With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
Although I have learned from many amazing educators, the teaching that has probably had the greatest impact on me did not come from school, rabbinic literature, or even my parents. It came from Spider-Man. I can directly trace my desire to work in the nonprofit world to Spider-Man. Although there is debate about where the expression originates, the message of his origin story is clear: “With great power there must also come—great responsibility!” The idea that individuals who have the ability and opportunity to make a difference in this world are obligated to do so is the foundation of how many people try to live their lives.
In this week’s parashah, we see a variation on this, one in which an individual accepts a leadership position with good intent, but in the end creates a negative outcome. In Deut. 1:22–46, Moses describes what happened when 12 individuals were charged with finding the best route for the people to enter the Land. Instead, their report focusing on the size and strength of the current inhabitants created panic among the people. This led to a loss of faith in God that not only ultimately prevented their generation from being allowed to enter the Land, but—according to the text in Deuteronomy—is also why Moses was forbidden to enter.
Throughout Deuteronomy, Moses relays to the current generation the story of their people. Like a parent sending his children off alone, he wants to make sure they have the tools to be successful. This includes knowing the mistakes of the previous generation so they can learn that, with great power and opportunity to do good, there is also responsibility.
Just ask Spider-Man.
Rabbi Siegel is Executive Direector at Hofstra Hillel.