An Upside Down World – Short Vort on Parshat Shelach 5775 2015 –

When Moshe sent the spies to the Promised Land he gave them instructions as to what they should look for. One of the things he said was for them to see what kind of people dwell in the land: וְאֶת הָעָם הַיֹּשֵׁב עָלֶיהָ הֶחָזָק הוּא הֲרָפֶה, “…and the people that dwells in it, is it strong or weak…”. (Num. 13,18)

Rashi explains that he gave them signs. If they dwell in open cities, they are strong since they evidently rely on their own strength. If they live in fortified cities they are weak.

Obviously this is not always true. Not always what we see is what the case really is. The Talmud tells a very interesting story. Rabbi Yosef became sick and fell into a trance. When he recovered his father asked him what he saw. He answered, עולם הפוך ראיתי, “I saw a topsy-turvy world. The upper class was beneath and the lower class was on top.” His father then answered him that you saw the real world. (Pes. 50a)

Most people evaluate the success of others by how rich they become or how powerful or how influential. That is not a true Jewish concept. Jewish values are measured according to the saying in “the Ethics of Our Fathers”. Who is strong? הכובש את יצרו, “he who subdues his inclinations”. Who is rich? השמח בחלקו, “he who is happy with his lot”. Who is honored? המכבד את הבריות, “he who honors others”. (Avot 4,1)

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