Anna Eleanor Roosevelt is rumoured to have said “whether you say you can or you can’t, you are right”. So much in our world is dependent on mind-set and attitude. Capability and strength have a massive role to play, but a negative manner can cancel all of our raw talent in one fell swoop. And no one is immune.
The above, I believe, answers a difficult question from this week’s Sedra. Even before the spies set out on their disastrous mission Moshe changes Hoshea’s name to Yehoshua ‘in order to save him from the evil design of the spies’. Yet at this point those 12 men were all honest and upright religious leaders of the Jewish Nation. Similarly, as soon as they enter into the land, Calev the only other spy not to get caught up in their hysteria, detours to Hebron in order to pray at the Cave of Machpela that he too should not be part of their nefarious plan. Again, at this point Calev’s fellow spies were not yet speaking negatively about the Land of Israel. Nothing bad had happened yet, so why did Yehosua and Calev need the extra protection?
I would like to suggest that the root of their negative report about the Land, was sown at the very outset of their journey. This wasn’t a conscious decision, and at the start they were indeed all righteous men, worthy of that name, but they looked at the task ahead of the Jewish Nation and they gave up.
Moshe saw this defeat in their eyes and blessed his student Yehoshua that he shouldn’t be similarly affected, Calev recognized it as well and prayed for assistance. Defeatism is a most contagious disease and is not easily conquered. Once infected it runs rampant through an entire group and can destroy hopes and aspirations.
At this point I have to thank a group of 100 Frum bike riders from North Manchester for the inspiration for the above Torah thought and lesson. Once a year I join them as they remove their long black coats, stop eating cholent (albeit only for one Shabbat) and creak their legs over the crossbars of the most eclectic collection of bikes you have ever seen, most of which are old, heavy and fit for the scrap heap. Last year they were raising money for a special needs school and this year it is for a fertility charity, both here in Manchester. Last night we were given the route for the ride this Sunday, and a great big groan went up, for it is going to be hard. Never mind the distance of 100k, which is about 95k more than they have ridden since last year’s ride, it is the climbing involved. For this year, it starts North of Preston in the Forest of Bowland and includes over 1500 metres of climbing. To put that in perspective, on our hardest day in Israel, when we were a confident and fit group of riders all on full carbon fibre bikes with the latest in cycling technology, we only climbed 1300 metres! So this group of overweight riders, who are cycling on nothing more than enthusiasm alone started to groan.
I watched the rapidly and exponentially growing sense of defeat and was more than slightly alarmed, and being the only Rabbi on the group (yes, even when I ride with the Frummies of North Manc, I am still the only Rabbi!!), I stepped in and shared the above thought. I reminded them that if the couples whom we are trying to help looked at the difficult road ahead of them with the same defeatism they would never get married in the first place. If they knew that there were going to have months and years of anxiety, tears and frustration as their hopes for children were dashed month after month, then they would most definitely give up even before they began. And who could blame them.
The same is true of our life journey in general. If we saw all of our ups and downs, all of our difficulties and misfortunes before we set out on our life, then we could be forgiven for giving up. Yet, the Almighty tells us to just take the first step. Don’t be complacent, don’t pretend for a moment that it’s going to be a walk in the park, but don’t get caught up in the climb coming your way. At times we will need the extra help such as our Moshe blessing his student or Calev praying and seeking out the protection of our ancestors, but don’t give up before you’ve taken the first step.
Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom
p.s. the tone on the rider’s WhatsApp group has taken a 180 degree turn and now they are so fired up that I am probably going to be the last one at the top of that mountain!