“We were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we were in their eyes.”
These words were part of the report the meraglim gave about their circuit of Eretz Yisrael, a report that would have fateful, tragic consequences for all generations to come.
The Midrash states about this passuk, “Regarding your statement that you were like grasshoppers in your eyes, I was mevater, but I will not be mevater regarding what you said that ‘so we were in their eyes.’ Do you know how I portrayed you in their eyes? Who said that they didn’t perceive you as angels?”
The Chofetz Chaim explains that this is a vicious circle: One thinks of himself in a disparaging light, and then concludes that his friends must think of him in the same way. This, in turn, makes him feel even worse about himself, and so on and so forth.
More than 70 years ago, a bachur walked across the Williamsburg Bridge to spend Shavuos in his yeshivah, Mesivta Torah Vodaath, located at that time in Williamsburg. Reb Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, zy”a, was dancing with his talmidim, when he noticed that this bachur wasn’t participating. Urging him to join the circle, Reb Shraga Feivel said, “If you won’t rejoice on Shavuos with what you do have, you won’t be able to do teshuvah on Yom Kippur for what you don’t have.”
We are obligated to recognize and appreciate the strengths and gifts presented to us by our Creator. Each of us is blessed with various attributes and maalos; unless we value the true extent of our capabilities, we cannot complete the spiritual mission with which we have been entrusted.
This should not be confused with gaavah. Arrogance — feeling superior to others — results from a refusal to acknowledge that everything we have comes from Hashem. Acknowledging this truth obviates gaavah.
Reb Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz himself symbolized this concept. His legendary historical accomplishments were only matched by his legendary humility. His talmid Hagaon Harav Avraham Pam, zt”l, once related that Reb Shraga Feivel explained this paradox by quoting the maamar Chazal, “Hakadosh Baruch Hu carries out His mission with anybody and anything, even a frog.”
Fittingly, the Hebrew biography of Reb Shraga Feivel is called Shlucha d’Rachmana (Emissary of Hashem), for he saw himself as simply a messenger fulfilling the missions entrusted to him by his Creator. He knew full well that he had accomplished great things, yet he felt that he deserved no more credit than a frog, or any other living thing created by the Master of the world for a given purpose.
“L’hodia livnei ha’adam gevurosuv — to inform human beings of His mighty deeds”
(Ashrei). The Rebbe Reb Mordechai of Lechovich interpreted this passuk homiletically: “To inform humans of their strengths.”
“If the yungeleit would only know the scope of their strength in avodas Hashem,” he said, “they would break down walls of fortresses…”
In Divrei Hayamim (II, 17:6) we are told about the righteous King Yehoshafat. “Vayigbah libo b’darchei Hashem — His heart was elevated in the ways of Hashem”.
Furthermore, Chazal say (Sanhedrin 37a), “Man was created singly…to teach that each and every one is obligated to say ‘For my sake was the world created.’”
All too often, it is a lack of vayigbah libo that limits us and stunts our spiritual growth. We must constantly bear in mind that “for my sake the world was created.” (The fact that every other person can say the same thing will help keep any arrogance in check.)
One particularly challenging factor is the all-too-human concern of how we are being viewed by others. The Kotzker Rebbe, zy”a, says that this, in fact, was the sin of the meraglim. “We were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we were in their eyes.” This concern about how they were perceived by others was their grievous fault.
In secular society, a person is generally judged by his position and power. In the business world, titles are often more important than actual productivity. Torah Jewry has a very different view; for us it is not a person’s title that grants him his stature, but his righteousness. Yet even we are influenced by people’s stations in life.
For example, few envy the shammash his job. Yet even a cursory look at Jewish history reveals a fascinating fact. In a great number of communities, Yedid Nefesh is sung with emotion and reverence every Shabbos. Its author was the noted mekubal Harav Elazar Ezkari, zt”l, mechaber of Sefer Chareidim. This great tzaddik served as neither Rav nor Rosh Yeshivah; he was the shammash of the Arizal’s shul in Tzfas…
The Rebbe Reb Hirsch of Rimanov, zy”a, was also a shammash before succeeding the Rebbe Reb Mendel Rimanover, zy”a. Harav Nochum’ke of Horodna, zt’l, Rebbe of the Chofetz Chaim, was a shammash as well.
These are not anomalies. A closer look at our leaders down through history, from Rabi Yochanan Hasandler until recent times, reveals long lists of Torah giants who served at what can be considered menial jobs.
Each of us, no matter our age, level of wisdom, or specific circumstances, can touch and enrich the lives of those around us.
May the Ribbono shel Olam help us merit to ascertain — with true humility — our sometimes hidden strengths and capabilities, and use them fully and enthusiastically in avodas Hashem.