Last week, I wrote about the human propensity to complain unceasingly. (Based on my kids' ingratitude despite receiving supernaturally large Power Ranger popsicles; see previous Insights for all the sticky details.)
This week, I want to expand that point somewhat. Not only do we human beings tend to stick our noses up at past or present blessings, as we gaze fixedly on whatever future wish or fantasy we now want fulfilled, but we also often view those very blessings themselves as curses! Our mind (or, more precisely, the evil inclination that tirelessly works to sway that mind) "plays tricks on us," manipulating--or shredding--the data, and we end up deceived as to the ultimate truth of our situation.
The great Torah ethicist,
Rabbi Moshe Chayim
Luzzatto (in his classic, Mesilas Yesharim, or Path of the Just),
memorably discusses this tragic moral blindness as he examines a Talmudic
statement that compares this physical world to a dark night:
A remarkably profound psychological analysis, in my humble opinion, and
one which has such wide-ranging application to human experience.
(Luzzatto goes on to tell us that the only hope we have of defeating
our evil inclination, and achieving true
insight and self-knowledge--not to mention
freedom--is through the study and practice of Torah, combined with regular
periods of searching introspection.)
In deference to the wish of the Jewish people for such a reconnaissance
mission--which itself, as some sources point
out, revealed a blemish in their bitachon (trust in
G-d), for He had assured them that they would
miraculously triumph over the Canaanite inhabitants--, Moshe sends 12
righteous men to gather information about the Land and its
population. They return after 40 days, having
journeyed the length and breadth of Eretz Yisrael and bearing specimens of
its fruit. With the exception of Yehoshua and Calev, the scouts bring a
disheartening message: although the Land is
flowing with milk and honey, "the people that dwells in the land is
powerful, the cities are very fortified and large, and we also saw there the
offspring of giants." As
Ramban points out,
the language they use (efes, in Hebrew) clearly conveys their feeling that
it would be impossible to conquer the Canaanites.
And indeed, after Calev bravely tries to lift the spirits of the people, the
spies openly proclaim: "We cannot ascend to the people, for it
is stronger than us."
Funerals were all we saw, they tell the Jewish people! And funerals are bad, no? Are they not an unmistakable sign of poor air quality, or some other unhealthful condition in this Land? (We know the difference between a pillar and a man!) Ah, but Rashi goes on in his comment to give us the punch line:
"And the Holy One, Blessed be He, did this [i.e., caused the Canaanites to be busy with funerals] for [the spies'] good, in order to distract [the Canaanites] with their mourning, and [thus] they would not notice these [spies.]"
What Hashem had brought about for the good of the spies and the Jewish
people--the propitious timing (so to speak)
of many Canaanite deaths to take away attention
from the travels of the scouts--was perceived by them
to be a very great evil. So, too, with the immense fruits (bigger
than Power Ranger popsicles) the scouts brought back with them from the Land
to show the people: they tried to convince them
that "just as its fruit is unusual [in its size],
so are its people unusual" (Rashi). The blessing of the unique
fertility of the Land of Israel that G-d
wanted us to enjoy became, in the minds of the scouts (and then the rest of
the Jewish people), the evidence
'Would that we had died in the land of Egypt, or would that we had died in the wilderness!
Why is Hashem bringing us to this land to fall by the sword? Our wives
and young children will
be taken captive! Is it not better for us to return to Egypt?" (14, 1-3)
What the exact underlying (or even subconscious) motivation of the 10 spies themselves was is an interesting--and important--question. The Zohar explains that they feared they would lose their prominent standing among the Jewish people upon entering the land, and this perverted their objectivity. In any case, our focus here is on the distortion of their perceptions itself: for whatever reason, their eyes and minds deceived them. They reached a conclusion that was the very opposite of the truth.
The Jewish people complained and wept for no (good) reason whatsoever.
One of my teachers, Rabbi Gershenfeld, would always tell us that the
brain is (in its ideal state) a precise computer
that will give accurate results if fed the correct
data. The problem, though, is that there is an enemy called the
yetzer ha'ra (evil inclination) who is usually in control of the hard
drive, and he is most biased in the results he
wants to obtain. Even the clear and unmistakable
data we think we are entering yields a false result through his
machinations. Or, if you prefer, he is the virus that is always
sneaking into our mind's operating system. The
only anti-virus program that will work is Torah
study and intense striving for truth…and then, with G-d's help (no
insignificant factor there), we may succeed.
MY SUMMER E-MAIL (STARTING NEXT WEDNESDAY, MAY 29TH) WILL BE:
My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Rabbi Yosef Edelstein, Savannah Kollel. Phone: 355-0157; fax: 354-9923
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