As I’ve written before, there is nothing harder for a writer to face than a blank white page. Its void seems to be more powerful than all the wisdom and words we have inside of us. None of our previous literary accomplishments seem to offer the loving assurance, “Don’t worry we too all started with a blank page.” But emptiness, my friends, craves to be filled. And so, the Evil One takes advantage and fills us with insecurity and injects us with his toxic words, “You can’t do it, so don’t even try.” Personally, I’ve learned to recognize this enemy and stymie him; instead, I listen to the reassuring sound of my fingers clacking against the keys. Clack, clack, clack but the results are in His hands.
In this week’s Bible reading, Shelach, we learn how the Israelites, prior to their own entry, wanted to send spies ahead to scout out the Promised Land. They too were afraid of the “blank page” and the unknown that lay ahead. Ten of the 12 spies came back and said the land and its inhabitants were unconquerable; they viewed their enemies as giants and superior warriors and by contrast themselves as grasshoppers believing their foe too viewed them as such. They also reported that the land consumes its inhabitants. However, two of the spies, in contradistinction said of the land, “We shall surely ascend and conquer it, for we surely can do it.” Interestingly, all the spies observed the same reality on the ground; the singular difference between the naysayers and the optimists was self-confidence founded in faith. Time has changed nothing; the lesson remains the same: If you think of yourself as a grasshopper, you will be regarded as one. “I think therefore I am.” If you think the challenges ahead will consume you, they will. The optimists and faithful, Caleb and Joshua, had faith in G-d and believed in the land’s “exceptionalism.” They were the only ones to reach their destination.
An entire generation succumbed to the doom-and-gloom tales of the ten spies and cried to go back to Egypt. As punishment, none of them were allowed to enter G-d’s precious land. And thus, an entire generation wandered for 40 years, corresponding to the 40 days the spies surveyed a land flowing with milk and honey and brought back curdled sour reconnaissance. The fear to forge forward had them desperate to retreat--all the way back to slavery. Before them lay a blank, but promising, G-d-blessed "page." However, they feared to write a new story for themselves. How many of us in our own lives are terrified of becoming and so instead we choose stagnation and stay put? We think what we are used to is keeping us alive while all the time it is burying us.
But life is not just about keeping a person breathing, it is also about creating and recreating ourselves to be better people and better Jews. If you are the same person you were yesterday, you are dying. It has been asked why from all the Torah’s great men from Abraham to Moses, why the Jewish nation has come to be called “Israel,” the name given to our Patriarch Jacob after wrestling with an angel who ultimately blesses him. The answer is rather simple. The life of a living, breathing Jew is a constant struggle--and it should be. It is that struggle that makes us Israel; it is the struggle that makes us shine. It is that struggle that makes everything we never dreamed we could be or were destined to be, possible.
Both in our spiritual and practical lives we must always keep moving and striving for growth, fearlessly. Like the modern-day Israel that was transformed from a desert and malarial swamp into a blooming, booming and blossoming land by valiant pioneers and their descendants, we too must courageously cultivate the Garden of Eden within us. Don't tolerate the weeds, lest they strangle you. Don’t be a comfort-zone-Jew. The number one reason people bungee jump is because they want to step out of their comfort zones and feel alive. Ironic that people are ready to jump to near death, but not to life. Judaism and Torah offer you a jump up and an eternal life, not a cheap thrill. Like Joshua and Caleb, Have faith Hashem will catch you. Stop getting caught up in the secularism and materialism of this world and forsaking your Jewish identity for it. How sad it would be if your designer shoes will outlive your soul.
Friends, the beautiful thing about the blank page and your life is that they can be whatever you want them to be and read how you want them to read. Every day you have the opportunity to rewrite the story of your life. Just because you were not brought up religious or you were brought up very religious, don’t believe the GPS, you have not reached your destination. And if you live in faith instead of fear you just might find you have invented the struggle altogether. YOU are Israel! You may struggle with G-d and man—and yourself, but you can prevail--SO PREVAIL! Shabbat Shalom!
In memory of my best friend and editor Phil/Pinchas who would have been celebrating a birthday today. G-d bless his soul. May this Torah article help his soul have an aliyah and may all my typos remind him how much he is still needed and missed.