This week's haftarah reading, from the book of Joshua, tells a parallel story in which things are turned around. It is Israel’s enemies, the people of Jericho, who are scared to death. The spies whom Joshua sent to check them out return to say that the land is already as good as conquered because the people who live there are already trembling in fear of the Israelites.
In both stories, the spies’ reports do not say nearly as much about the military capacity of the enemy (what you would expect spies to report!) as they do about the emotional state of each side in relation to the other. Those who are confident are presumed to prevail and those who are fearful are presumed to fail. Perceptions become reality.
One of the major differences between the story in the Torah and the story in the haftarah is that, in the latter, the spies made personal contact with Rachav, a member of the enemy city. They got up close to see the full extent of the enemy they faced. In the Torah story, the spies merely looked at the Canaanites from a distance and made no personal connection. From a distance the Canaanites looked like giants. Would they have looked differently if the spies had gone right up and engaged them in conversation?
Fear is a natural and normal response to a threat. That's why we are programed instinctively to fear things that are strange to us. However, fear that is automatic and unquestioning can be destructive. The two stories we read this week—the story of the fearful spies and the story of the confident spies—can be understood as a challenge to confront the things that make us fearful. We are urged to get close enough to the things we perceive as threatening to see their true nature. When we do this, we may discover that the things that scare us actually are as weak and unthreatening as were the cowering people of Jericho.