Consider this situation: You’re unhappy with your current status. An opportunity comes along to embark on a new career, but you panic. Instead of envisioning the potential, you visualize long, tedious hours and less leisure time.

“Will I be consumed by a demanding work schedule?” You wonder. “Can I measure up to my colleagues? What if they don’t like me?” Then you begin to rationalize that things aren’t really so bad where you are. After all, your basic needs are provided for. Maybe it’s not the right time for a significant change. Self-doubt validates your decision. Finally, you breathe a sigh of relief. It’s definite: You’re not going anywhere.

For many of us, the known is preferable to the unknown. We’d sooner remain in a dead-end situation than deal with change.

How do you see yourself? What would you do? It can be a tough choice.

The challenge of confronting change opens up this week’s Torah reading—Shelach. On the cusp of entering the Promised Land, Moses selects one leader from each of the 12 tribes—all men of wisdom and stature—to scout out the condition of the Land of Israel and its inhabitants. Upon returning from their mission, 10 of these esteemed leaders deliver a dismal report of what they encountered. Regarding the land’s inhabitants, they declared: “We were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we were in their eyes.”1

How could men who’d heard G‑d’s voice at Mount Sinai see themselves as lowly grasshoppers?Their reaction is perplexing.

While on their mission, each of the 12 leaders encountered the same people and places. How is it possible that only two of the 12 returned with positive tidings?

Typically, people notice the things that concern them the most. Joshua and Caleb (the two who gave positive reports) delighted in the sanctity of the holy land. They chose to notice the abundance of G‑d’s blessings. That became their focus. Because the eyes of the other 10 were focused more on the physical features of the land, that’s what they noticed. Ten perceived obstacles; two perceived opportunities.

Biases and personal desires influence how each of us views life. Or, as the popular phrase goes: “We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.”

Another Interpretation

Chassidic teachings illuminate yet another significant consideration. The people didn’t have to deal with daily material concerns in the wilderness. Heavenly manna provided sustenance, while the water of Miriam’s well quenched their thirst. They were able to focus on serving G‑d without distraction.

Ten of the leaders sent to scout the land worried—and rightfully so—that upon settling in the Promised Land, these daily miracles would cease. Their focus would be diverted to working and harvesting the land, encroaching on their time for Torah study and spiritual pursuits. Therefore, they reasoned that extending the present situation for as long as possible would be preferable—hence, the negative report.

From this perspective, we can perceive what occurred with greater clarity. Those 10 tribal leaders mistakenly believed that G‑d’s providence did not extend into life’s mundane daily activities. G‑d desired the people to enter the holy land, where they’d learn to live within a spiritual structure while engaging with the physical world.2

Integrating the spiritual and the material is the means through which we carry out G‑d’s will and establish a dwelling place for Him in the physical world. Spirituality is not self-contained but expansive; G‑d’s presence surrounds us.

Confronting change is as challenging today as it’s always been. A person with a positive self-image will typically view change as an opportunity for personal and spiritual growth, whereas one with low self-esteem might fear change for the possibility of failure. Unchecked negativity typically produces a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But the awareness that G‑d’s providence orchestrates every transition we encounter highlights the purpose and value of every transition we face.

Making It Relevant

  1. The next time you are challenged by a possible change, ask yourself: “How might this help my personal growth?”
  2. See yourself as spiritually growing through your next transition. How might this look?
  3. Realize how a negative mindset can limit your opportunities.
  4. Don’t allow others to determine how you see yourself.