Torah Insights for Mental Wellbeing: Parsha Shelach
What You Think is What You See, and What You See is What You Get!
In this week’s Torah portion, “Shelach” or “Shelach Lecha,” the Jewish people are just about to enter the Land of Israel. However, they were hesitant to go (for a myriad of reasons, the Rabbis tell us), so Moshe sends 12 of the leaders of the generation to scout out the land and to bring back a report of their findings. Forty days later they returned.
Ten of the men came back in a panic. While they did say that the land was flowing with milk and honey, they added “However, the people who inhabit the country are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.” They were certain there was no way they could conquer the land: “We were like grasshoppers in our eyes and so we were in their eyes!” They spent the night wailing, saying that they would be better off going back to Egypt! Only two of the men, Joshua and Caleb came back with a positive report, that the land was magnificent and although the people appeared strong, they knew that they had God on their side, and would be successful.
Due to the negative report by the 10, the Jewish people had to wander in the wilderness (not a desert, contrary to some translations) for another forty years. A whole new generation would be the ones to first to enter the Land of Israel. Wow! Quite a consequence.
I believe the Torah is giving us a powerful lesson about human nature and a secret to mental health.
Think about it….the Jews had witnessed the the 10 Plagues, the splitting of the sea, the Revelation at Mount Sinai, enough water to drink that came from a rock, manna falling from the sky, and when they got tired of the manna, an overabundance of quail shows up! After all of these miracles, why would they doubt G0d’s ability to help them conquer the land?
Although God had freed the Jews from the physical slavery of Egypt, perhaps the Jews had not freed themselves of mental slavery. How could it be that 12 people see the same thing, yet 10 come back in a panic, and 2 come with no worries at all?
Perhaps this is what was going on: The 10 were in fear (for a myriad of reasons) before they ever went to scout out the land. What they saw was 100% filtered through the lens of their thinking. They thought fear, they saw and felt fear, then they acted on the fear with a bad report, panic, gossip, and even a desire to go back to slavery. Clearly they were not THINKING clearly.
THOUGHT – FEELINGS – BEHAVIOR
On the other hand… Caleb and Joshua simply went to get the facts. Perhaps their prior factual experience with the miracles listed above gave them confidence. What they saw was 100% filtered through the lens of their thinking. They thought they would be successful, they saw and felt the ability to be successful, then they acted on their confidence with a good report and faith that all would be ok.
Here’s the deal. We are all human. We all have thoughts all day long. All kinds of thoughts. What we think comes to life via our senses and therefore we feel our thinking visually, emotionally, physically. What we think in the moment brings our moment to moment version of reality. Our reality changes based on our thinking in the moment. (This is why, for example, it is possible on one day to think you can’t wait until your kids turn 18, and the next day you cry because they are growing up so fast!)
Here is the secret: From cradle to grave we will be thinking beings. God gave us our feelings to help us navigate. Our feelings give us a clue as to whether the thinking we are feeling is credible information that can be trusted or just some mental trash floating by. What if we didn’t have to act on everything we thought and felt? What if panic, anxiety, fear, anger, jealousy, being judgmental, putting ourselves or others down, etc. are all forms of a mental railroad crossing sign trying to convey the message:
STOP! WAIT FOR THE TRAIN TO PASS!
Every train has a caboose, and every train of thought has one too.
The mistake these 10 leaders made was believing their thinking. Unfortunately, because they acted on their thinking, they had to wait forty years. It was a new generation of Jews who got to scout out the Land. And they returned with a good report. Same land. Different report. What made the difference? Their thinking. Now, you might be thinking, “Hey, maybe certain people are just more positive than others. Maybe that’s why Joshua and Caleb didn’t have a problem.” Our sages tell us that Caleb was actually worried that he might be swayed by the power of the others’ fears, and instead of focusing on their fear, during their journey he chose to stop in Chevron to pray by the graves of our ancestors. To get quiet inside. To get clarity.
We cannot stop the fact that we will have lots and lots of thoughts, and those thoughts will look real. It’s part of being human. However, when we get visibility to the fact that:
- The reality we are experiencing moment to moment is always our personal version of reality based on our thinking,
- Our feeling state gives us an indication of the quality of our thinking in the moment, and
- We don’t have to act on everything we think….
Can you see how much more control we could have over our actions? The secret to mental health is not to try to feel good all of the time or to never make mistakes.
The secret to mental health is:
- Knowing that we do not need to avoid or be afraid of our feelings (they are only the multimedia version of our moment-to-moment thinking), and
- Knowing that we often will act on faulty thinking because it will appear to be so real!
Through this Parsha, the Torah teaches us that we can navigate this world with a little more confidence and a little less fear.