It was September 18, 1978. I was nine years old. I have only vague memories of that year, but I remember that day. I remember sitting in my family room and watching the evening news. I remember hearing the announcement of a peace deal between Israel and Egypt. And I remember seeing clips of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, two men who seemed to me, at the time, old. Grandfatherly. Their faces were somehow familiar, both intimate and joyful.
As the two men shook hand with U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Menachem Begin placed his left hand on top of their two, clasped hands, sealing their grasp in a symbolic gesture that mirrored his embrace of the moment. These two men—these two warriors—had seen the past; they had fought in wars and lived with war, and then, somehow, from opposite sides of a line in the sand, they found a way to fight for peace together. To this day, I remain in awe of their ability to envision and to pursue a future that others couldn’t imagine.
This week’s Torah portion, Sh’lach, recounts a different time, a time when vision and action diverged. Moses employs twelve spies to view the land of Canaan and report on their findings. Their reports are laden with fear and doubt. One spy, Caleb, implores the Israelites to go forth, to vanquish their enemies. But others reply that they cannot go forward, that the enemy is too strong. Still others recount their experience of a land “that consumes its inhabitants. All the men we saw there were huge!”
“We felt like tiny grasshoppers!” they cry. “That’s all that we were in their eyes!”
All that we were in their eyes? When did the spies speak with or interact with these so-called giants? In whose eyes were the spies like tiny grasshoppers? Ten of the twelve spies are paralyzed by self-doubt, and so the die is cast. The Israelites wander in the desert for forty years.
When Begin and Sadat made peace, the moment spoke of how doubt can make way for confidence and conviction. But all such peace is built upon trust and understanding.
As new leaders emerge, may they have the ability to discern between their own doubts and suspicions and the greater needs of peoples and nations.