Dedicated by Ezra Ashkenazi in honor of my Eshat Chayil wife Sara
Our Rabbis teach us that there is a very distinct connection between last week’s Parashat Behalotecha and this week’s Parashat Shelach. In Behalotecha, Miriam was punished for speaking Lashon Hara about her brother Moshe to her other brother Aharon, even though the midrash explains that her intentions and motivations were completely innocent. Because of this, B’nei Yisrael waited seven days for her while she had to remain outside the camp with leprosy. This was Miriam’s reward for making sure Moshe was safe when he was set out as a baby on the Nile river – according to midrash, she waited seven days. The question is asked, so why did Hashem wait eighty years to reward her for the compassion she showed her brother? The Torah is teaching us that even when a person makes a mistake and sins and that person is being punished, Hashem doesn’t forget the good she did and now the entire Am Yisrael waits for her.
In this week’s Parasha, the spies are accused of speaking Lashon Hara about the Land of Israel. As Rashi points out, they have not learned their lesson, even after witnessing what happened to Miriam. The fundamental mistake that Miriam makes is that she treats Moshe like any other prophet. Moshe has to be available to speak to Hashem at any time of day or night, whereas Aharon and Miriam, who are also prophets, communicate with Hashem through dreams and visions and at limited times. In the same way, the Land of Israel is different from any other land. Israel is a land that has Beracha from Hashem and is therefore above Nature. It lay fallow for 2000 years, until the State of Israel made it flourish again. Thus by speaking against Moshe and against the Land of Israel, Miriam and the spies make the same mistake: she assumes that Moshe is a prophet like all others, and the spies assume that the Land of Israel is a land like all others.
In this week’s Parasha, Shelach, we learn about one of the most important episodes in our history, which affects us to this very day. Hashem says to Moshe: "Shelach lecha anashim veyatru et eretz kenaan asher ani noten le’Bnei Yisrael". "Send out for yourself (lecha) men who will scout the Land of Kenaan, which I am giving to the Children of Israel." Rashi, following Midrash Tanchuma, comments on lecha, for yourself, explaining that “Hashem said to Moshe, I am not commanding you, but if you wish, you may send, according to your understanding.” The Israelites had asked Moshe to send men ahead of them (Devarim1:22) and the Rabbis explain that his consent is one of the reasons that Moshe was not allowed to enter the Land of Israel. In what way was Moshe at fault for letting the twelve spies, who were leaders of their tribes, scout out Kenaan?
The fact that the people wanted to send spies to check out the land was totally disrespectful to Hashem, who had just saved them from the hands of Pharoah and the Egyptians. Hashem split the sea for them, defended them when Amalek attacked them from behind at Rephidim, led them to Har Sinai and gave them the Torah. He then protected them through all the years of their wanderings in the desert, sending them the Maan for food and the Clouds of Glory to shield them. So how could B'nei Yisrael ask Moshe to check out the land? How could they harbour suspicions and fears that the land could be bad or dangerous in any way?
The Zohar explains further that the spies were biased and did not give an accurate report, because they were worried that they would lose their positions once the people entered Kenaan. They felt compelled for this reason to find fault with the land and speak Lashon Hara about it. The entire nation, even the members of the Sanhedrin, became convinced through their persuasive report that the advance to Eretz Yisrael was doomed and that Moshe and Aharon had misled them by taking them out of Egypt.
Lashon Harah is a terrible sin and has many negative ramifications but if we can control ourselves, we will be rewarded by our fellow man and more importantly by Hashem! As an example, Rabbi Lugassi told the story of a man whose boss once asked him to provide some information about his coworker. The man refused, noting that it is forbidden for him to speak lashon ha’ra about other people. The boss was enraged, and made threats against the man. Still, the man did not budge. Over the next two months, the boss made this man’s life in the office intolerable. He was considering quitting his job, until one day the boss came into the office with a big smile, and came over to the man and put his arm around him. “From now on,” the boss said, “we are friends. I am depending on you and I am going to raise your status here in the company.”
The man asked the boss why he’d suddenly changed his attitude towards him.
