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Home » Life Is Beautiful, Sh'lach L'chah

Sh’lach L’chah: Cooperate, Dont Compete

Submitted by on June 3, 2007 – 4:00 amNo Comment | 2,312 views

Win / Lose

We live in a competitive society where the Win / Lose mentality is deeply ingrained. Everything you win is lost by someone else. Every dollar you make is lost by someone else. If your stock shares go up someone else’s must have gone down. You cannot get ahead unless someone falls behind.

This attitude is built into the very system by which we measure success. We look at the law of averages and our respective positions on that curve. If are ahead of others, we are successful. If others are ahead of us, we are not successful. We measure ourselves by comparison to others, not by intrinsic value. If someone falls behind, I can pull ahead. If someone is slower, I can be faster. If someone loses, I can win. In short, our society is based on a comparative model, rather than a cooperative model.

A comparison based society has its advantages; competition drives us to success. It has its place in scholastics, athletics  and business, but it ought not color our ability to appreciate intrinsic value.

Alternate Paradigms

It would be beneficial to introduce grading systems that allow us to measure intrinsic value. It is nice to note the students at the top of the class, but it would also be nice to note the students that live up to their potential. It’s nice to know who won the track meet, but it would also be nice to know who made the greatest effort.

We are so accustomed to cheering on the winner that to award a loser is counter intuitive. Stop and think about it. Who is the true winner? Is it the one who crossed the finish line first or the one, who made the greatest effort? I suggest they are both winners; one for time, the other for effort. Their combined effort is as an example to all of what can be achieved if we really try.

Competition is admittedly important in academia. If success weren’t rewarded, there would be no incentive. Even academics crave attention and peer validation. If everyone were equally revered, no one would be inclined to work hard.

But there is another side to the coin. The comparative model forces us to think in single dimensions. I can only be right if those, who disagree with me are wrong. I can only be right if my peers agree with me or if the evidence supports my theory. If my peers agree with my opponent, I must be wrong.

Let’s introduce a third paradigm; the Win / Win paradigm. Mine and my opponent’s theory might both be correct. If we investigate both theories we might find that one theory describes one element of the overall picture and the other theory describes the other element. Contradictory though they may seem, both theories may be correct. This is what we call the cooperate dont compete model.cooperate dont compete innerstream

Yet we tend to reject any theory that is not fully supported by the evidence or that doesn’t appeal to our logical temperament. If we can’t answer all the questions, the theory can’t be valid. If we can’t win with it, it must be a loser. I believe this is an outgrowth of our comparative based society.

In a cooperative based society we would be comfortable with our limitations. Acknowledging an inability wouldn’t make us feel insecure. On the contrary we would reach out to others more proficient than ourselves and seek  assistance. There would be no stigma attached to partial answers because there would be no shame associated with our inability to discover the entire solution. (1)


These symptoms are especially observed when we contemplate G-d. Human beings are wired to deny what they cannot understand. G-d is abstract and exalted; his wisdom is impossible to understand. It is easier to deny His wisdom than to acknowledge our limitation.

Why does G-d permit suffering is a question we all ask. Our innate sense of justice demands a response that conforms to our paradigm that suffering is bad and good people ought not be afflicted. A good G-d shouldn’t allow a good person to suffer. If good people suffer, G-d cannot be good.

The argument is appealing and appears to be grounded in logic, but it is internally based. Because we cannot conceive of a reality in which suffering is not cruel, we dismiss the possibility from our minds. Rather than acknowledging the finite capacity of our wisdom we deny the validity of G-d’s wisdom. (2)

Age of the Universe

The same holds true for the age of the universe. The Torah tells us that the universe was created a mere five-thousand-seven-hundred-fifty-seven years ago. The evidence suggests a much older world. The age of the universe seems closer to several billion than several thousand. Is it possible that the Torah and the scientific evidence are both correct? (3)

Rather than engage this intriguing idea that there may be information that is at the moment beyond our grasp, we close ourselves off from it. I believe it is rooted in the win / lose paradigm. If I acknowledge my limitation, I hamper my ability to move forward. Someone else might overtake me and I will fall behind. It is a basic insecurity that keeps us from acknowledging a wisdom that exceeds our own.

In a cooperation based society we would feel comfortable with our limitations and work within them. In a comparison based society we are unable to acknowledge limitation. Limitations cause insecurity and we fear them. Instead we ignore them and eventually learn to deny them.

The Spies

Moses sent ten spies to Israel to scout the land and determine the best strategy for attack. The spies surveyed the land and brought back samples; they excelled at their mission. But they uttered one sentence they should never have; they reported that conquering the land was beyond the military capacity of the Jewish nation. (4)

The spies cannot be faulted for their logic. They were asked for a military appraisal and they gave it. But they didn’t take G-d’s promise into account. In retrospect we know that G-d had no intention of engaging the enemy in a fair battle. He intended to fight a miraculous war. The Shofar would sound and the walls of Jericho would collapse. Israel would appear and the enemy would flee.

Such considerations were beyond the purview of the spies. They were asked to review the evidence, which they did and were compelled to form an opinion. But they forgot a crucial point. G-d doesn’t function according to our rules, He operates according to His own. This was incomprehensible to them and they should have acknowledged it, but instead they chose to ignore it.

Some Jews held steadfast to their belief in G-d’s promise despite the overwhelming evidence brought by the spies. They were mocked as delusional and unrealistic. In truth, they were neither. They were simply comfortable with their limitations. The believer is content to trust G-d even when trust is irrational. The believer is content to place the burden of proof right where it belongs. Squarely in G-d’s lap. (5)


  1. Stephen R. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly
    Effective People, Free Press, New York, 1989, pp. 204-234.
  2. Gerald L. Schroeder, The Science of G-d, Broadway
    Books, New York, pp. 41-72. See also, Nathan Aviezer, In the Beginning,
    Ktav Publishing, Hoboken, New Jersey, 1995.
  3. There are many interesting books on this subject.
    Two interesting examples are: Rabbi Nachman Bulman, Longing for Dawn,
    Feldheim Publishers, New York, 1995 and  Rabbi Yitzchok Kirzner, Making
    Sense of Suffering, Mesorah Publications, 2002.
  4. Numbers, chapters 13 and 14.
  5. This essay is based on Likutei Sichos, (R. Menachem
    M Schneerson, Rebbe of Lubavitch, NY, 1902-1994) XIII, p. 40 and XXIII
    p. 94.

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