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The grasshopper mentality

Non-Jews respect Jews who respect themselves.

An image of the spies from the book of Numbers at Synagogue Or Torah in Acre, Israel. Photo: FLLL/Wikimedia
An image of the spies from the book of Numbers at Synagogue Or Torah in Acre, Israel. Photo: FLLL/Wikimedia
Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Rabbi Yossy Goldman is Life Rabbi Emeritus of Sydenham Shul in Johannesburg and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. He is the author of From Where I Stand, on the weekly Torah readings, available from Ktav.com and Amazon.

“If you lose your money, you’ve lost nothing. Money comes, money goes. If you lose your health, you’re half the man you were. But if you lose your resolve, you’ve lost it all.”

That’s a very wise proverb I often quote. It is attributed to several different people, so I’m not really sure who to credit.

This week in the Diaspora we read the Torah portion of Shelach. In it, we come across the tragic tale of the spies. These spies were sent by Moses on a reconnaissance mission to the Promised Land before the Israelites were to conquer it. The spies came back with a report that the land was impregnable and populated by fearsome giant warriors.

The people wept at the prospect of being wiped out should they attempt an invasion. God responded to their faithlessness by saying that he would have protected them and they had cried for nothing: “Mark My word. This day will be a day of weeping for generations.”

Indeed, the day was Tisha B’Av, when that generation was denied access to the Promised Land. Tisha B’Av would become the saddest day of the Jewish calendar. Both our holy Temples were destroyed on that very day, along with many other calamities throughout history. 

In their ill-fated report, the spies described how puny and insignificant they felt during their mission: “It is a land that devours its inhabitants. All the people we saw in it were huge! We saw the sons of giants … and we were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so were we in their eyes!”

Rashi says that the spies overheard the giant warriors saying to each other about the spies, “What are those little insects and grasshoppers down there that resemble people?”

But surely the sequence of this verse is wrong? Shouldn’t the order have been reversed to read, “We were like grasshoppers in their eyes and [that’s why] we felt like grasshoppers in our own eyes”?

The answer is that there is no mistake at all. Do you know why the Canaanites saw the spies as little, insignificant insects? Because that’s how the spies viewed themselves. They felt like grasshoppers in their own eyes and the effect was to make them appear that way in the eyes of others. If the spies had any self-esteem and self-respect, the Canaanites might have had some respect for them too.

This idea is extremely relevant today. Israel continues to be prodded by its friends in Washington and Brussels to make concessions to the Palestinians, promote the long-obsolete two-state solution and keep showing our goodwill to our so-called peace partners.

How long will it take for the penny to drop and for our supposedly well-meaning friends to realize that we simply do not have a genuine peace partner in the Palestinians? Moreover, every time Israel does agree to any kind of concession, it is interpreted not as a goodwill gesture but as weakness. The Palestinians then pounce on that weakness with further attacks and more terror.

We dare not be grasshoppers. We cannot afford to have a Grasshopper Mentality. Any weakness we show is immediately met by brazen aggression from our enemies who perceive us as weak.

I remember former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visiting our community in Johannesburg some years ago. He told us we should embrace the “land for peace” formula. His exact words were: “We are tired of winning!”

He was saying: After decades of Israel never being able to take a breather from its security concerns, with war after war, terror after terror, how much more can people be expected to tolerate? And yes, we’ve won the wars, but we are tired. “We are tired of winning!”

While we may sympathize with such feelings, the reality is that little Israel cannot afford to tire. We dare not lose our resolve. We may lose our money or even our health. But we dare not lose our national resolve, or it will spell the beginning of the end.

Some have argued for peace at any cost. They fail to realize that a blinkered pursuit of peace will bring no peace at all, but rather, God forbid, national suicide.

We must learn from the lesson of the spies. We cannot afford the luxury of weakness, tiredness or letting down our guard. We must be strong and proud of who we are and of our sacred, inviolable right to our precious Promised Land. If we lose our resolve, we’ve lost it all.

History has proven that the world gives us much more respect when we are strong. In the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “Non-Jews respect Jews who respect themselves.”

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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