Successful leadership sometimes requires voicing an opinion different than that held by the majority. In this week’s Torah portion Sh’lach L’cha, twelve Israelite spies go into the land of Israel to see what it is like and if it is conquerable. Ten spies allow their own feelings of inadequacy to color the vision of what they see, so they bring back negative reports. Only Caleb and Joshua, admitting that it will require a struggle, see the land as conquerable. The negativity of the first ten spies spreads throughout the Israelite camp and “The whole community broke into loud cries, and the people wept that night. All the Israelites rallied against Moses and Aaron… And they said to one another ‘Let us head back to Egypt'” (Num. 14:1-2, 4). Fear of failure was at the heart of the majority opinion, and that fear precluded the possibility of taking a risk in order to succeed, in order to do what was right.
We know that for the Israelites, acting on the opinion of the majority would have been a huge mistake. Caleb and Joshua, although in the minority, advocated for their vision of the future and were able to convince others to see a different perspective. Judaism values speaking up for what is right, even if doing so will put us in the minority. In history those who were vocal against anti-Semitism, those who spoke out against racial and social injustice, they started in the minority. Whether on the world stage or in our own community, Judaism teaches that we must not remain silent, and that we must speak out for what is right.
Rabbi Sandra Bellush