From the beginning of time, straying after our eyes has gotten us into a lot of trouble. Adam and Eve strayed after their eyes and caused mankind to be cast out of the Garden. Yehuda strayed after his eyes and brought disgrace and family tragedy in its wake. The Jews in the wilderness strayed after the daughters of Midian and 24,000 girl-watchers were slain by a plague. Samson strayed after his eyes and was humiliated and blinded in return. And Kind David got himself into hot water by gazing at Bat Sheva as she was bathing up on the roof.
"For she is pleasing to my eyes."
Straying after their eyes also brought about the downfall of the Spies. Seeing the giants in the Land of Israel, their hearts melted in fear, as it says: “Moreover, we saw the children of the giants there,” and “We saw in it men of great size, and there we saw the Nefilim, the sons of the giants, who come of the Nefilim, and we were in our eyes as grasshoppers.” Just like the new grasshopper, Bibi, caving in to the big bad giant Obama.
At the end of the Torah portion of “Shelach,” which we read on Shabbat, Hashem gives us the commandment of tzitzit to help rectify the sin of the Spies:
“And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, Speak to the Children of Israel, and bid them that they make fringes (tzitzit) in the corners of their garments throughout their generations… that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of Hashem, and do them; that you stray not after your own heart and your own eyes after which you go astray, that you may remember and do My commandments, and be holy to your G-d.”
Tzitzit - so that you shall remember and be holy.
Actually, there are two commandments here; to wear tzitzit, and not to stray after our hearts and our eyes.
The book, “Sefer HaHinuch,” explains that “not to stray after your hearts,” refers to entertaining opinions or beliefs that are contradictory to the foundations of Torah, since this can lead to heresy. If it should occur that a person finds himself thinking about heretical teachings, like those inherent in false religions, he should cast them from his mind and replace them with thoughts about Torah.
In a similar light, a person is not to chase after the deceptive visions and lusts of this world that lead him away from the Torah. The Talmud categorizes “not to stray after your eyes” as “znut,” meaning erotic, sexual imagery.
"You shall not stray after your eyes!"
Every time a person gazes at an immodestly dressed woman on the street, or at an immodest image on the Internet, he is violating the Torah command not to stray after one’s heart and one’s eyes. It turns out that by the end of the day, a man can violate the Torah hundreds of times!
Our Sages teach that a forbidden thought is worse than actually engaging in the forbidding act itself. They explain that this specifically applies to sexual fantasies. According to this, gazing at a woman and fantasizing about having forbidden relations with her is worse than actually committing the transgression! How can this be? They explain that straying after one’s eyes and fantasizing is something that can happen a thousand times before a person acts on it because committing adultery or engaging in forbidden relationships involves great intrigue, planning, and there is always the danger of being caught, which makes a person think twice before committing the transgression. Whereas fantasizing at one’s computer is so easy, one can easily deceive himself into thinking he really isn’t doing something so terribly wrong and thus transgress again and again and again.
Additionally, someone who engages in forbidden relations is often moved to repent, owing to the guilt he feels; whereas when one’s “merely” fantasizes about a woman, “what’s the big deal – I didn’t hurt anybody?” he thinks.
However, when a Jew gazes at a forbidden image, whether on TV, the Internet, a movie, a photo in a magazine, a pretty girl on the street, or the like, he severs himself from holiness. The Shechinah flees from him. He may experience a physical charge, but he disconnects himself from the Divine electricity known as “Chashmal.” If he is the type of guy who engages in casual conversations with women, in the grocery store, at mixed weddings, on the yishuv, and the like, without averting his gaze from looking at them straight in the eyes, besides ignoring the advice of our Sages not to speak more than one has to with women, he brings about a dulling of his spiritual sensitivities. If he is a regular TV watcher, Internet surfer, women talker, he pulls out the plug connecting him to Torah. Rabbi Leon Levi says that a person like this may go through the motions of praying and studying Torah, but his prayers and Torah study don’t rise more than a centimeter into the air before they crash. Someone who doesn’t guard his eyes may think he is connected to Torah, but he isn’t. The plug is lying disconnected on the floor. Only, he doesn’t feel his lack of holiness because his spiritual vision and sensitivity has become dulled until it is practically switched off.
What does this have to do with the Spies?
A straightforward understanding of their terrible crash of faith and the tragedy it brought upon the Nation is that they looked at the giants with a superficial vision, seeing the physical side of things only. And so they were afraid. Joshua and Calev, on the other hand, looked upon the giants with the deep faith of security in G-d, and knew that the giants presented no danger at all. The superficial vision of the Spies is shared by many Jews in the Diaspora who when looking upon things in Israel see only the superficial physical side of things, the giant problems in the Land, and not on the great inner light of building and redemption that is taking place. With their superficial vision, they forget Hashem. Cut off from the deep faith that trust in G-d brings, they see Israel as “a land that devours its inhabitants” – just like the Spies did - and they use this as an excuse for not coming.
So what does this have to do with looking at woman? I’m glad you asked. Rabbi Levi explains that when the Spies left the Clouds of Glory to spy out the Land, they were indeed prominent scholars and community leaders. But when they left the protective walls of their yeshiva, they encountered the immodest women of Midian and this is what brought about their fall. Straying after their eyes, they lost their connection to Hashem and the invincible faith that comes with it. Without trust in G-d, they quivered upon seeing the giants.
This is hinted at in the verse regarding tzitzit which says, ”You shall not stray after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you go astray,” where the Hebrew for “after which you go astray” comes from the word “zonim” to prostitute yourselves, from the word “znut” for forbidden sexual activities, including gazing at immodest women.
And since we are talking about tzitzit, I recall a trip to Florida to visit my parents before they came on aliyah. Seeing me and my kids walking along the sidewalk of a shopping mall, several Jewish senior citizens pointed to us in happiness and called out, “Oh look at the tzitzit!” as if they hadn’t seen tzitzit in years. Because in America, many Orthodox Jews hide their tzitzit inside their pants so they won’t look different from the goyim. That alone should make a Diaspora Jew realize that he doesn’t belong in a foreign land, where he has to hide his Jewishness on the street.
Proud to be a Jew - overlooking the Jordan River
So come home already to Israel where you can walk proudly anywhere you please with your tzitzit flying in the wind. You’ve got what it takes. Stop worry about all the problems you see. Remember the good old American motto:
“In G-d we trust.”