Shlach - Size Matters

Following the spies first look at Eretz Yisrael, they delivered a devastating report about the land of Israel and  about the inhabitants that they saw.
There we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, descended from the giants. In our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes.
 וְשָׁם רָאִינוּ אֶת הַנְּפִילִים בְּנֵי עֲנָק מִן הַנְּפִלִים וַנְּהִי בְעֵינֵינוּ כַּחֲגָבִים וְכֵן הָיִינוּ בְּעֵינֵיהֶם 
Bamidbar 13:33
It is a very interesting choice of words they make to describe their situation. What importance is attributed to specifically describing themselves as grasshoppers

The Spies are Liars
The discussion in  Masechet Sotah raises the issue, how the spies themselves were able to know what the local inhabitants perceived them. 
The pasuk states In our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes.  R. Mesharsheya said: The spies were liars! Regarding 'in our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers', very well - but how could they known 'and so we were in their eyes'?
But it is not so (that the spies did not lie in this matter),  for when [the inhabitants] held their funeral-meal (after burying the dead)  they ate beneath cedar trees, and when [the spies] saw them they climbed the trees and sat there. Then they [the spies] heard them say: 'We see men like grasshoppers in the vineyards'.
Sotah 35A
So the question comes up were the spies, assuming what others thought about them, or did they actually hear what was said about them.

What is the Significance of Ants?
Rashi quotes this selection in his commentary on the pasuk but makes a slight shift:
We heard them telling each other,"We see men like ants in the vineyards."
שמענו אומרים זה לזה נמלים יש בכרמים כאנשים

From out of no where, Rashi changes the wording to describe the perception of the spies as ants instead of grasshoppers. Why ants? What is the significance of ants?

The Yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven
The Kedushat Levi, Reb Levi Yitzhok from Berditchev, raises this difficulty with 2 explanations. 

In the first explanation, he says, 'it appears to me that it is a rule that when Am Yisrael fulfills the desires of Hakodosh Baruch Hu then they are raised up and draw closer to the nature of  'malchut' of the Creator. And that is what Rashi is hinting at in deliberately using the term ants, instead of grasshoppers. The spies removed the yoke of heaven from their backs, the yoke of 'malchut'  and that is the point that Rashi wants to show by saying 'ants'. As it says in the verse:
Go to the ant, you sluggard; see her ways and become wise, for she has no chief, overseer, or ruler; yet she prepares her bread in the summer; she gathers her food in the harvest.
לֵךְ-אֶל-נְמָלָה עָצֵל;    רְאֵה דְרָכֶיהָ וַחֲכָם אֲשֶׁר אֵין-לָהּ קָצִין--    שֹׁטֵר וּמֹשֵׁל. 
Mishle 6:6-8
The ant is known to not regard another entity as dominating or ruling over it.

Why Eretz Yisrael?
In the Kedushat Levi's second explanation, he relates the discussion:
 'King Ptolemy (Philadelphus of Egypt [285-247BCE] asks, why do you want to conquer Eretz Yisrael - isn't all the land [of the world] from Hakodosh Baruch Hu?
The Jews answered back that G-d gave us this land, and it would be (literally) stealing to take another land.

Just as Chazal says in Mesechet Eruvin (100B):
What is meant by the pasuk:  "Who teaches us [more] than the beasts of the earth, and Who makes us wiser than the birds of the skies?" (Iyov 35:11)
‘Who teaches us [more] than the beasts of the earth’ refers to the mule which kneels when it makes water, ‘Who makes us wiser than the birds of the skies’ refers to the cock which first coaxes and then mates. R. Johanan observed: If the Torah had not been given we could have learnt modesty from the cat, honesty from the ant [(objection to) robbery’], chastity from the dove, and good manners from the cock who first coaxes and then mates. 
Another reference to the ant. How does the ant teach us about honesty, and how does it fit into Rashi's explanation?

In Rashi's comments on this passage he explains: ants do not take food from their fellow ant. Ants have a heightened sense of smell, when they find a piece of food, they can identify if another ant has laid claim to it.

That is how the Kedushat Levi explains Rashi's use of the term 'ant', where the inhabitant referred to the spies. The term ants suggests that the spies had no intention to 'steal' any of the land of Israel. 

A Matter of Perspective: Kli Yakar on Rashi 
The Kli Yakar gives another perspective on Rashi's use of 'ants'. He explains this is a matter of perspective. That for the spies, they saw themselves as the size of grasshoppers in comparison to others, but for the inhabitants standing far away, the spies when on to assume that they appeared as ants to them. 

