“The people who dwell in the land are extremely fierce and the cities are fortified and very great, and we also saw the children of Anak there… we are not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we.” 13:28, 31). The spies report was appropriate to a point. They were told to see the land and report back on the condition of the land and of the people who lived there. But their task was just to observe and report what they saw.
However, the spies’ mistake was in making a decision that Israel should not attempt to enter the land. It was not up to them to interpret and come to any final conclusions, they only had to report the facts they saw. They were wrong about their conclusions not being able to conquer the land of Israel. The Torah teaches that they did not take Gods’ power and will to help the people of Israel into consideration, even if the odds were against them.
However, in the spies’ minds they did not think it was possible for them to successfully win the war against Anak the giants, and take over the land of Israel, and that is what they reported. What do we learn from this?
This is called Lashon Hara, the Evil Tongue, and the Torah absolutely prohibits it because it can cause incredible harm to the one speaking it, to those who hear it, and to the one they are speaking about. When dealing with darkness, there are two options: you can attempt to sweep it out the door with a broom, or you can light a candle, and the darkness will vanish. When dealing with spiritual darkness that Lashon Hara causes, the best remedies are empathy and respect.
Very often, just like the spies, people see certain facts in a situation and come to some mistaken and wrong conclusions based on their own perceptions and interpretation of what they see. At times, even if someone’s observations are correct, there could still always be factors that he did not take into consideration or that he was unaware of. It is truly a special ability to be able to reach correct decisions based on all the gathered facts first.
This thought is especially true when having to make judgments or decisions about other people. Some people have a strong tendency to reach negative conclusions about others that are inaccurate. Even if what he sees about another person is basically true, one always has to keep in mind that his conclusions could be wrong. Therefore, our tradition always teaches us that when it comes to judging others, one always has to take time to do a careful investigation first, and always has to do his best to judge the other person favorably, assuming that there could be some misunderstanding. Then do something wild and wonderful… approach the person as a friend and speak to him in a positive tone. God willing, one can sort the issue out and bring more light into the world, and renewal of a friendship. Amen.
About Rabbi Miriam
Rabbi Miriam E. Hamrell MHL, M.Ed., has served as our religious and spiritual leader at Ahavat Torah Congregation and helped it grow since it was founded in 2003.