There’s an activity I like to lead that I call perspective drawing. To set up the activity, a group of people sit in a circle and each person has a piece of paper and something with which to draw. Then, in the middle of the circle, I place some combination of objects – it can be a collection of anything you have in the room. Without giving the group any more explanation, I give them one simple instruction: Without getting up from where you are sitting, draw what you see.
In this week’s parshah, Parshat Shlakh Lekha, we read about the 12 perspectives and opinions of the spies that are sent by Moshe to scout out the land of Canaan, in order to see if the land is inhabitable. After 30 days, when the spies return to Moshe and B’nai Yisrael after surveying the people in Canaan, we read in the Torah that they have conflicting reports about what they observed. While they all agree that the land is beautiful and flowing with milk and honey, 10 of the 12 spies believe that it will be impossible to get past the current inhabitants of the land. In chapter 13, verse 33 we read that the ten spies tell B’nai Yisrael that “There we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, descended from the giants. In our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes.”
The two remaining spies, however, Calev and Hoshea (soon to be Yehoshua), present a different perspective. They tell the community in chapter 14, verse 7 that “The land we passed through to scout is an exceedingly good land.” They add that if Hashem wants the people of Israel to make it to Canaan, Hashem will provide the people a way to get there.
There are many lessons that we can learn from this story. The fact alone that there are so many commentaries on this story, both classical and modern, teach us a lesson on perspective. Rashi’s interpretation connects to our experiences at camp beautifully. Rashi points out that the second verse of the parshah begins, Shlakh lekha anashim veyaturu et eretz Canaan, “Send for yourself people who will scout out the Land of Canaan”. Why add “for yourself”? In his commentary, Rashi implies that we can learn from the inclusion of these words that the sending out of the spies was less a command of God, yet rather something the people of Israel needed to do for themselves – an introspective action that would teach them something about themselves.
This is what we experience at Ramah. We all come to the same place on Fairview Road in order to personally and spiritually develop ourselves. However, to take the teaching of Rashi one step further, we also count down the seconds until camp begins for the experiences that come from the empowerment and unifying nature of our kehillah (community) at Ramah. A phrase you hear about Ramah often is, “I feel like I am my best self here”. Part of the reason why this sentiment is so often expressed is because of the experience just described.
Let us keep in mind the lesson we learn from Caleb and Yehoshua. They surveyed the land and, despite the challenges presented, shifted their perspectives and saw the good in the land. We all ascend each kayitz to our own land of milk and honey found in Ojai. We learn from it, and from our interactions with other people who inhabit it, we take from it what we need to better ourselves. Being a kehillah at Ramah we become better people through what we experience with our own eyes and from the perspectives of others.