The expansion of our consciousness is the key to our spiritual evolution. The goal of the practices and teachings of the various religions is to change the way in which we experience the world around us. This, in turn, transforms the way in which we view ourselves.

It is through the expansion of our consciousness that we break down the old conceptions and beliefs that have locked us into unproductive patterns of behavior and thinking. And it is through the energy of the Will of God that is embodied in this consciousness that we find the courage to set out on new and uncharted directions in our life.

There are many incidents in the Torah that underline the importance of an expansive consciousness. One such incident is the story of the twelve spies that journeyed into the Land of Israel.

After the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, Moses and the Children of Israel traveled on through the desert until they reached the borders of the Land of Canaan. Before they set out on their war of conquest, Moses decided to send a group of spies to scout out the land. He picked the princes of the twelve tribes for this important mission. The twelve spies entered the land and wandered through its hills and valleys for forty days.

When the princes returned from their mission, they were devastated. What they saw in Canaan completely destroyed any confidence they had that the Children of Israel could conquer the Promised Land:

“We are not able to go up against these people, for they are stronger than we…the land, which we have gone to spy out, is a land that eats up its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are men of great stature…we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.” (Num. 13:31-33)

As a result of this report, the people lost heart and rebelled against God and Moses. They refused to enter the Land of Canaan and discussed choosing a new leader and returning to the Land of Egypt.

When God heard their laments, He called Moses and told him that He was going to destroy all of Israel and make a new nation beginning with Moses. But once again, as he had done after the Golden Calf, Moses pleaded for the life of the people, and God relented and agreed not to destroy them. However, God refused to allow the Children of Israel to enter the Promised Land. He condemned them to forty years of wandering in the desert, until the generation of the Exodus had died out and a new generation had arisen in its stead. This generation, who were not part of the rebellion, would then be taken into the Promised Land.

Now, if we take a careful look at the story of the spies, we will see that their mission failed not because of a lack of courage, but rather because of a lack of vision, a fundamental inability to see the Divine opportunity embodied in the land before them. Of the twelve spies, only Joshua, the son of Nun, and Caleb, the son of Jephunah, had the higher consciousness necessary to see the great potential inherent in the land. Therefore, they alone among the twelve spies proclaimed:

“The land which we passed through to spy it out is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delight in us, then He will bring us into this land… the Lord is with us, fear them not.”(Num. 14:7-9)

This is why the Book of the Zohar describes the journey of the twelve spies as an ascent into the higher worlds; it is the quest to reach this higher vision that was at the center of their test. The failure of the spies was ultimately a failure to leave behind the consciousness of Mitsrayim (Egypt) or as the Hebrew can alternatively be read metsarim (the narrow places) and break through into the expanded consciousness of the Land of Israel. It was this same slave mentality that had led them to build the Golden Calf; now it bound them to material consciousness once again.

Once it was clear that the people could not hold on to the higher state of “living by Divine inspiration,” God had no choice but to force them back into the desert. After this generation of slaves had passed away, the work could begin again, with a new generation that was better prepared to live with God in His land.

At the end of the Torah portion that tells the story of the spies, God gives the Children of Israel the mitzvah of tzitzit (fringes on each of the four corners of a garment). Originally, each tzitzit had a special blue thread amid the other fringes. This thread had to be a specific blue called techelet. We are told in the Talmud, Hulin 89a, that this color resembles “the color of the sea, and the sea is like the deep sky, which resembles the color of the sapphire stone, which resembles the color of the Throne of Glory.”

Many commentators have asked why this commandment is given in the Torah portion of the spies. The answer can be found in this section in the Talmud. For the above passage is not a practical description of the color of techelet; it is an explanation of why it is so important for one of the threads of the tzitzit to be this color blue.

One thread of the tzitzit must be the color of techelet because the tzitzit are a tool for expanding our state of consciousness. When we look at the techelet, our mind is lifted through a series of images that expands our awareness towards the Infinite.

First we glance at the tzitzit; then we think of the sea, the sky and the sapphire stone. Finally, we contemplate the spiritual realms and the Throne of Glory.

This is why the commandment of tzitzit comes at the end of the Torah portion about the spies, because it is the tzitzit that provide us with a remedy for their failure of vision.

A corollary to the principle of the expansion of consciousness is the truth that everything that expands our consciousness is considered part of the spiritual life, regardless of whether or not it is overtly spiritual or religious. Therefore, the young child who learns how to communicate by talking, the parent who opens his heart by sacrificing for his child, the musician who plays his music with a new depth and feeling, and the businessman who improves and expands his products and services, are all an integral part of the spiritual life. For each of these individuals is expanding the horizons of their consciousness.

However, this does not mean that spiritual growth has no reference to morals or ethics. A central component of the expansion of our consciousness is an ever-increasing inclusiveness in our viewpoint. This inclusiveness has a number of different aspects.

Through acts of charity and loving-kindness, our hearts are widened to encompass a larger segment of humanity in its love. Through the study of science, philosophy, psychology, the arts, and spiritual wisdom, our minds are stretched to hold a broader vision of reality. Through the regular practice of prayer and meditation, our soul embraces greater and greater levels of the Divine source from which we have come.

Ultimately, the process of continually expanding our consciousness leads us to the recognition of the underlying unity of all religions and peoples. Through the mind stimulation that it creates, we arrive at the understanding that there are many different pathways that lead to God and that God cherishes each individual in the human race.

This understanding is not just intellectual knowledge; it is a sublime state of consciousness that links us to a place in the Mind of God that is beyond all race and religion, where everything is One. Union with this “consciousness of oneness” is the supreme goal of our life. And it is the revelation of this truth that is the essential purpose behind all of the world’s many faiths and religions.

from Glick, Seeking the Divine Presence: The Three Pillars of a Jewish Spiritual Life

copyright © 2009, by Yoel Glick