After the Jews left Egypt and received the Torah, God guided them through the desert to the Land of Israel which he had promised to grant them. In the beginning of this week’s Torah reading, Parshas Shelach, Moses sent spies to advise the Jewish nation about conquering the Promised Land.
However, instead of just coming back with a technical and factual report, these men tarnished the reputation of the land, and warned the people that it was not in their best interest to attempt to take possession of the land. The people accepted their words and began grieving their fate.
This was an awful mistake on their part. God had promised them that the land is supreme and that they would have no problem conquering it. The spies were punished for their slander, and all the people above age twenty did not merit to enter the land.
Interestingly, there were no actual lies that were fabricated by the spies. They brought back giant fruits and exclaimed that the people are giants just as the fruits were. Additionally, they said that the land causes death amongst its inhabitants, for they witnessed many of the natives being buried while they were on their expedition.
While the actual facts they conveyed were true, they managed to completely distort the reality. The giant fruits which grew there were a blessing. The land was so blessed that it produced such big and juicy fruits. The fact that people were dying was not a consequence of living there, it was a Divine occurrence that transpired for the duration of the time the spies were roaming the land in order to distract the locals from detecting the spies!
The lesson is clear. It’s all a matter of perception. Two people can see the exact same thing and come to opposite conclusions. It’s all about what it is that we are looking to find.
Rabbi Eliezer Silver was very involved with helping out survivors from the Holocaust. After the war, he met a fellow who was very observant before the war, but afterwards, kept very little of his tradition. Rabbi Silver inquired as to what it was that caused him to stray from his old ways. The man proceeded to tell him a horrifying story. In the barracks where he was, there was one man who possessed a Siddur (a prayer book) which he kept hidden from the Nazis. Naturally, the other inmates wanted to borrow this precious book so that they too could pray properly. This person agreed to lend it out, but for a hefty price. He would only lend his Siddur to those who gave him the meager bread portion that they got that day. And indeed, many people gave up some of their limited sustenance to have a chance to pray properly. The survivor was so disgusted with the behavior he had witnessed that he was completely discouraged from continuing to practice his faith.
When the Rabbi heard the fellow’s story he commented in response, “True, what this man did was a most shameful act. To take advantage of the other Jews and demand some of their food in exchange for using his Siddur is certainly despicable behavior. However, while the ignominious conduct of this person discouraged you from keeping to your faith, let me point out something else. Instead of focusing on the evil of that person, look at the heroism of the other Jews. These people were so faithfully devoted to God, that even under the worst conditions, they were willing to sacrifice some of their measly nourishment for the sake of serving God properly in prayer. The acts of the other people are certainly incredibly inspiring.”
Many of us are inclined to view matters negatively when we experience something which is not to our liking at first glance. While this may be human nature, very often, doing so could be very detrimental. When our thoughts start heading in the direction of thinking negatively about something or someone, we should stop ourselves in our tracks and be wary that we might be falling into a trap.
Very often, our initial assessment could be found to be overly exaggerated, inaccurate, or even outright false. Before we get caught up in our emotions, we need to take a step back and ask ourselves: Are we really seeing the whole picture? Are there any positive aspects which we are neglecting to recognize? Are we focusing too much on the negative? Could there be more going on behind the scenes? Are we even looking for the positive, or perhaps we are trying to see things negatively? Instead of jumping to negative conclusions about a given situation, if we put our minds to it, very often we will find that the whole situation at hand could be viewed entirely in a different, and more truthful, light.
By Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber (email@example.com)