Meraglim Syndrome

Every once in a while, a congregant tells me that he can’t sit through shul Shabbat morning because he cannot connect to God through tefilla or he can’t learn Gemara because he had a bad experience with this subject in Yeshiva day school.   Some of us who struggle with tefilla or Talmud Torah blame God or God’s Torah as not being relevant to us, but there are others who suffer from “meraglim syndrome.”  What is “meraglim syndrome?”

According to the Meshech Chochmah, the spies believed that God could defeat the inhabitants of Eretz Yisrael, but they didn’t think that their generation could conquer the land.  They said “ki chazak hu mimenu” – the locals in Eretz Yisrael are too strong for us.  We cannot conquer the land, but the next generation can.  As such, the failure of the spies was not a lack of faith in God, but a lack of faith in themselves.  Indeed, the spies said, “vanehi v’ainainu ka’chagavim” – we appeared in our eyes like grasshoppers while we spied the land. Why did the spies select the imagery of the grasshopper to describe themselves?

I believe that the defining characteristic of the grasshopper is that it jumps around. The grasshopper is aimless and directionless, and that is how the spies felt.  They didn’t just feel insignificant, but this feeling of insignificance was compounded by their complete and utter sense of hopelessness.  They had no aim and no direction because they knew that they couldn’t live up to the standards that God had imposed upon them.

But maybe even this feeling wasn’t the death knell for this generation.  Maybe God could have tolerated their low self-esteem. However, the Midrash Tanchuma asserts that, “Amru, ‘vanehi v’ainainu ka’chagavim.’  Amar HaKadosh Baruch Hu, ‘vitarti aleha, ella v’chen hayinu b’ainaihem – mi yomar shelo heyitem b’ainaihem ka’malachim.’”  God said, “I take no objection to your saying: ‘We appeared as grasshoppers to ourselves,’ but I take offense when you say ‘so we must have appeared in their eyes.’  How do you know that you didn’t appear to them as angels?”

What should we do if we have low self-esteem? Many psychological experts say that there’s nothing wrong with pretending to have high self-esteem.  Obviously, we need to realize that in this  instance our self-esteem is coming from outside factors, but many experts say that if we act like we have high self-esteem, eventually we will develop high self-esteem.  According to the Midrash Tanchuma, God can forgive certain sins in the desert if these sins stem from a lack of faith in God.  However, once the Bnei Yisrael lose faith in themselves and cannot even pretend to have faith in themselves, then they lose any opportunity to conquer Eretz Yisrael. And many of us struggle with this “meraglim syndrome.”  We don’t have faith in ourselves and in our ability to grow, and we hold ourselves back. That is why the very first halacha in the Shulchan Aruch begins by telling us that every morning “yitgaber ka’ari” – we should strengthen ourselves like a lion to serve God.  We should put on our game face, even if at times we feel directionless and aimless.  Fake it, and with the help of God, we will make it.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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