Perspective can make or break the world.
What is dismissed as small or unimportant, could in fact be crucial.
Where some people see problems, others see not problems but challenges.
Bigger might not always be better, nor is more sophisticated always the most efficacious.
When some see crisis, others see opportunity.
When some fearfully warn, others encourage hope…
In this week’s Torah portion, Sh’lach Lecha, spies are sent to scout out the Promised Land. All the spies see the same things. Except for Joshua and Caleb, the spies give a bad report on the Land and express fear and doom if they try to enter it. Joshua and Caleb give a glowing report and express the hope that the Land is there for them to take and inhabit. The people hear the fear and take the warning. As a result, the entire generation of Israelites proves itself unworthy of going to the Promised Land. They wander the desert for another 38 years or so until they all die off in the wilderness. It will fall to a new generation to go up and conquer the Land on which to build the utopian society the Torah prescribes.
Why is it that Caleb and Joshua are positive, see the opportunity and the challenges rather than the crisis and obstacles and problems? Why are they hopeful when all the others are fearful? What gives them their positive perspective, and why do the others see it all so negatively?
I wonder how careful are we about the “perspectives” we choose to let inform us about what is going on in the world, about other people, about ourselves? How successful are we at choosing our own – wholly our own – perspective on the issues and about the souls (family, friends, acquaintances) that are bound up with our own existence in our day and in our world. Do we know enough “Joshuas and Calebs” whose positive outlook can shape our own, or do we know and listen to far more people who are like the other spies – those whose askance views poison our possibilities and condemn us to wandering lost?
How can we always tell who is whom?
Perhaps this story (told in various permutations) will give some perspective on possible answers:
There was once a very caring and holy person who saw so much suffering and things going wrong in the world that he resolved to devote his life to fixing it. After many years of dedicated work, he realized the world was too big for fixing and instead he resolved to fix his country. After much effort day and night, he realized that perhaps focusing just on fixing the problems in his own town might be the place to start. When this too proved an impossible challenge, the caring and dedicated soul resolved to help his own family become the best people they could be and exemplify all that needs to be right in the world. Once again, he finally realized that the task was too large. He resolved only to fix himself, to start there in order to heal the whole world.
Rabbi Michael Schwartz