Grasshoppers in Perth

Following on from common themes this week, I once saw a wonderful sign on my bosses desk.  It read “what other people think of me is none of my business”.

There is a time that Jewish people need to think like this.  For example, when defending the Jewish right to Israel, when developing its communities, and when observing their traditions.

A few words of Torah extracted from this weeks dvar by Rav Shlomo Riskin (who was in Australia this week, but sadly, not Perth) show this idea in the context of Parshat Shlach Lecha.

“They began to speak badly about the land that they had explored. They told the Israelites, ‘The land that we crossed to explore is a land that consumes its inhabitants. All the men we saw there were huge. While we were there we saw Nephilim… We felt like tiny grasshoppers. That’s all that we were in their eyes” (Numbers 13:32-33).

But if the land consumes its inhabitants, how is it possible that the people are huge? There should be no one alive, let alone giants and sons of the Nephillim?! As Nachmanides points out, (13:32) a poor, weak land cannot produce people strong in stature. Implicit in Nachnanides’ words is that the land is not for average people. And this is the heart of the problem.

Notice the sequence. ‘There we saw the giants. We felt like grasshoppers,’ followed by, ‘That’s all we were in their eyes’ What this points to is a common phenomenon — how we see ourselves determines how others end up seeing us. If you’re a grasshopper in someone else’s eyes, obviously he’ll crush you without a second thought, and once you think of yourself as a grasshopper, the rest of the world seconds the motion. The image of a grasshopper is striking, capturing the essence of exile: a chirping, tiny creature at the mercy of all; one who is easily crushed. ‘We were like grasshoppers’ means that the scouts, although princes of tribes, still think like slaves in Egypt, seeing themselves as despised, dependent creatures.  How could they have possibly believed in themselves? And if one doesn’t believe in oneself, one usually assimilates, gives oneself over to a higher power, decides either to return to Egypt – which Datan and Aviram always wanted to do – or to remain paralyzed and in-active in the desert. In accepting defeat rather than displaying defiance, the Jew is meekly and passively surrendering to fate as it ‘hops’ all over him.
 
Now we see how in the scouts’ sin lies the seed of the destruction of both Temples. Tragedy erupts not so much when others take a sudden dislike to us, but when we dislike ourselves and become paralyzed and passive as a result. The sin of the scouts is not in the terrible report they bring, but in their vision of themselves, a perception which becomes contagious, and which ends up as a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom. As James Baldwin said so aptly, he could forgive America for enslaving the Blacks, but he could never forgive America for making the blacks feel that they were worthless, that they deserved to be slaves.

In short, the future of the Perth Jewish community requires a number of things.  Education, committment, strategy and forsight, and willingness to provision resources.  However none of this will count for anything, or assist to secure our future if we do not have confidence and self-respect in our own religious observance in the first instance.

 

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