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Are we able to defeat giants? The Torah tells us that the inhabitants of Eretz Yisrael were “yelidei ho’anak,” remnants of a race of giants. When the meraglim returned with their report, they announced: “The people that dwell in the land are fierce, and the cities are fortified and very great. Moreover, we saw the children of giants there” (Bamidbar 13:28). The parsha also makes reference to the anshei middot, men of great stature, and the nefillim, primeval giants (Bamidbar 13:32-33).

The Torah wants to impress upon us that it was not bigness which was required to conquer and hold the Holy Land – but greatness. The spies used the wrong measuring rod of bigness, and that was their tragic and fatal error. However, G-d desires greatness, not bigness.


This idea of bigness versus greatness is expressed in many places in Tanach. Yitzchak referred to Eisav as “b’no hagadol” [his big son] (Bereishit 27:2). The Talmud comments, “G-d said to Yitzchak, ‘By your standards Eisav may be big; but by My standards Eisav is a dwarf among dwarves” (Bereishit Rabba 65:11).

In the 16th Chapter of Shmuel I, we are given a beautiful description of the Biblical concept of greatness, in contrast to the popular concept of bigness. The prophet Shmuel is sent to Bethlehem to select a successor to Shaul HaMelech for the kingship. One by one, Shmuel looks upon the sons of Yishai and thinks that this one or that one is the anointed one of G-d, but G-d says to him: “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature… for it is not as a person sees; for a person looks on the outward superficial appearance, but G-d looks into the heart of a human being” (Shmuel I 16:7).

And so it is little David, though short in stature, who is selected, not by the standard of bigness, but by the measuring rod of greatness.

Bigness is measured from the chin down, but greatness is measured from the chin up. A person may be the biggest and tallest player in the NBA and still be a mental midget. The greatness of a people is no more determined by their number than the greatness of a person is determined by his height. This is certainly true in the case of Israel. As the Torah says: “For you are a Holy People to your G-d… G-d did not choose and desire you because you were more in number than any people, for you are the fewest of all nations…” (Devarim 7:6-7).

We were selected because of greatness, because we are an am kadosh (a holy people), and not for our size and numbers. When we are counted, it is from the chin up: “Ki tisa et rosh b’nei Yisrael” (when you raise up the head of Israel) (Shemot 30:11). The Torah also says “Naso et rosh” (when you lift up the head) (Bamidbar 4:22).

Judaism is a religion which does not stress bigness. For bigness, a key word in our society today, is very often bought at the expense and pain of others. However, true greatness is attained by developing the best talents within ourselves.

That is why the am kadosh never had to fear the b’nei anak, the giants. For ultimately our spiritual greatness will triumph over the giants’ mere bigness.

Thus, the end of the parsha of the spies deals with the mitzvah of tzitzit. Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik, zt”l, explains that the blue techelet of tzitzit is a symbol that all events in life are as profound and mysterious as the deep blue sky. The Talmud in Menachot states that the blue techelet of tzitzit reminds us to look up at the blue heavens and admire the incredible, vast expanse of endless space, leading to its Source, the Ein Sof of G-d.

As Tehillim 19:2 states, “The Heavens tell the glory of G-d’s greatness.” By admiring and appreciating G-d’s greatness and goodness, we can achieve our own greatness and goodness as well.

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Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher is dean of students at the Diaspora Yeshiva in Jerusalem.