I used to live in New York City and once while riding the subway, I saw an ad for the Real Yellow Pages (for the younger folks: that’s a company where people can list their name, address and businesses) that said something like this:
“Unlike most of you, we know the Real New Yorkers”
That might not be a direct quote, but I remember how it made me feel. The ad was playing on the word “real,” but it totally unnerved me. I was staring at the ad and was like, “How do you know me so well? You know my secret! I’m not a ‘real’ New Yorker!”
I moved to New York to go to seminary and was still feeling my way around the city. I was born in Alabama and grew up in Texas, so what was I doing living in Manhattan? I’m a small town kid and now I’m in this huge city. What?!
I think many of us share this sense at one time or another. It’s not all the time, but there are moments. I’ve met successful comedians who feel they aren’t funny. I’ve met expert doctors who told me that they can’t believe people entrust their lives to them. I’ve met models who feel ugly. I’ve met experts in engineering and science who feel they don’t deserve to hold prestigious chairs in their fields.
There is this part of us that feels that the life we live is not really what we present to the world. Somehow the story we tell ourselves about who we are, where we come from and what we care about – what I call the imagined self – is not the same as what we want other people to say about us. It’s more than not having confidence. It’s where your imagined self and your actual self are not lining up. You feel like a stranger in your own story, like a tourist in your own body.
It’s what psychologists call the “impostor syndrome”.
There is this voice inside of you that says that you have a secret and if people knew the ‘real’ you, they would think less of you. You aren’t really an expert or a good parent. You aren’t really that smart or pretty. You’re not really a moral person.
You are an impostor.
This is the spiritual dimension of this week’s Torah portion, Shlach. We find the Israelites on their journey to the promised land. Moses sends forth twelve scouts to find out what the land is like All twelve return carrying heavy baskets of grapes, figs and pomegranates. They say to the people that land is “Flowing with milk and honey!” (Numbers 13:27). The Promised Land is as wonderful as they imagined it to be. God’s blessings are on the tips of their tongues.
How good. How amazing. How wonderful.
For all but two of the scouts, the land’s promise is unachievable. The inhabitants, too powerful – the cities too fortified. These ten scouts who feel the task is too hard, say, “We are like grasshoppers in our own eyes, how much more so are we to them.” (Numbers. 13:33)
With God’s blessings laying at their feet, they lose more than hope and confidence. They lose the story of themselves, strangers in their own homeland. They don’t deserve it. They can’t stay there. They have to leave. In the end, these scouts feel they are nothing more than a tourists to a life of happiness. Redemption is not for them because they are exactly who they thought there were all along – weak slaves with no power, no blessing, no home.
Overcoming that sense of inner estrangement is at the heart of the spiritual journey. Many of you feel like these scouts – joy and peace are places to vacation but not a place make home.
Living in the flow of your purpose is exactly what the quest for a holy life is about. God does not want you to be an impostor in your life. You are made in God’s image. You are the author of your own memories.
A holy life is that feeling of being unapologetically alive. It’s that moment when you change your life being created in your worst image to a life being created in God’s image. Only then does your imagined self and your actual self come into contact. It’s the opposite of being an impostor. You can transform yourself into an inheritor.
You are not leaving home, but coming home. – a coming home to yourself.
Which brings us to the other two spies, Caleb and Joshua. They too see the bounty of the land, but instead of losing hope, they gain strength. Caleb hushed the people and quieted them down. He said “We will elevate ourselves and take the inheritance of it, for our entire capacity is for it [meaning this place.]” (Numbers 13:30)
Caleb’s moment of decision answers the deepest of spiritual questions: Will you see yourself as an impostor, undeserving of love, and joy or will you see yourself as an inheritor that lives life to its fullest capacity?
You are fully capable of changing your life for the better. Your full capacity is for this very moment. But first you have to pull yourself up and elevate yourself above the noise that tells you are nothing but a grasshopper.
The first battle for peace is the inner battle. The Mishnah says that a true hero is the one that overcomes that part of yourself that says your life means nothing. (Avot 4) You must take control. You must elevate yourself t and treat your life not as an outsider or a stranger. Not in just your image but in God’s image.
Not as an impostor, but an inheritor.
Your capacity for a holy life is fully within your reach.
This is the entire purpose of Torah. It’s age-old wisdom helps us to muster the capacity from within to transform souls into agents that can change darkness into light, the mundane into the holy, slaves into free people.
And most importantly – Outsiders into insiders. Impostor into inheritors.