On Giants and Grasshoppers
For the rest of my life, I will never forget Thursday, June 7, the day we learned that the rare, malignant cancer in my mom’s leg had metastasized into her lungs.
The news was a shock to all who know and love Lori Ann Bolotin, the most impatient, neurotic, obsessive, lovable woman I could ever even imagine being blessed to call my mother.
She does not deserve this. No one does. But the real task ahead for those of us supporting her on the sidelines is how to make sense of the enormity of emotions we feel as we wait from chemotherapy to free her body of this disease.
And so, it is with that thought in mind, coupled with the immense love I feel for my mom, my family, and all the amazing, wonderful, beautiful souls who have reached out in support these past few weeks, that I turned to Torah – to this week’s parsha in particular – for guidance in this liminal moment, as we nervously look ahead to the newest phase in our lives.
These were the best thoughts that I – a son, a student of Torah, a rabbi – could muster. I pray that I am able to cling to these convictions through the difficult weeks ahead.
Dear family that I love more than life itself,
There is no way to white-wash the fact – this past week has been shit.
Our family has been incredibly blessed throughout all of my adult memory to experience nearly unending health and long-life. The dissonance between that reality and this week’s news has made the emotions that much more jarring. In the wake of the shock of learning that mom took being “unique” so literally as to ensure that she also developed a particularly unique cancer, I know that each of us has had our moments of sadness or feelings of powerlessness.
But the choice between power and powerlessness, between optimism and pessimism, between gratitude for what we have and sadness over what we don’t is our own to make moving forward. It is all a matter of perception. And, knowing us as well I do, I know that we can all lean towards the former and away from the latter in the days and weeks ahead.
And I believe that Torah offers a particularly timely message for us about this issue.
This week’s Torah portion is “Shelach Lecha”, in which Moses sends twelve spies ahead into the land of Israel to scout out the area and prepare for the Israelites’ arrival. Of those twelve spies, ten came back with horrific accounts of “giants” filling a land that “devours its settlers.” In the face of that people, they described the Israelites as merely “grasshoppers.” Their pessimism was itself malignant and spread like wildfire among the Israelites. They had every reason to fear and be certain that they would never enter the land of Israel.
But two of the spies – Joshua and Caleb – came back with an entirely different report. They scouted out Israel and reported back that it was a good land flowing with milk and honey, and that the Israelites had every reason to believe that they could conquer the land. In the end, we all know which report won out.
Two accounts of the same challenge. Two entirely different results. We can let fear paralyze us or instead focus on our power and our positivism and accomplish miracles.
My teacher Rabbi Elliot Dorff explains, “Caleb and Joshua saw the same land that the other ten spies had seen, but they reported that the Israelites could conquer it, despite its challenges. Sometimes that kind of positive self-perception and that kind of faith in oneself and in God are all that are needed to accomplish more than we ever thought we could.”
My mom is a fighter – as we all know well! – and she will fight hard – harder than anything the Canaanites and Amalakites ever witnessed! And we will be by her side through it all.
We have a desert to cross in the months ahead, and a big fight to fight. But remaining focussed on our optimism, hope, love and blessings will be more helpful than any pain reliever or marijuana joint. We are not grasshoppers. We can all be giants.
My mom can do this. We can do this.
I know we can.
I love you all so much,