Journey Through Our Inner Landscape: Sh’lach Lecha

Sh’lach Lecha: Numbers 13:1-15:41

This week’s Torah portion exemplifies for me the powerful impact Torah study can have on our daily lives. The text brings us to the episode of the scouts Moses sends, under God’s command, to survey the land of Canaan as a prelude to entering the Promised Land. The expression God uses, which gives us the name of the portion, is “sh’lach lecha” usually rendered: “Send for yourself…” But the Hebrew is such that the translation could very well be: “Send to yourself.” The journey spoken of here can be read as an inner journey; a journey of self-discovery. Moses told the scouts:

            Go up there into the Negev and on into the hill country, and see what kind of country it is. Are the people who dwell in it strong or weak, few or many? Is the country in which they dwell good or bad? Are the towns they live in open or fortified? Is the soil rich or poor? Is it wooded or not? And take pains to bring back some of the fruit of the land. [Numbers 13:17-20]

How many of us have mastered in-depth exploration and truly know our inner landscape? One could translate Moses’ orders to mean: Go inward and discover your personal peaks and valleys. What are your weaknesses and your strengths, and which are more prominent? What are the ways you are being that impact you and others positively and negatively? Is the heart from which you live open or walled off? Is the soil of your being rich or depleted? And “take pains” to write in your journals what you find out about yourself. Moses, like many spiritual masters the world over, enjoins us to do what Socrates put so concisely: “Know thyself.” In other words, know what makes up your conditioned self.

This is a critical rung on the spiritual path. Before we can transcend the conditioned self altogether, before we can enter the Promised Land of enlightenment, we have to know that which we are to transcend. Why? Because in scouting our inner landscape we learn to look at it without the usual confusion of thinking that is who we actually are. In doing so we recognize that, as a result of our conditioning, we have peaks and valleys, negative and positive behaviors, a heart more often closed off than open—and we become really clear. We then come to realize that we are not these peaks and valleys, we are not these behaviors, and we are not these emotions. All of them arise in awareness as objects of our learning and, as such, we are no longer identified with any one of them. We come to know the awareness that we are, the “I AM,” aware of all that is, aware of all the ways my little “i” shows up in the world. Knowing our conditioned self allows us to modify those hurtful, closed-hearted behaviors, to heal both mind and body and to transform ourselves.

To me, this is the essence of Torah study: a process of self-discovery. The Torah is the landscape that reflects my inner landscape. Its heroes are flawed and its stories are mythical tales. And all of them are just mirrors of my own process of evolution, of my own inner journey toward uncovering the deeper truth of my being. I am all the characters in Torah and all its dramas are mine. Through them, I am provided guidance to move beyond the limitations of my conditioned self, a vehicle out of my Mitzrayim, a pathway of liberation and healing. Today especially, this exploring of our inner landscape brings us to confront, for example, the shape of our white privileges and our own racism. They, too, are part of the inner terrain of our decades-old conditioning. We must take pain to bring back into the light of consciousness these rotten fruit of the land from which we have not only benefited but have also contributed to perpetuating either unconsciously or by turning a blind eye. We cannot completely free ourselves from them, but knowing they are there and the size they occupy within us, helps us evolve to become better navigators of the complicated topography of who we are, and allows us to show up in our world as a clearer channels for healing and transformation. Torah has been the light which has guided our inner journeys for 2,500 years, may it remain the well that sustains our spirit for many generations to come.