Wednesday, June 22, 2005


by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

The saga of the Meraglim as recounted in Parshas Shelach is one of the most remarkable in the Torah. It is so difficult to understand what went into this devastating episode; the complex factors behind the mission; why and how ten of the finest leaders of the Jewish people failed so miserably in their shlichus.

The Bnei Yisroel who asked for the spies to be sent to the Promised Land were the same people who not long before had been rescued from being lowly slaves in Mitzrayim. These are the same people who experienced the Makkos, yetzias Mitzrayim and the splitting of the yam suf. They are the ones who ate mon every day and saw the cloud of Hashem lead them by day and the pillar of fire by night.

Not only were they witness to all the great miracles, but they and their families survived in the desert solely through the constant outpouring of Hashem’s beneficence. How did they go so wrong?

Rashi quotes the Medrash Tanchumah which comments that the parsha of the meraglim follows that of Miriam and the loshon horah she spoke of her brother Moshe Rabbeinu, to demonstrate that the spies saw the severity of loshon horah but failed abysmally to heed its lessons.

This indicates that the roots of their folly can be traced to the same pitfalls that led to Miriam’s loshon horah.

Many of the commentators question what it is that the meraglim did wrong. Having been sent on an investigatory expedition, did they not have a duty to report what they saw?

It seems that the explanation can be derived through understanding that the sin of loshon horah does not consist in spreading malicious lies about other people; the sin is committed by telling the truth. Loshon horah is slander by truth. It is taking one aspect of a person’s actions and highlighting it in a negative, destructive way, and then going all around town and letting everyone know.

The victim of this character-defamation may be kind and generous. He may be a person of high character who is patient and gentle with everyone, but one day someone pushed him too far and he erupted in a rage. He may have lived a lifetime practicing honesty, tolerance and generosity, but in one fell swoop, a baal loshon harah can destroy that sterling reputation.

He can do this without lying or exaggerating. Simply by reporting this noble individual’s single lapse.

The baal loshon horah derives great enjoyment from finally bringing down an individual occupying a pedestal of honor in the neighborhood or community. No longer does he have to hear from people about “Mister Klein’s” virtues. No longer does he have to feel inferior or guilty, for not working as hard or contributing as much to the communal welfare.

Loshon horah levels the playing field. As Miriam said when gossiping about Moshe’s wife, “Who does Moshe think he is anyway? Hashem doesn’t speak only to him, He also speaks to us.” Thus Moshe Rabbeinu, the greatest leader in history, was reduced to the level of the people who gossiped about him and his marriage.

The posuk adds that “Ha’ish Moshe anav meod m’kol adam asher al pnei ha’adamah; Moshe was an extremely humble person, the most humble person on the face of the earth.

Why is this description of Moshe’s humility inserted here, right after the recounting of Miriam’s loshon horah? What is the message?

Because Moshe was so humble, people were able to delude themselves into thinking that he was just like them. True, there was no prophet like Moshe, there was no leader like Moshe, but since he was so humble and unassuming, people could prop up their egos by diminishing his stature. They could say, “He’s no big deal, he’s one of us.”

There is no one in our world who is so righteous that he has no faults at all. A baal loshon horah ignores the whole picture and focuses only on the part he can criticize. He dismisses the good in the person and singles out one facet that he has interpreted negatively. He assuages his own feelings of inadequacy by trying to magnify the shortcoming he has found, to pull the giant down to his own much lower stature.

The mergalim set out to map the land which G-d had promised to their forefathers generations ago. Twelve leading men of Israel were given a mission to appraise the Promised Land. They could have approached every sight with the perspective that this was the land of destiny upon which Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov had walked. It was the country their forefathers had fought and prayed for; the eternal home of the Jewish people.

But they didn’t look at Eretz Yisroel as being govoah mikol ha’aratzos; they didn’t look at Chevron and Yerushalayim as being different from any other cities and towns in countries anywhere in the world. They were bureaucrats on a scouting mission; whatever they saw they measured with an ordinary yardstick as they would measure sights and artifacts in any other part of the world.

They traversed about the holy land as if it were green land; they looked at the fruits by which Eretz Yisroel is praised as if they were the products of a simple agrarian state. They didn’t hear G-d’s promises reverberating in the backs of their minds as they walked about inspecting the lay of the land. They found fault in everything they saw.

Just as Miriam saw fit to speak ill of Moshe because she looked at him as a regular, normal human being, they were comfortable speaking poorly of the land because they viewed it as just another country.

Their sin was two-fold; they denied the greatness of the land and they denied the Divine promise.

From the incident with Miriam the reshoim should have learned that not all men are created equal and not all countries are created equal. The methods of appraisal are not the professional tools of a psychologist or the yardsticks of the real estate agent, but the Torah and the word of Hashem.

One who fails to heed that lesson is a rasha.

The counterpart of a rasha is one who internalizes the admonition of “hayad Hashem tikzor” when he sets out to analyze if something is doable. One who follows the words of Hashem knows that Moshe was different because “peh el peh adabeir bo.”

One who seeks to fulfill Hashem’s will takes heed of what transpires around him and learns how to live his life by the messages Hashem delivers.

A rasha seeks to rip down great men and bring them down to his level; an ish builds people up. A rasha sees people trying to build something and mocks their efforts, saying they will come to naught; he can only discourage. An ish offers encouragement and succor to strengthen others for the challenges which inevitably lie ahead.

A rasha is a naysayer. In his judgment, nothing can be done to improve a situation, no achievement will last. An ish, on the other hand, says, “Let’s do what’s proper and we will succeed.” A rasha says, “Don’t bother trying,” An ish says, “Let’s make our hishtadlus, Hashem will do the rest.”

The lesson of the meraglim calls out to us in our day as well. When you see people struggling to fulfill G-d’s word, encourage them. When you see people working on a project for the communal good, strengthen them. When called upon to assist noble individuals, worthy projects, yeshivos and communal endeavors, respond as Calev did and say, “yachol nuchal lah.”

When you assess a situation or a person, do so with the periscope of Torah. Let the promises of the Neviim ring in our minds as we go about our daily tasks so that we may merit the fulfillment of veshavu bonim legvulam speedily in our days.


Blogger ClooJew said...

There is, lulei demistafina, a chiluk, though: Loshon Hora is about saying anything. Here the meraglim were directed to say something. Their sin was in their conclusion--"Efes-Impossible"--which they had no right to offer.

Shkoyach on the post.

3:17 PM  

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