Thursday, June 16, 2011

It all depends on how you see it

Life depends on how you see it. Even if f that sounds daunting, it is an extremely valuable concept to keep in mind. The way you see your life quite literally defines how it will pan out.

Take as an example one of Jewish history's greatest disasters, the debacle of the spies sent by the Israelites to the Promised Land. We all know, and will review this Shabbos, how the spies (except for Joshua and Caleb) reported that the Jewish nation would never reach the Promised Land. The nation quickly bought into their gloomy prognosis ("oy vey" is the Jewish way) and cried bitterly over what they believed could only be a suicidal attempt to settle the Land.

What set off the spies' fears was what they witnessed while scouting the country. Each time the spies entered a city, they saw a large funeral procession. Quickly, the reconnoisance team concluded the "obvious": This is a land where people die. In their report to the nation they would describe Israel as "a land that eats up its inhabitants". That was enough to unseat the people completely. Just about everybody bewailed their terrible fate and demanded a return to Egypt. And G-d responded with the parental, "If you cry for no good reason, I'll give you a reason to cry". Every complainer would die before he could reach the Promised Land. And the eve of crying went down in history as the dreaded Ninth of Av, anniversary of almost every significant Jewish tragedy.

Ironically, what the spies interpreted as disaster was actually G-d's plan to keep them safe while on their mission. He had decided to distract the population of each town with the death of one of its prominent citizens. Everyone would be so caught up in the formalities of burying these people that they wouldn't cast a glance in the spies' direction. G-d envisaged keeping the spies alive and safe. The spies saw death.

It's easy to keep a rosy outlook when things proceed according to plan. When they teeter (G-d forbid)- health issues, financial stress or family crises- we slip into "gloomy forecast". We seem to need a secret switch to flip us back into the optimistic approach. How do you look confidentally at bleak predictions?

One man quieted the tumult long enough to get his message across. Caleb, himself one of the spies, watched the growing mob-despair and realised that nobody could wedge a rational word in anywhere. Instead, he announced: "Oh, so do you think that this is all that Moshe did to us?" The crowds paused long enough to hear what they expected to be more fuel for their fury. "He also," continued Caleb, "Took us out of Egypt, split the sea and provided Manna for us in the desert." In a single sentence, he had changed perspective. He had reminded the people that Moshe had, with G-d's help, gotten them out of a slew of sticky situations. He had previously proven his worth and could be relied upon to pull them through their next challenge.

Caleb knew how to flip the optimisim switch. What he told the Jews in the desert applies equally to us. We can all identify moments in our lives that "went right". A fortuitous business meeting, a "chance" medical checkup that saved a life or simply a time when we found a convenient parking space is a moment in our lives where G-d came through for us. It is healthy to review these events from time to time, just to remind ourselves who's Boss, that He knows what He's doing and that He delivers. Remember those moments and it becomes much easier to imagine that what is still to come will be OK too. 

We choose how to see what has happened in our lives. We choose to see how things will happen in our lives. Whatever perspective we choose, it defines our lives.

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