Monday, June 9, 2014

Dealing with Doubt

Parshat Shelach
Bamidbar 13:1 – 15:41
16 Sivan 5774 / June 13 -14, 2014

Dealing with Doubt
by Zvi Bellin, Moishe House Director of Jewish Education and Pastoral Counseling

This Torah portion opens with the ominous words, “And God spoke to Moshe saying, Shelach Lecha (Send, for yourself).” These words usher in the well-known story of the 12 spies that are sent to check out the land of milk and honey before the entire nation will enter the land. 10 spies come back with reports shattering faith in God. God delivers a punishment - the generation that left Egypt must die in the desert before their children can inherit the land. 40 years of wandering ensues.

Rashi, French Guru of Torah commentary,   is curious about the opening words, “Send, for yourself.” Why not just, “God told Moshe to send spies”? Rashi learns from the words, “for yourself,” that God was not actually commanding that spies should be sent. Rather, if Moshe and the people wished to scout the land, they were more than welcome to do so. It seems that this was more of a test for the people. If there was doubt in their hearts about God’s plan, it will surface in the report of the spies. And indeed, this is what occurred.

Perhaps there is a message here about how we can deal with doubt in our own lives. We all have certain life trajectories (small scale and/or large scale) that we choose to put our faith into. Joining programs of education and experience, for example, which promise certain outcomes that will benefit us in the future. Of course, with any plan, comes some degree of uncertainty. Will point A really lead me to point B? I have definitely had experiences where things did not turn out as planned. I needed to take a detour, backtrack, or just let go of where I thought I was headed. These types of occasions leave me with a constant wondering, how can I really know that I am on the right path?

I think the story of the spies can teach us about embracing and confronting doubt rather than trying to ignore it. The spies, and really the entire nation, had sincere doubts about God’s promises. In the desert, the doubt caused the Israelites to complain a lot, and to ignore all the miracles of salvation that kept occurring in the desert. Finally, their doubt got the best of them, forcing a complete meltdown when confronted by the negative report of the 10 spies.

Perhaps a better way is to make room to acknowledge doubt along the path. What if we learned in the Torah that God and Moshe created a space in daily community life for people to voice their fears and have them be affirmed. I would like to believe that the spies accounting would have had a lot less power in that moment.

For us today, what if we were able to see doubt for what it is - just one part of an internal guidance system that is ultimately sourced in caring? In my day to day, I feel like it is almost taboo to voice doubt. Listeners are quick to change the subject, trivialize the doubt, or try to solve a problem. Ultimately, this just feeds the doubt. There is no space to air it out, balance, and disarm it.

So, I’d like this week’s Torah portion to serve as a reminder that doubt exists and that it is not a bad thing. When I am confronted by doubt, either internally or from someone else, maybe  I can try to honor it a bit before running away from it. Acknowledge uncertainty without having to immediately act upon it. Ultimately, this strategy can lead me to make healthier choices and lessen the chances of being blindsided when I am so close to reaching a goal. 


Post a Comment