The Courage to Continue

Rabbi Cynthia Kravitz

Rabbi Cynthia Kravitz

Parshat Shelach Lecha

Pirkei Avot 5:24-Teachings of the Sages, in the name of Ben Bag-Bag, teaches, “Turn it and turn it (the Torah) – you will find everything in it.”

These words have rung poignantly true in my life, especially with the Torah portion Shelach Lecha being read this week. True to Ben Bag-Bag’s teaching, with each passing year, this beautiful Torah portion has revealed that there is no end to what it can teach me about life’s journey. It is a beautiful fruit with many layers.

Eighteen years ago, at the start of Shelach Lecha, my dear husband passed away. Even while standing with him at the moment of his death, the rabbi in me automatically noted the Torah portion of that week.

Every year, I have revisited this Torah portion to allow it to reveal more of itself to me. Shelach Lecha has been and continues to be the wisdom guide that has helped me to move forward in my life after a personal life loss that is shared by so many. In the spirit of helping others going through that same loss, I now offer these words.

Shelach Lecha contains the account of the 12 scouts sent ahead by Moses to the Land of Israel. They were sent to report back on what awaited our people when we arrived. Their reports are most revealing.

As I wrote in my first Jewish Exponent article 18 years ago when my husband died, Shelach Lecha was a personal message of hope and encouragement to me as I, too, had entered “a new and uncharted land” from being married to being widowed. I found encouragement in that our people chose to follow the minority report of Joshua and Caleb, who encouraged our people to move forward and enter the land.

The other 10 scouts had a very different recommendation. They said that the land awaiting us was a severe land that “devoured its inhabitants.” They said that the people of Israel would never survive there, as we were “as grasshoppers in the eyes of those (giants) living there.” Moses and the people of Israel chose to follow the words of the optimistic minority and we moved forward.

Eighteen years ago, as a newly widowed person, the optimism of Joshua, Caleb, Moses and our people propelled me to move with courage and optimism into a new land that was also unknown and frightening to me. Widowhood terrified me.

The teaching of this Torah portion gave me the strength to forge a new life for myself without drowning in fear and defeat. I came to understand that optimism or pessimism was my choice to make. I decided to choose the route of optimism inspired by the example of Moses and the Jewish people in this portion. It has served me well, and I am grateful that our people teach this model of optimism when faced with the unknown.

Here it is, 18 years later, and this portion continues to speak with me and, hopefully, others about how to find our way through life after a difficult personal setback.

This year, Shelach Lecha revealed to me that in addition to being optimistic, it is also essential that we gather our bravery and look straight into the eyes of those “giants” called “our fears.” It is essential that we understand our fears, learn from them and work toward finding new and positive ways of living. “Making friends, getting to know our fears” and not ignoring them is a necessary part of our life journey.

If done with openness and the courage to gain greater self-understanding, it can actually make us stronger. It can be frightening, but without confronting our fears — those “scary giants” in our lives — we will always carry these giants on our backs and be limited by their power over us.

And this is what I have learned from Shelach Lecha about finding my way through the often-difficult twists and turns of this adventure called life; it’s a fitting lesson for the 18th (chai) year of my journey. Thank you, Moses, Joshua, Caleb and the people of Israel! To life, L’Chaim!

Rabbi Cynthia Kravitz is the rabbi of Congregation Hesed Shel Emet (Mercy and Truth Congregation) in Pottstown. The Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia is proud to provide diverse perspectives on Torah commentary for the Jewish Exponent. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Board of Rabbis.


  1. What a wonderful message to take away from the story of the 10 scouts. 18 years is another life.. you are living it.
    Thank you for sharing it with us.
    Shabbat Shalom
    Lynda (Plaskow) Klein☺️


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