Confidence Is A Must; Cockiness Is A Plus
Numbers 13:1 – 15:41
June 7, 2010
This dvar torah was originally given as a speech to Sixth Street Minyan on June 4, 2010.
According to one of the greatest sources of Jewish wisdom, “Jewish women are most attracted to men who are highly confident, but not so confident that they are perceived as being arrogant.”
JDate goes on to define confidence as “a man who knows his ability and moves forward without fear.”
This week’s Torah portion places a similarly high level of importance on confidence.
Chapter 13 in the book of Numbers—which is where we are in this week’s Torah portion—begins with God’s commandment that Moses send twelve men—one from each of the twelve tribes—to spy on the inhabitants of the holy land in preparation for its conquest.
Unfortunately, this espionage mission doesn’t involve any devious bad guys, any special gadgets, or any enticing women as modern day spy stories would have it. The Israelites do, however, bring back a cluster of grapes, and some pomegranates and figs.
These objects—the grapes, pomegranates, and figs—are the first subject of conversation when the spies return to the Israelite camp. The scouts then rave about the beauty of the land and the milk and honey.
But then things take a turn for the worse and the spies offer the following report:
“We came to the land to which you sent us, and it is flowing with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who inhabit the land are mighty, and the cities are extremely huge and fortified, and there we saw even the offspring of the giant. We are unable to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.” (Num 13:27 – 13:28)
This report doesn’t go down too well with the Israelites, most of who become too depressed to move forward. They make mutinous complaints and even entertain the possibility of returning to slavery in Egypt.
As chapter 14, verse 2 says:
“All the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the entire congregation said, ‘If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had died in this desert. Why does the Lord bring us to this land to fall by the sword; our wives and children will be as spoils. Is it not better for us to return to Egypt?’”
This in turn angers God, who punishes all of the Israelites who lose faith, especially those of the scouts who brought back such discouraging news.
The only people who escape punishment are people like Caleb, who, even after hearing the report, confident announces that the Israelites can defeat the giants. Bring it on.
So what does this Portion teach us?
The Portion instructs us that often time the critical factor in a battle (be it a baseball game or, as suggested earlier, a date) is that you know what skills you have and that you have confidence in them.
With God on their side, the Israelites should have never questioned their ability to conquer the holy land, it shouldn’t have matter whether the land was filled pneumatic teenagers or “giants” as it supposedly was.
But having already thrown in the towel, the Israelites were bound to lose no matter who the opponent.
The sages use this passage to teach us a greater lesson. The world, they say, is a mirror. It reflects us. Simply put, if we are unconfident, faithless, and shy, then we will look into a mirror and see something—like giant warriors—that will confirm our lack of confidence. The men in the holy land weren’t giants, and the walls and towers weren’t insurmountable; they were absolutely normal. The scouts simply created a vision of something that confirmed their lack of confidence and faith. Similarly, the sages teach us that if we are cynical and always think that people are bad and deceitful, then when we look into the mirror, we will see only people who are bad and deceitful.
So in the end, the wisdom produced by the Portion is similar to wisdom we’ve hear before (this isn’t terribly surprising given that the Torah is at the heart of Western Civilization). The world is what we make of it. If we’re happy and optimistic, then we will see things that confirm our optimism and happiness. If we’re confident and full of faith, then our scouts will see a competing army that can be easily crushed.
So be happy and be confident in yourself and your people. In the words of one my favorite Torah scholars, in the song “Radar,” Britney Spears says “Confidence is a must, cockiness is a plus.”