They knew that this is a Land that had been promised again and again. The issue is do you believe G-ds promises or not?
You may face employers or university administrators who are skeptical about Shabbos and holidays being non-negotiable. Friends who wonder if you are really still you. You are no longer in the Promised Land, you are living with other people, in civilizations that were built by them (albeit with your participation, but still theirs). Your role is to seek Hashem from the place that His providence has taken you. You have to tell yourself that you can bring Him anywhere
The spies gave up. They said, "We looked like grasshoppers to ourselves (next to them) and so did we seem to them". The problem didn't begin with how they saw us; it began with how we see ourselves.
You are in the upper ten percentile of educated Jews. Hashem brought about the situation; there are thousands of Jews who didn't have your opportunities. You have to be unafraid to be yourself if you are going to have any real influence on them or on the greater world.
Rabbi Hanoch Teller was once on a plane. He used the washroom, and when he returned to his seat he was still on the last few words of "asher yatzar", the blessing said after the bathroom. The man next to him asked him what he was muttering. He could easily have retreated into an apologetic "nothing nothing", but he didn't. He said, "I was just saying a Jewish prayer thanking G-d for having a body that works". The man was shaken to his core. He suffered from a kidney disease, and he appreciated the wonder of an operative human body the way only someone who doesn't have one can. This led to a long discussing (after all, they were on the plane…), and a moment of transformation for both of them.
The moral of the story?
Don't be a grasshopper!