Between Us: Let’s talk about risk tolerance

Between Us

This week’s parasha, Shelach, contains the famous story of the 12 scouts sent by Moses to explore the land of Canaan. They return, and all but Joshua and Caleb have dire warnings, including the famous line that the inhabitants of Canaan “were like giants…and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.

With this news, the Israelites’ joy turned to fear and despair, losing faith and challenging the leadership of Moses and Aaron to the point where they cried out for a return to Egypt. The outcome of these events is tragic. The Torah tells us that God destroys the ten scouts who incited the community, sparing only Caleb and Joshua. The generation that lost faith never saw Canaan and only their descendants were privileged to reach The Promised Land.

This episode, along with the Golden Calf, reflects the consequences of the loss of faith in God. In both instances, the lack of trust led to death and destruction. What lessons can we learn from these dramatic examples? As individuals, we are often faced with decisions that, given the “facts” available to us, lead us to inaction. “It’s too hard,” “I can’t,” “It’ll never work.” Sound familiar? This is not to say that facts have no place in our decision-making; to the contrary, data is critical. But so many decisions in our personal lives—and the life of our community—require some measure of risk and even faith. The difference between inaction and action turns on our “risk tolerance” and the amount of faith we have in our strength and abilities as individuals and as a community.