The Fundamental Question of How you see Yourself
Is that all there is to the Kli Yakar's commentary? There perception of ants is just a matter of perspective, for where you are standing? The issues raised in the passage in Sotah is important. Perhaps the spies had heard the whispers of the inhabitants in the trees, talking about grasshoppers. Perhaps the inhabitant's whispers were actually referring to the spies.

Or perhaps the spies, who had already established based on their own point of view that they created a self-perception, seeing themselves as grasshoppers, and just assumed any reference to men in the vineyards was talking about them.   

Your Self Worth
Rav Soloveitchik asks, how do they know that the giants thought the spies were grasshoppers? Rashi compared them to ants and not grasshoppers. But how could Rashi be arguing on the passuk?

This is teaching us to be aware of the danger of low self-esteem. If you see yourself as a grasshopper, that’s exactly how others will see you. Do you think that low self-esteem stays the same? It’s a downward spiral. It’s only a matter of time that you will see yourself like ants.

Rashi focuses his switch in wording in his commentary on the later half of the pasuk: 
and so we were in their eyes.
He is providing a strong observation not on the assumption that the spies made about how others perceived themselves. 

We have more examples of the importance of self-perception. 
... you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Vayikra 19:18
In Shabbos 31a, Hillel says "That which is hateful to yourself, do not do to your friend: This is the entire Torah, the rest is commentary, go now and learn it."

From these places, we learn that before you engage your fellow person, you must engage yourself. That all the more so, you should not do something hateful even about yourself.

It is here we see the fundamental principal to not just do good things for others, but the first step  in developing your character and 'working on yourself' is developing a good sense of self worth, a positive one that is in line with reality, not skewed by internal doubt. 

Internal Doubt
The alternative is a process of reinforcing a skewed way of thinking. This is an endless, vicious cycle where you project a negative self-perception onto the way you believe others see you. This is a continually and internally reinforced situation making one more and more withdrawn, leaving yourself to second-guess what everyone is thinking. Just like the spies seemed to second-guessed what they believed the inhabitants thought of them.

Holding On to a Position of Honor
What brought the spies to this position? The Netivot Shalom asks this, saying that the spies were all the greatest leaders of Israel, the finest of each tribe. How could they fall?

He explains that the tribal leaders were afraid of losing their positions and respect upon entering the land of Israel. They wanted to maintain the status quo and keep their positions of importance just as outside of the land of Israel.

The spies sent by Moshe were the hand-picked best that the Jewish people had to offer. They had no competition! So then, what were they afraid of?

They were afraid of themselves!

What to be Afraid of
To enter the land of Israel, they needed to have the qualities of humility and humbleness. These were essential qualities which they were lacking. This is evident in how they present themselves. When we humble ourselves in deference to the vastness and infiniteness of Hakadosh Baruch Hu, we can say that we are a mere grasshopper - a small entity in comparison to the vastness of Hashem. Yet when we are no longer focused on humility and humbleness, but concern ourselves with what others think, then we are lacking in a critical characteristic.

To compensate for this lacking, they started to weave lies and cover up the truth. They criticized the land and showed no faith in heavenly promises. They sought to draw the entire people after them.

Not What They Think
Ultimately it's not what other's think, but what we say about ourselves. We can confidently look at ourselves as tiny grasshoppers, humbling ourselves in comparison to the awesomeness of Hashem. Yet we don't have to listen to those giants, those giants of the world sitting high up in their ceder fortresses looking at the nation of Israel from afar and saying, they look like grasshoppers or even ants. Let them think whatever they want!

We know what we are worth.

Yet, one can't just decide through sheer willpower to withstand this debilitating skewed thinking. It needs to be uprooted deep within oneself, going in deep, and uprooting this harmful behavior. Otherwise the perception of oneself as a grasshopper can descend to being an ant, a flea, a tick etc etc.

Legacy of the Spies
Even after the sin of the golden calf, the Jewish people was not so severely punished, as the spies. The spies were caught up in their own interests, painfully aware of the lack of the critical qualities of humility and humbleness required for leading the Jewish people into the land of Israel. Their insecurities grew rampantly, and out of control, and they fought to hold on to what they were quickly losing - an important position, a seat of honor. And we are reminded of the mishna in Pirkei Avot:
"Rabbi Elazar HaKappar said: Jealousy, lust and the [pursuit of] honor remove a person from the world."
Avot 4:28
The spies report set in motion suffering and a legacy that the Jewish people have had to contend with resulting in 40 years of wandering the desert, and the ongoing, and enduring, anguish of Tisha B'Av. So just as this condition was sparked by a lack of humility and humbleness, and insecurities, we should strive to 'fix' this matter by looking inward, and taking upon ourselves new ways and paths to add humility to our lives and develop more humbleness in our spirit.