<i>Shelach</I>: Spy News

The illustrative story of the evil of Lashon Hara.

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch,

Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch
"We slanted the news towards withdrawal from Lebanon because we had sons there.... The morning audience, stuck at traffic jams or at work, is simply captive. They're ours.... We promoted an agenda.... I'm not sorry. I'm proud that we had a part in getting our sons out of Lebanon." -- Dr. Chanan Naveh, former Israel Broadcasting Authority news editor

"The media's conspiracy." -- Kaveh Shafran, correspondent Army Radio, about the Gush Katif Disengagement

"The power of Lashon Hara (evil speech) is more powerful than nuclear weapons; you can defeat superpowers by being on CNN. It makes no difference how powerful you are: the only thing that matters is perception." -- Rabbi Matis Weinberg, Advanced Frameworks, Shelach, 1995; The Living Tree.org)

The story of the spies, the meraglim, is used by the Mishna and Gemara (Erchin 15a-16b) as the illustrative story of the evil of Lashon Hara, gossip and slander. Rabbi
This issue touches the very essence and origins of evil itself.
Weinberg notes a dispute between Rambam and Raavad on the subject (Hilchot Deot 7:1-3), in which the Raavad seems to stress the actual results of the speech, the actual harm produced (as when Doeg HaEdomi reported news about the city of Nov to King Saul, and got its entire population slaughtered as a result). The Rambam, though, says that Lashon Hara, the disparaging saying of innocuous truths about other people, is far worse than simply reporting facts, even if the news causes great harm. The slanted brainwashing of Lashon Hara becomes a whole system of illicit control of other people's minds. This earns this form of thought control the title Lashon Hara, which Rabbi Weinberg notes translates not to "evil speech," but rather to "the language of evil."

One should make no mistake about this issue: it is not misguided, nor mere foolishness. This issue touches the very essence and origins of evil itself. Rabbi Weinberg notes the mentions of "trees" in our parsha (Bamidbar 13:20; 15:32-33) and ingeniously notes that the Zohar refers to them all in the context of Gan Eden's Tree of Life, Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the first manipulator of Lashon Hara, the primeval, evil Serpent. It is in these terms that one must view the meraglim.

And that is how to view the present situation in Israel. Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook used label the character of the governments of the state of Israel kesel peti, "evil foolishness" (as overheard from Rabbi Avihu Schwartz). Our governments are not simply misguided, nor merely foolish - the minds of our national leaders have been taken over by evil itself, without their being conscious of it. Prime Ministers and members of Knesset think that they are acting in the national good, as they promote the interests of terrorists and anti-Semitic murderers. The results of this national matrix of lies is not benign. Just as the spies said "and we were in their eyes as locusts," (Bamidbar 13:33), and the Gemara (Gitin 55b) links this to bar Kamtza, the human locust (kamtza) who devoured his fellow Jews, so too today: when our IBA editor says he's proud that he got his son out of Lebanon, he means that it's perfectly fine for your son to be in danger. It's also legitimate to use your son as fodder on suicide missions on the last days of the Second Lebanon War. It's also fair to use Jonathan Pollard for his information and then abandon him to dangle on a noose for 22 years. And it is quite all right to evict and impoverish the people of Gush Katif if it will get the Arabs and other anti-Semites off my back.

This is the background of Tisha B'Av, the night on which the meraglim returned with their murderous Lashon Hara. In its treatment of Lashon Hara in Erchin (16b), the Gemara notes that leprosy is a punishment for Lashon Hara, and that its atonement is made by two bird sacrifices. One bird is slaughtered, representing the much deserved fate of the slanderer. The other "chattering " bird remains alive, to represent the good that can be spread by one who has a wise, goodly-motivated tongue (Maharsha). The Oznaim L'Torah, like many commentators, notes that the next segment after that of the spies in the Torah deals with challah (15:17-21), the gift of dough to the kohanim: "This challah comes as an atonement for the sin of the Spies. Instead of the Lashon Hara about the Land, and the evil influencing of the people of Israel against the inheriting of the Land, comes this gift of challah from the first produce of the Land, for we are to view the chein (charm, beauty) of the Land and lovingly kiss its soil." As it says in Tehilim (102:15): "For your servants love the Land's stones, and see chein in its soil."

Chein is opposed to the sinat chinam, the hatred of the chein of the Land and of other Jews, of the spies. May this summer see the end of the rule of spies, and the renewal of the spirit (Oznayim L'Torah) "of gratitude to the Almighty for our coming to the Land promised to our Fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."