Wednesday, June 18, 2008

How To Know What To Say And Do

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

The tragedy of the meraglim as recounted in Parshas Shelach is one of the most remarkable episodes in the Torah. It is difficult to understand what went into this devastating event, the complex factors behind the mission, 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 monn every day and saw the cloud of Hashem lead them during the day and the pillar of fire at 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 make such a grave mistake?

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

This indicates that the root of their folly can be traced to the same pitfalls that led to Miriam’s lashon hara.

Many of the meforshim 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? Moshe gave them a list of questions and they came back with what they thought were the proper answers to those questions.

It seems that the explanation can be derived through understanding that the sin of lashon hara is not committed by spreading malicious lies about other people, but by telling the truth. Lashon hara, by definition, 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 about it.

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 got angry. He may have lived a lifetime practicing honesty, tolerance and generosity, but in one fell swoop, a baal lashon hara can destroy that sterling reputation.

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

The baal lashon hara 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 this person’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 as the guy everyone else praises.

Lashon hara levels the playing field. As Miriam said when gossiping about Moshe’s wife, “Hashem doesn’t speak only to Moshe; 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 me’od mikol 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 lashon 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 and 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 lashon hara 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 meragalim set out to map the land which G-d had promised to their forefathers generations before. Twelve leading men of Israel were given a mission to appraise the Promised Land. They could have approached every site with the perspective that this was the land of destiny upon which Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov 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 govo’ah 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 the Holy Land as if it were green land; they looked at the fruits with 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 resha’im 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 bean counter who treats everyone the same and does everything by the book, ostensibly following the ‘rules.’ An ish uses intelligence and heart to judge people and their actions.

A rasha is a naysayer. In his judgment, nothing can be done to improve a situation and 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 loh.”

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 ligvulam speedily in our days.

When called upon, we must not let our own egos and biases interfere with doing what is proper.

The posuk relates that Moshe added a yud to the name of Hoshea bin Nun and called him Yehoshua. Rashi explains that the letter yud was to signify that “Yud-Hey yoshiacha mei’atzas hameraglim - Hashem should save you from the evil designs of the meraglim.”

The question is asked why Moshe prayed only for his talmid Yehoshua and not for the others.

I was thinking that perhaps the explanation is that Koh yoshiacha mei’atzas hameraglim was not a prayer offered up by Moshe on behalf of Yehoshua, but rather a reminder to Hoshea. Moshe added the yud to his name so that he should remember that Hashem promised to bring the Jews into Eretz Yisroel. Hashem promised that it will be a blessed land flowing with milk, honey, and all else that is good.

Additionally, the yud was a reminder to Yehoshua that he shouldn’t jump to determinations about the land based upon his own intelligence which is biased. When he thinks of his new name and the yud that was added, he will remember to judge the land with the proper perspective and he will thus be saved from the whims of the meraglim.

In our lives, we must similarly bear that lesson in mind. Remember Hashem’s admonitions and the promises reserved for those who heed His word. Look at every situation the way Hashem wants us to and you will be saved from the atzas hayeitzer. The offspring of the meraglim are present in every generation and seek to prevent people from recognizing the blessings of Hashem. Beware of them.

Remember the yud of Yehoshua’s name and you, too, will be saved from the atzas hameraglim. When you hear people find fault with rabbonon vetalmideihem, you will know to go the other way. When you hear others poke fun at devorim shebikedushah, you will know to ignore them.

When you read of ostensibly religious people engaging in a boycott of the country’s largest kosher slaughterhouse, you will recognize them for what they are: evil people, with evil designs, bent on destroying all that is holy. You will do all in your power to help the cause of kosher shechitah in particular and ehrlicheh businesses in general. You will not fall prey to those who constantly find fault in all that is holy and dear to us.

When you have to make a decision, you will think to yourself, “What does Hakadosh Boruch Hu want me to do in this situation?” and you will never be misled. You will be blessed with success and happiness in all that you do.


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