“I will need to travel a lot for the company,” the boss said, “and I need somebody here whom I can trust. I will need to call often to check in on things here in the office, and I am worried about trusting people with important information. You, however, are trustworthy. You know how to keep your mouth shut, no matter what people do to you. You’re the perfect man for the job.” From that day on, the man was extremely happy at work.
This is a problem of human nature because even when Hashem is performing open miracles for B'nei Yisrael, and even when it is so obvious that Hashem is with them, they continue to complain and express lack of trust. The Pesukim that begin Perek 14 are astonishing: "The entire assembly raised up and issued its voice: The people wept that night. All of B'nei Yisrael spoke against Moshe and Aharon, and the entire assembly said to them: If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had died in the wilderness! Why is Hashem bringing us to this land to die by the sword? Our wives and young children will be taken captive! Is it not better for us to return to Egypt?"
This tragedy of their delusional fears had far-reaching consequences. Hashem decides: "They indulged in crying without a cause, so now I will establish this night for them as a time of crying throughout the generations". That night was, as the Rabbis teach us, Tisha B'av. Tisha B’av is the date on which tragedy after tragedy was to occur throughout Jewish history. On this date both Temples were destroyed, the Spanish Inquisition of 1492 began, World War 1 broke out, the Nazis rose to power and the Holocaust began. We must learn from these lessons of history to be careful about crying for no reason. We must appreciate that Hashem is the source of all our Berachot and if we decide to cry without a reason, then Has'veshalom He may give us a reason to cry, as He did on Tisha B'av. This comes to teach to stop complaining and count our blessings each and every day.
Because of B’nei Yisrael’s complaining about the land, Hashem made them wander in the desert for 40 years to correspond to the 40 days that they spied out the land. Hashem performed another miracle that there were many funerals while they were there. They looked at it as a negative that the land was swallowing up their inhabitants but on the contrary Hashem did that to distract the people from noticing the spies as they were checking out the land.
Another powerful lesson we learn from this episode is found in the spies’ report: "venehey be’einenu ka’chagavim vechen hayenu be’eneihem." "We were like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and so we were in their eyes". Rabbi Twersky writes that this statement is the basis of all of his teachings about self-esteem. A lack of self-esteem can lead a person to drug or alcohol or gambling addictions, which unfortunately are all too common. All these addictions are an effort to escape a sense of being unworthy. The Torah is teaching us here that the way you feel about yourself is actually the way you think others perceive you! Rashi says on this that Hashem
There are countless stories of people who became successful in life and can attribute a large part of their success directly to their parents and how they were brought up as a child. I strongly believe that this is one of the major faults of society today, both in our homes and in our schools. Our children too often suffer from low self-esteem. This need not be the case, but often the adults who are their role models may have had low self-esteem themselves. This fuels an endless spiral of negativity that holds us back and will ultimately limit our growth and our advancement as a society and a people. So in order to offset this dilemma, it is crucial that we build up children, reward them for their accomplishments and act as positive role models, whether it be our own children, grandchildren, students, and so on.
May we all learn to appreciate all that Hashem gives us and know that whatever he gives us, whether we perceive it as good or bad, is always good. Also, we must make it our business to never complain about our situation because it can always be worse. We need to remember that, even considering the decadence that surrounds us in this Galut, we're living in much better times in this country, with the freedom to practice our Judaism, than many of our ancestors in other dark periods of our history. May we also build up our children so they have healthy self-esteem and can eventually be valuable contributors to society and Am Yisrael! Amen!
Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey
Eliyahu Ben Rachel Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher
Sarah Bat Chanah Esther Bat Sarah
Shulamit Bat Helaina Rabbi Meyer Ben Chana
Batsheva Bat Sarah Esther Rafael Ben Miriam
Rav Haim Ben Rivka Moshe Ben Mazal
Yitzchak Ben Adele Avraham Ben Mazal
Chanah Bat Esthe Ovadia Ben Esther
Moshe Ben Garaz Rahamim Ben Mazal
Avraham Ben Garaz Avraham Ben Mazal
Yaakov Ben Rachel Avraham Ben Kami
Meir Ben Latifa Moshe Ben Yael
Malka Bat Garaz Mordechai Ben Rachel
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