It was never going to be easy, the promised land. Not like a candy, or a toy you promise to a child: Behave, darling, and you’ll get a treat, ok?
No, the promised land was more of an ordeal than a prize. Behave, darling, and I’ll give you another challenge, another task you must complete. Ok?
And when the Israelites stood between the Jordan and the desert, listening to the worries of their scouts, they answered the question with a resounding, panicked, “no”.
It’s easy to judge them. It’s easy to scoff at their fears. God took them out of mighty Egypt, couldn’t they trust him to defeat another enemy or two?
But the truth is we all sometimes find ourselves between the Jordan and the desert. And, like the Israelites, we don’t always know which path to choose.
When I started writing professionally, I spent hours staring at empty pages, held back by inhibitions I couldn’t quite define. Why am I so reluctant to just sit and write, I asked myself. Why do I find ten excuses to get up whenever I finally sit down?
I started digging.
The first layer of fears that held me back was fairly feeble, comprised of worries I could easily dispel. No, writing doesn’t imply automatic poverty. No, I don’t actually NEED to eat right now.
But something, something that wasn’t really the conscious content of my worries, made them powerful. I kept digging them out of my soul, but like sand on the beach, they kept pouring back into my mind, filling the newly cleared holes.
And then, one day, I hit upon the real problem, the real fear behind all the excuses:
I was afraid of trying, because you can’t fail until you do.
Before you sit down and actually write something, you can tell yourself that you’re talented and amazing. You can tell yourself you would have succeeded, had you only tried.
But once you produce something, you stand defenseless. You can fail, and your pretensions can be proven wrong.
It was never going to be easy, settling the promised land. It was never going to be quick
And until they tried to, the Israelites could tell themselves that they will face this new challenge successfully. They could tell themselvesure they were about to totally own it, in fact.
Sure, we’ll create a better society than the one we left back in Egypt, they could say. Sure, we’ll be great at handling our affairs as an independent nation. Sure, we will prosper, you just wait and see.
But when they stood before the river, right there on the verge of either failure or success, they panicked.
The prospect of actually trying to achieve all their goals was right there within reach… And so was the possibility of failure.
Is it truly so surprising that at that moment, all kinds of worries and excuses tumbled out from within them like an avalanche of sand, and buried them for forty years of desert?
The generation of the desert lived and died, but their experience lives in our memory, in the Jewish geography of our souls.
We, too, often stand between a Jordan River and a desert.
Dare we live in Israel, and work through it’s imperfections, and try to make our vision of a just society come true?
Dare we try to live as Jews in a post modern world, and actively seek balance between all our conflicting selves?
Dare we say “I want to do this,” and grasp for our dreams?
We, too, must dare to cross our rivers time and time again. We, too, must risk failure for success.