Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR/ Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch


A businessman found himself in some serious financial trouble. His business was in the red and his investments were failing miserably. He was in tremendous debt and saw no way out of his misery. In desperation he sought the council of his Rabbi.
The Rabbi listened quietly. He thought for a moment and then replied: “I have an idea for you. It may sound a little erratic but at this point you have nothing to lose. I want you to take a beach chair and a Chumash (Bible) and drive down to the beach. Take the chair and the Chumash to the water’s edge, open the chair, sit down, and open the Chumash on your lap. The wind will immediately rifle the pages. Wait until the pages stop turning and then look down at the open page and read the first thing you see. That will be your answer and you will know what to do.”
A year later, the businessman returned to the Rabbi. He was driving a Mercedes and wearing a custom made suit. His wife was wearing a mink coat. He pulled out a wad of big bills and handed them to the Rabbi as a ‘token’ of his appreciation. The Rabbi was taken aback, “You did as I told you?” The man smugly replied, “I sure did.”
“You went down to the beach with a Chumash?”
“You waited for the wind to stop blowing the pages?”
“Well, what were the first words you saw?”
The man smiled, “Chapter 11”.

The debacle with the spies who went to scout out Eretz Yisroel is one of the most tragic events in our history.[1] To Moshe’s dismay, the spies returned and offered a shockingly negative report.
G-d informed Moshe that because the nation had failed to appreciate the greatness of the Land that He had promised them, no one from that generation would live to enter it[2]. The nation would spend the next forty years wandering through the desert, in compensation for the forty days the spies spent in Eretz Yisroel developing their negative report.
When the nation was informed of their punishment they mourned exceedingly. “They awoke early in the morning and ascended toward the mountaintop saying, ‘We are ready, and we shall ascend to the place of which G-d has spoken, for we have sinned’. Moshe said, “Why do you transgress the Word of G-d? It will not succeed. Do not ascend for G-d is not in your midst! And do not be smitten before your enemies….” But they defiantly ascended to the mountaintop, while the Ark of G-d’s covenant and Moshe did not move from the midst of the camp. The Amalakite and the Canaanite who dwelled on that mountain descended; they struck them and pounded them until Chormah.”[3]    
It would seem that the actions of the ‘ascenders’ was an attempt to repent. Why did G-d not allow them to rectify their iniquity by demonstrating their complete devotion to the Land? G-d always assists the contrite penitent, so why here did G-d reject their efforts?
Ba’alei Mussar explain that the ascenders did not comprehend the process of repentance. They were under the impression that repentance means to simply alter one’s actions. “Until now I engaged in these sins and from now on I commit myself to abstain from these sins”. That is an insufficient approach to repentance. Gemara[4] states that no one sins unless ‘a spirit of craziness’ envelops him. Therefore, before one can repent he must analyze and consider what led him to sin? What was the impetus that prompted him to act with folly against his conscience? Only once he has realized and is willing to confront the root of his sin has he truly begun the process of repentance.  
 It may have been true that from an external perspective the ascenders were acting in a manner that countered their behavior when they sinned, however they failed to address the root of their sin. The spies had offered compelling arguments about the drawbacks of entering the Land. Nevertheless, G-d had promised them the Land and had stated that it was a great and special Land. The fact that they were able to cry upon hearing the report of the spies demonstrated weakness in their faith. Their ascent up the mountain was the greatest proof that they had failed to rectify that mistake. Their original sin was a lack of subjugation to G-d and the ‘follow-up sin’ was no different. Moshe had told them that G-d’s Presence would not be with them, and yet, they proceeded anyway.

This same idea manifests itself in the fallacy of the spies. At the conclusion of Parshas Beha’aloscha, the Torah relates that Miriam was struck with tzara’as for speaking loshon hora about her brother Moshe. Despite the fact that Miriam loved Moshe, and was speaking out of genuine concern for him to their other brother Aharon, and despite the fact that the humble Moshe took no umbrage from her words, G-d was upset with her. “In my entire House he is the trusted one. Mouth to Mouth do I speak to him, in a clear vision, and not in riddles, at the image of G-d does he gaze. Why did you not fear to speak against my servant Moshe?”[5]
If G-d wanted to chastise Miriam for speaking evilly about Moshe, why didn’t He simply say so? What is the point of the whole introduction about the greatness of Moshe?
After relating the event with Miriam, the Torah commences Parshas Shelach and the debacle of the spies. Rashi explains, “Why did the Torah juxtapose the narrative of the spies with the narrative of Miriam? Because she was afflicted on account of her speaking about her brother and these wicked ones (i.e. the spies) saw but did not take mussar[6]?
What is the connection between Miriam and the spies? Is it merely that they both spoke negatively?
Shlomo Hamelech states in Mishlei “ומוציא דבה הוא כסיל – He who utters slander is a fool.”[7] Harav Michel Barenbaum zt’l[8] explained that gossip and negative speech result from a lack of appreciation of the greatness of the individual slandered. Therefore, one who gossips is not necessarily wicked. Rather he has not sufficiently recognized the greatness of the person or group to whom he harbors negative thoughts and feelings.
Miriam’s sin stemmed from a subtle lack of appreciation for the greatness of her brother. Although she may have had a justifiable argument, if she would have properly recognized the extent of Moshe’s devotion as a servant of G-d, she never would have questioned his actions to Aharon.
The spies had the same failing. Their iniquity was not necessarily that they reported back negatively about the land, for that was their candid assessment of it. The problem lay in the fact that they saw the Land in such a negative light after G-d Himself had related its merit and greatness.

Repentance is not merely about declaring that “I will no longer do what I have done until now.” One who comes before G-d and files chapter 11, as it were, declaring himself spiritually bankrupt so that he can begin anew, is sure to fail[9]. In order to change, one must contemplate what motivates him to act sinfully. Each sin requires its own scrutiny.
One cannot properly eradicate Loshon Hora from his speech, unless he commits himself to seek out the good in people.[10]

Parshas Shelach reminds us that there can be no true rectification without serious contemplation. You have to know why you did what you did to figure out how not to do it again.

“Why did you not fear to speak against my servant Moshe?”
“A good land, a Land with streams of water”

[1] 23 Sivan is the yahrtzeit of my friend and chavrusa) Ephraim Mordechai Yarmush a’h.
A few years ago, Ephraim’s family published a beautiful sefer (Torah compendium) in his memory. The first part of the following thought is based on a paragraph in the sefer which commences with the words, “These were words that were frequently repeated by the deceased. They were written by one of the family members:”

[2] With the exception of Yehoshua and Kalev, the two spies who spoke positively about the Land
[3] 14:40-45
[4] Sota 3a
[5] Bamidbar 12:7-8
[6] i.e. they did not learn the lesson for they too spoke evilly - about the Holy Land
[7] Proverbs 10:18
[8] the late Mashgiach of Mesivta Tiferes Yerushalayim, Sichos Mussar
[9] That is one of the main reasons for the common annual frustration after the High Holy Days when, within a short time, most people give up on New Year’s resolutions and settle back into their daily morass.
[10] Surely, even one who holds himself back from gossiping without that proper step will receive reward beyond human comprehension. However, he will be unable to truly remove such speech completely without understanding its root.


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