Shelach – Something to Cry About — By Ben

I got fired yesterday.

Okay, not really fired, let go. And I’ll work until the end of next week. The parting was amicable and my boss is fair, generous and we’ll end on great terms. But despite that, I’m headed into uncertain territory and that’s never fun.

I can’t help but notice a parallel to this week’s Torah portion, Shelach. If you’re unfamiliar, Moses and the Jews finally arrive, just outside of the Land of Israel. The 12 Meraglim, 1 man from each tribe, are sent into Canaan (its name at the time) to get the lay of the land. It’s basically a 40 day tour after which they return to the Jews still waiting in the desert. But when they give their report, it’s a bad one. The Jews lose faith, bad vibes spread like a super virus and before you know it, the Jews start singing their classic tune, “Shoulda stayed in Egypt.” God gets golden calf mad and threatens to wipe out the Jews again, but Moses calms Him down. Talk about a bad report card!


Ultimately God decrees that the Jews will wander the desert for 40 years. The whole generation will die out before God lets the next generation enter the Land. Harsh. In fact, the anniversary of this event is observed with the fast of Tisha B’Av every year.

Lashon Hara vs Idolatry

But what did they do that was so bad? The rabbis say the meraglim spoke lashon hara about the Land. Lashon hara (literally the language of evil) is considered one of the worst sins a person can do. Speaking bad about someone can ruin their reputation, or worse, in mere moments.  But lashon hara isn’t one of the 3 ultimate bad sins, while idolatry is. And the Jews didn’t receive such a harsh punishment for the idolatry of the golden calf. Also only 10 of the 12 meraglim agreed with the bad report. Why was the whole generation punished?

To answer these, we have to look at the 40 years the generation was sentenced to. Why 40 years? The rabbis say, 1 year for each day the meraglim spent spying out the land. But why would the punishment be based on them looking at the land when the crime was the report at the end? The answer gives us an insight into the nature of lashon hara.

Lashon hara doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You don’t just start speaking bad about people all of a sudden. Someone might say something to set you off, but they are only able to do so because you’ve already got something brewing. That’s because lashon hara isn’t just an act, it’s a perspective. The act is just the expression of a way one looks at the world. The punishment included the initial 40 days because the meraglim were looking to give a bad report. They weren’t just focusing on the bad, they were seeking it out it before they even got there. And the entire nation was punished because they listened to that negativity and promulgated it.

Is it really fair for God to hold that against the entire nation? Are we really expected to stop someone who is badmouthing another person and say, “Hey don’t do that! It’s not nice!” as if we lived in some elementary anti-bullying video?

anti lashon hara

Well, maybe you don’t have to be confrontational… but yes. That is what the Torah asks of you. And how do we know this? Joshua and Caleb, the other two meragilm. They condemned the report. There were vocal, “This is the land God brought us to! Look at all He has done for us so far. This is ultimately for the best!” They remained optimistic and focused on the good while keeping faith, and for that they were the only ones in the generation free from the punishment.

Facing Scary Time

My default is pessimism. My initial reaction is to look at the bad. But since I’ve started looking for God in my life, I’ve started letting the “bad times” play out a little bit. And every single time I stop myself from going negative, a miracle seems to happens and everything turns out fine. Honestly, I’m appalled how it keeps happening. And from that, I’ve started to cultivate a sort of calm attitude. I’m less reactive. Less likely to let something upset me. Where once I often had an attitude of, “I can’t believe this!” now I’m more likely to reflect, “Huh… okay… I guess I need to do this for a bit.”

You still need to do your hard work (which I’m sure is now ahead of me), but I honestly believe as long as I’m doing good and giving the benefit of the doubt, Hashem will provide. And the more and more I think about it, it really was time for me to move on from my job. It just seems Hashem made the decision for me.

This blog post is dedicated to the refuah shlema of Alex Rayfiel (Danyel Michayel ben Rivka) and his battle against MS. If you would like to help him and his wife fight the good fight to recovery please click here.

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