Many of us have become numb to events around us.
Many of us have become numb to events around us. The scale of the problems our world faces are so large, what can any of us as individuals do to change anything? Until a problem becomes personal, we can distance ourselves. And if a problem does become personal, we are often so shocked by the hardship we cannot respond.
In this week’s parshah, Shlach Lchah, Moses sends 12 scouts to tour the promised land. They return with reports of paradise. “It’s a land of milk and honey,” they say. But, “Efes”, it’s nothing, irrelevant, forget it. That beauty is inaccessible to us. “We are like grasshoppers in our own eyes.” The Israelites did not have the luxury of distancing themselves from this terror. It was their lives, not some stranger in the news. And so they broke down and cried.
The power of “I cannot” is immense. I see it everywhere, at every scale. I know children who do not achieve at school, because they do not see themselves as achievers; institutions that never rise above mediocrity, because their leadership cannot see beyond immediate limitations; individuals trapped in abusive relationships, because path to escape is often, in the short term, much more dangerous than simply staying; others trapped in poverty, because the way forward is overwhelmingly hard. Those of us who are blessed with privilege can shut down and turn away. And those who are hit by hardship are simply frozen, stuck in helplessness.
God was furious with the Israelites. God wants us to believe in the improbable, to see change as possible. Moses responds to God’s anger by calling on God’s compassion, making the problem personal. God relents, and gives the Israelites a second chance.
It will take them forty years of wandering to be ready to step forward and begin making change. But they will get there.