Friday, May 31, 2013

Two-Minute Torah: Espionage Fail

When I studied international relations as an undergraduate a long time ago, I learned that there are two different aspects of foreign intelligence. The first is gathering information, the second is analyzing that information. They are two distinct tasks, though related. It is not enough for me to know what my potential adversary is doing. I also have to know why he is doing it and what it means. My intelligence-gathering effort can be highly accurate, but if I analyze my data wrong, I am still likely to blunder.

In this weeks Parasha, Shelach-Lecha, Moses sends 12 spies to scout out the Land of Israel. They come back, and their report throws the populace into a panic. They've concluded -- well, ten out of the 12 have concluded -- that the current inhabitants of the Land are strong and thus the Land is unconquerable.

How do they know this? Because, they report, the cities are well-fortified. Well-fortified cities mean a strong population.

Rashi points out that the spies were successful in gathering information but performed very poorly in the analysis section. Well-fortified cities are not the sign of a strong populace, he says. Quite the opposite. Cities are surrounded by high walls because their inhabitants are fearful, not because they are strong. And we know from elsewhere in the Bible that the inhabitants of Canaan feared the Israelites. We read this in Exodus at the Song of the Sea, and we will see this again almost 40 years later, when the Israelites finally conquer the Land in the haftarah which we will read Shabbat morning.

Strong, self-confident people do not need to live behind walls. We often project onto others the characteristics we most dislike about ourselves. Ten of the twelve spies lacked self-confidence. Describing their sighting of the "giant" inhabitants of the Land, "we were in our own eyes as grasshoppers, and thus we were in their eyes as well." How did they know that the Canaanites saw them as "grasshoppers"? They didn't, but because that is how they felt about themselves, they assumed that that is how they were perceived by others.

Robert Burns wrote a poem asking for the blessing of seeing ourselves as others see us. Perhaps no less important is to hope that others not see us as we see ourselves!

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