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"For Instruction shall come forth from Zion, The word of the L-rd from Jerusalem." -- Isaiah 2:3


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NUMBERS — 13:1 spy

We must learn to see the good in everything and everybody. Rashi cites the Midrash Tanchuma for the reason why the section of the Torah dealing with sending the spies to the land of Canaan is next to the section of Miriam's speaking loshon hora. Even though Miriam was publicly punished for speaking against her brother, these wicked people who witnessed her punishment did not learn a lesson. A question arises. How could the spies be expected to learn from Miriam's loshon hora? Miriam spoke against a person, while they spoke against a land. Rabbi Yisroel Ordman, of Telshe Yeshiva in Lithuania, offered the following explanation. One must acquire the attribute of always seen the good in everything. A person who finds fault with things (meals, accommodations, etc.) will also find fault with people. Conversely, a person who always seeks to find the good in all phenomena will also see the good in his fellow man. That is the lesson the spies should have learned: to notice virtues rather than to seek out faults. As a pious man once noted, "We were given two eyes: one very powerful for introspection, so we should find our smallest faults; the other very weak, for viewing others. Only, too often we switch their functions."

NUMBERS — 13:2 chieftain

… concern[ing] the ten spies sent by Moses to spy the land of Israel [e]ach of these people was the leader of his tribe and was called a "special" and distinguished person in the Torah (Numbers 13:2-3 with Rashi commentary on verse 3). How, then, did these men fall so quickly and bring back a bad report about the land of Israel, which caused the people to believe them and sin? The Torah gives us a clue to the answer. It was due to low self-esteem that they developed, despite their previous high position among the Jewish people. When telling over their exploits to the Jews, these spies describe the inhabitants of the land of Israel as "giants" of men. The verse says, "We were like insects in their eyes, and also in our own eyes" (Numbers 13:33). We can understand how these people imagined how the others pictured them, but how did they know for sure how they appeared and were evaluated? Rashi offers one explanation that the spies actually heard the inhabitants speaking about the spies as "ants" (Rashi commentary on Numbers 13:33). But other commentaries simply say that this was all in their imaginations. And later on, when the next generation actually fought and conquered these people in land of Israel, it does not say anywhere that all of the Canaanites were giants. Since they felt so humbled and imagined themselves to be so low, both physically and psychologically, the Torah ends with the words "and so we were in our own eyes." This experience turned these leaders into ants-In their own minds. They now had such low self-esteem, all imagined, that they could no longer say anything positive about their experience or about the land of Israel as a place that G-d would help them conquer. So it was low self-esteem that turned these experienced leaders into scared individuals. We can learn from this that only if the person feels himself or herself to be worthy will he or she indeed become that worthy person.

NUMBERS — 13:20 tree

On the one hand, the intent underlying every mitzvah and act of the Divine service should aim [to bring about] the ascendancy of the glory of the Divine Presence, and this will be accomplished by His creatures' [efforts] to please Him. On the other hand, there is anguish and supplication concerning the ascendancy of His glory, which awaits its consummation through the ascendancy of the glory and tranquility of Israel. There is however, a second rationale behind the virtue of piety, and that is the [concern for the] good of the generation. For it is befitting that the actions of a pious person should be directed toward the good of his entire generation – – to enhance their standing and to shield them [from punishment]. This is expressed in the verse (Yeshayahu 3:10): "Praise the righteous for the good [he has done], for they eat the fruit of their deeds," i.e., the entire generation eats of his fruit. Similarly our Sages of blessed memory have said (Bava Basra 15a), "'Is there a tree there?' [this verse] means: Is there anyone who shields his generation the way a tree gives shelter?" And note that it is the will of the Divine Presence that the pious of Israel should transfer merit to, and atone for, the other strata around them. This is what was said by our Sages of blessed memory with reference to the [four] species within the lulav (based on Vayikra Rabbah 30:12): "Let these come and atone for those." The Holy One blessed be He has no desire to have the wicked perish. Rather, it is incumbent upon the pious to try and enhance their standing and to atone for them.

NUMBERS — 13:31 stronger

"The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who shall know it?" said Jeremiah (17:9). One of the blessings and curses of human nature is that we use our power of reason not always and only to act rationally, but also to rationalise and make excuses for the things we do, even when we know we should not have done them. That, perhaps, is one of the lessons the Torah wishes us to draw from the story of the spies. Had they recalled what G-d had done to Egypt, the mightiest empire of the ancient world, they would not have said [this verse]. But they were in the group of fear. Strong emotion – – fear especially--distorts our perception. It activates the amygdala, the source of our most primal reactions, causing it to override the prefrontal cortex that allows us to think rationally about the consequences of our decisions. Tzitzit, with their thread of blue, remind us of heaven, and that is what we most need if we are consistently to act in accordance with the better angels of our nature.

