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When those around us despair

מה עושים מול יאוש

* Translation by Yehoshua Siskin

How do we remain optimistic when those around us despair?

In this week’s Torah portion, only two of the twelve spies — Yehoshua and Kalev — did not despair after their 40-day tour of the land of Canaan. Ten spies saw the land and panicked, feeling threatened by the giants who lived there. They abandoned their dream, believing it would be a grave mistake to settle in the land of Israel. Only Yehoshua and Kalev dared to oppose their thinking and declared: “The land is very, very good.” Today we recognize their foresight and courage.

What empowers an optimistic minority to stand firmly against a pessimistic majority? Rashi’s commentary provides insights, guiding us to look both to the past and to the future for strength.

Regarding the past, Rashi explains that Kalev visited the graves of the patriarchs and the matriarchs in the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron. He prayed that he would not be influenced by the negative report of the ten spies. Kalev’s faith in God’s promise to his nation was unwavering, and this conviction guided his actions. In the moment of crisis, he ignored the prevailing opinions, and instead sought inspiration from the Avot, and prostrated himself on the graves of Avraham and Sarah.

Regarding the future, the second spy in the minority was originally named Hoshea until Moshe Rabbeinu added a yud to his name, and changing it to Yehoshua, meaning “God will save.” Rashi points out that Moshe prayed for God to save Yehoshua from the counsel of the ten spies. From Yehoshua’s resilience, we learn the profound impact of a tzadik’s prayer. Thus, while Kalev drew strength from the past, Yehoshua was saved through Moshe’s payer for the future.

When faced with uncertainty, confusion, or disillusionment due to current challenges, turning our thoughts positively towards the past and the future can empower us with perspective and inner strength. Our collective story is far more enduring than the immediate events may suggest.


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