Parshas Shelach (5772)
By Rabbi David Zauderer
The weekly Torah portion starts off with the fiasco of the Meraglim (the Spies that Moses sent into the Land of Israel ahead of the Jewish people to explore the land and its inhabitants, and who brought back a negative report that caused the nation to lose trust in G-d and in His ability to help them conquer the land - see Numbers Chapter 13), and ends with a verse in which G-d commands us not to explore and "spy" after our hearts and after our eyes (Numbers 15:39). There has to be some connection there.
Additionally, the order of that verse is quite puzzling. Generally what happens is that the eye sees something which then causes the heart to yearn for it. Why does the Torah write the reverse?
The answer to these questions lies in a fundamental understanding of human nature. The Torah is telling us that a person will only see what he wants to see. It’s all a matter of perspective.
Moses sent out 12 leaders of the Jewish nation on a fact-finding mission to the Land of Israel. Ten of them came back with a horribly negative and pessimistic view of the land and its inhabitants. This served to discourage the people from attempting to conquer it, and it eroded their faith in G-d greatly. Yet, at the same time, two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, came back upbeat and with a positive message. They told the people that with G-d on our side, taking the land of Israel is a piece of cake!
Same land, same inhabitants, two diametrically opposed views. Now how does that happen?
The answer is simple: The ten spies wanted to see bad in the land of Israel to justify their own preconceptions. Joshua and Caleb went there with a healthy, positive attitude, so they saw only good things about the land. It’s all a matter of perspective.
It's like that with everything in life. Sometimes we have one issue that's taking up all available space in our minds and hearts, and it causes us to paint a negative picture of an otherwise positive and beautiful thing. But – make no mistake about it – it is definitely in our power, if we so desire, to remain objective and to see things with an open mind and a proper perspective, judging them on their own merits.
I once brought two students, a girl and a guy, along with me for a Shabbos meal at the home of a wonderful family I know in New York. The food was delicious, the Shabbos songs were heavenly, the words of Torah that were discussed were inspiring, and the well-behaved, well-groomed children were just a pleasure to behold. After a few wonderful hours and a considerable number of pounds gained, we finally got up to leave. As we turned the corner away from the house, I said to my students, “Nu, what do you think? Wasn’t that Shabbos meal truly amazing?!” To which the girl replied, "How come the Rabbi didn't shake my hand when we came into the house?"
I remember thinking then, what a shame! All this girl seemed to focus on was the negative, and the entire beauty of the experience passed right by her. It’s all a matter of perspective.
This is the basic message of the Torah. We often see only what our heart wants us to see. And that's not always good. We’d do much better if we would try to see things with an open mind. Try to be receptive to the beauty of G-d's world and His Torah without all the baggage and preconceived notions.
Sure there are legitimate issues and questions that need to be addressed and explained - but let's not turn those issues into black-colored glasses, painting everything else we see black in the process. We should let ourselves be guided by our intellect and the desire for truth, not just by our hearts and our eyes. This way, we will gain a more honest and even perspective on the things that count most in our lives.