NUMBERS — 14:16 powerless

(Continued from Numbers 32:22 AMJV 314-5 clear) It is a Torah imperative that Jews take into account how their actions are perceived by others-i.e., Jews must always behave in a way that is not only moral, but that also appears moral to others. King Solomon echoes the same imperative when he writes that Jews need to be right and seek favor both in G-d's eyes and in men's eyes (Proverbs 3:4). Traditional Jews ask G-d to help them achieve this goal each day when they recite the Grace After Meals (End of the last blessing of Birkat Hamazon). This concept of taking an action specifically to assure that one does not appear guilty in the eyes of others is such an important one that it saved the Jewish people twice in the desert. If not for this idea, the entire Jewish people, as we know it, would simply not exist today. After the first great sin that the people committed in the desert by worshiping the Golden Calf, G-d wanted to destroy the entire nation and begin again with Moses. What was Moses' argument that saved to the Jewish people from destruction? Moses tells G-d that if He were to destroy the Jewish people, the Egyptians would (and completely erroneously) think that G-d was simply two-weak to fulfill His promise to bring them into the holy land (see Ibn Ezra commentary) and that is the reason the Jewish people were destroyed, rather than because of their sins (Exodus 32:11-12, 14). Though the Egyptians would have been totally mistaken to think this way, and G-d's punishment of death would have been deserved (an omnipotent G-d could certainly have brought them to the land of Israel), G-d relents and does not destroy the people in order to avoid a Chilul Hashem-desecration of His name. Moses uses the same argument less than two years later one more time. The Jews sin, once again, in believing the ten spies' negative report and not having faith that G-d would make them victorious in their conquest of the land of Israel. Once again G-d wishes to destroy the people. This time, Moses spells out what people would say if this were to occur: The Egyptians would say that G-d had some powers, but not enough strength to lead them successfully into the land of Israel and triumph over the seven nations living there, and that is why G-d had to destroy the Jews in the desert (Numbers 14:11-20). As foolish and incorrect as this argument was, G-d says to Moses that he forgives the Jewish people "because of your words." Thus, how something appears is as important as doing the right thing. Even G-d changed His plans and the Jewish people were saved because of how this situation would appear to the nations [of] the world, even though, had He acted as He had wanted to, of course G-d would have been right and the nations mistaken. Rabbi Moses Sofer (1762-1839), one of the most outstanding and pious rabbis in Europe, writes that one of the most difficult precepts he encountered in trying to fulfill all of Judaism's Commandments is this one. It was far easier for him to remain "clean" and righteous in the eyes of G-d than to "to remain clean in the eyes of his fellow man (Responsa Chatam Sofer 6:39)." People are always filled with all kinds of suspicions and thoughts, even about Rabbis, so a Jew must be very diligent not only to be guiltless but also to appear guiltless in the eyes of others.

NUMBERS — 14:17 power

It was taught: R. Yehoshua b. Levi said: "When Moses ascended on high [to receive the Law], the Holy One Blessed be He said to him: Moses, do they not say "Shalom" ["Greetings"] in your city? Moses responded: Is it proper for a servant to say "Shalom" to his Master? "The L-rd answered: You should have assisted Me -- whereupon Moses said: "And now, let the power of the L-rd be magnified, I pray you ..." (Shabbath 89a)

NUMBERS — 14:28 do

… lashon hara [Lit., "evil tongue," i.e., communicating something bad about another person] brings a person to speak falsely against Hashem, [Yeshayahu 32:6] as the pasuk says (Tehillim 73:9), "They have set their mouth against Heaven, even though their tongue goes up on the earth." Among all the transgressions none come close to the punishment incurred by one who tosses words [abusively against Hashem]. Our Sages said (Arachin 15a) that our forefathers tested [ Hashem] ten times [in the wilderness], but their decree was only sealed over the sin of lashon hara, as the pesukim say [this verse], "Surely, as you have spoken in My ears, I will do to you," and (Devarim 1:34), "Hashem heard the sound of your words, and became angry and made an oath, saying…" [The Jewish people were punished by not being able to enter Eretz Israel after maligning the land and Hashem.] The pasuk also says (Malachi 2:17), "You have wearied Hashem with your words."

NUMBERS — 14:28 spoken

And our Sages of blessed memory have said (Arachin 15a; Shochar Tov 39:1): "Our forefathers were tested with ten trials, but their decree was sealed only because of slander, as it is written [this verse]: 'Surely, as you have spoken in my ears, so will I do to you,' and as it is written (Devarim 1:34): 'And Hashem heard the voice of your words and was angry and swore.'" And Torah does not protect slanderers. In the case of Doeg the Edomite, because he spoke slander, his wisdom did not avail him and his Torah did not protect him (Sotah 21a; Sanhedrin 106b).

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