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NUMBERS — 13:1 spy

NUM135 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

NUM136 … 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 God 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

NUM137 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

NUM138 "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 God 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

NUM141 (Continued from [[NUM387]] 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 God's eyes and in men's eyes (Proverbs 3:4). Traditional Jews ask God 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, God 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 God that if He were to destroy the Jewish people, the Egyptians would (and completely erroneously) think that God 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 God's punishment of death would have been deserved (an omnipotent God could certainly have brought them to the land of Israel), God 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 God would make them victorious in their conquest of the land of Israel. Once again God wishes to destroy the people. This time, Moses spells out what people would say if this were to occur: The Egyptians would say that God 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 God had to destroy the Jews in the desert (Numbers 14:11-20). As foolish and incorrect as this argument was, God 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 God 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 God 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 God 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

NUM142 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 Lord answered: You should have assisted Me -- whereupon Moses said: "And now, let the power of the Lord be magnified, I pray you ..." (Shabbath 89a)


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