Divrei Azriel: Negativity is Contagious

This week's divrei Torah are by Daniel Abraham and Nesanel Fishman, edited by Danny Shulman and Yoni Miller.

YU RIETS Israel Kollel,

I: Negativity

At the end of the spy’s negative reports, the pasuk says “We were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and also in their eyes” (13:33). What does it mean that they were grasshoppers in their own eyes? The Kotzker Rebbe explains that only because the spies looked at themselves as grasshoppers and were not confident going in, they saw everyone else viewing them as grasshoppers; because they didn’t have a positive attitude, the moment they saw something to worry about, they were overwhelmed by negative thinking and didn’t believe in themselves.

This negativity continues on the spies gave their report to the people. The spies start by describing the facts they saw. They accurately describe the people as powerful. At this point, the spies were merely telling the people what Moshe had asked them to do while they scouted out the land. Then, after the initial report, Calev got up and announced “We will surely ascend and conquer it” (13:30). Only after Calev tries to raise the people’s confidence that victory will come, the other spies responded by saying “We cannot overcome the people, for it is stronger than us” (13:31).

Once the people heard this single negative line, they began to doubt themselves. It no longer mattered that Hashem, who had devastated the great Egyptian empire through miraculous plagues and defeated the mighty Amaleki army in battle, had promised the Jewish people they would conquer the land. The people didn’t care that Moshe said they should still go in. After the negativity had entered their minds, all confidence was lost.

One can only imagine what would go through a soldier’s mind if, after the general prepared the army for battle and they were about to attack, someone on the front lines yells out “we are all going to die – we have no chance to win.” Can you imagine what would be going through everyone mind before the battle started? Suddenly, the soldiers have doubts in their minds, the worse possible attitude before battle.

Seemingly, negativity comes from a lack of emunah. One of the most important parts of any relationship is trust. If you believe someone cares about you and wants the best for you, its natural to trust them. This also applies in our relationship with Hashem. After Hashem told the Jewish people they would conquer the land of Israel, they should have trusted him and believed that they were going to succeed.

Instead, the negativity took over in a few men, which distorted their judgment and spread throughout all the people. If the spies had more confidence and a more positive outlook, they may not have thought everyone else viewed them as grasshoppers. By viewing themselves in such a pitiful light, the spies brought negativity into their hearts and that spread to all the people.

II: Spying Li’Shmah

In Parshat Shlach we have the story of Moshe sending the spies to Eretz Yisroel and their evil reports as to what the land was like. After their 40 day voyage in Eretz Yisroel, ten out of the 12 spies come back with evil reports including how the people are giants and more powerful then Bnei Yisroel, and they could not conquer the land. The report about Eretz Yisroel caused the people to want to return to Egypt. Therefore, Hashem decrees that they entire nation should be killed in the desert and they would remain there for 40 years.

There are a number of questions that people raise regarding the story of the spies. One of the most prominent questions is how it was possible that the people chosen to scout out the land could have spoken negatively about the land? They were not the typical member of Bnei Yisroel; They were the heads and the leaders, as the pasuk states. Additionally, Rashi even adds that from the language that the torah uses, the word אנשים, implies that the spies were highly distinguished and important people.

In this light, how could they have made this mistake and what exactly was their mistake?

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Ladi offered a very interesting answer to this question. When Bnei Yisroel left Egypt and went into the desert, they were living a lifestyle of complete spirituality. Hashem took care of everything and they didn’t need to worry about a thing. He gave them sustenance and protection. They didn't have to reap the field or work the land. They had manna falling from the sky effortlessly. All their necessities were taken care of for them and they didn't need top get involved in the mundane world.

Rav Shneur Zalman explains that this is the reason the spies gave a negative report. They didn’t want this life of pure spirituality to come to an end. Once they entered the Land of Israel it meant starting a new life. A life that involved plowing, reaping and working the land. The spies realized that once they entered Eretz Yisroel their spiritual lifestyle would come to an end, and there would be less time for spiritual growth. The spies spoke negatively about the land because they knew that once they entered the land they would have to start adding mundane activities into their everyday lives, and felt that they would not have the same level of kedusha and ruchniyus that they had previously.

With this understanding the spies' description of the land makes more sense. They describe the land as אֶרֶץ אכֶלֶת יוֹשְׁבֶיהָ הִוא – a land that consumes its inhabitants. What does this mean that it consumes its inhabitants? According to this approach, this means that the land will consume their time and energy, since their lifestyles will be transformed into a world of farming and working.

The intention of the spies was very logical. They truly thought they were doing the right thing by speaking about Israel this way because they didn't want to enter this new world of working the land and have reduced time for spiritual growth. However, even though this argument might seem so logical and correct, it is wrong if it contradicts Hashem’s Word. When making decisions, we must sometimes relegate our own feelings, attitudes and perspectives to a secondary role, and focus on what Hashem says is right.

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