Monday, July 13, 2020

What does it mean to “see”? In common vernacular, when people say “I see,” they don’t usually mean to say “I see what is right in front of me”; rather, they mean to say “I understand.” Meaning, based on what I’ve seen or heard, I have gathered information and achieved a deeper level of understanding.

When Moshe instructs the meraglim (spies), he tells them וּרְאִיתֶ֥ם אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ מַה־הִ֑וא—“see what the land is like.” Interestingly, when Hashem introduces the topic of tzitzit, it says וּרְאִיתֶ֣ם אֹת֗וֹ וּזְכַרְתֶּם֙ אֶת־כָּל־מִצְוֹ֣ת ה’ וַֽעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֹתָ֑ם—“and you should see them and remember all of Hashem’s mitzvot and perform them.” In both topics—the topic of the meraglim and the topic of tzitzit—the Torah uses the same exact word of רְאִיתֶ֣ם—“see.” What’s the connection?

Ramban describes how tzitzit reminds us of Hashem’s mitzvot: In tzitzit we have the techelet (which are of blueish dye). When we look at the techelet, it reminds us of the sea, which is also blue, which in turn reminds us of the sky, which is blue as well. When our attention is at the sky, it reminds us of the kisei hakavod (Hashem’s throne in heaven, so to speak). When our attention is now on the kisei hakavod, we become cognizant of Hashem’s mitzvot.

Based on this, Rabbi Frand explains that we see that the idea of tzitzit is one that goes beyond what the eye meets. When we look at the tzitzit and see the techelet, it doesn’t stop there, but instead causes a chain of connections that ultimately lands us to the pinnacle purpose of the tzitzit—to remember Hashem’s mitzvot and thus perform them. It doesn’t stop at the fringes, nor at the sea, but goes deeper and deeper. Hence, the seeing in reference to tzitzit is a seeing that goes beyond the surface. The meraglim did indeed see as well, but they only saw the surface of Eretz Yisrael, the scary people, a scary land—a hostile and doomed environment. The meraglim didn’t see beyond the surface, to look more broadly to understand that the ultimate uniqueness of the land was its exceptional holiness and what can be gained from it. The meraglim didn’t “see” deeper.

As we know, the meraglim spoke lashon hara about Eretz Yisrael. Lashon hara is an interesting concept because many times the picture painted is only one dimensional. We see someone doing something that looks wrong to us, or someone whose personality is a certain way that we think is wrong, and we stop right there. We then may go and tell it to someone else, potentially damaging the person’s reputation. The failure began at the inception of our perception: we didn’t see deeper into this person and/or his actions. We could have looked at things more broadly, taken into account where the person may be coming from—perhaps he has certain challenges, or perhaps we are seeing things the wrong way, etc. Lashon hara is amateur because it may simply start from a very narrow and limited perspective of things. Not being able to see deeper may ultimately cause lashon hara. The meraglim spoke lashon hara, and perhaps it all began with the narrow-sightedness and not being open-minded.

Rabbi Shmuel Gluck describes the difference between arrogance and confidence. In one example he says that “arrogant people believe that they have enough information when they have little, if any. The arrogant person walks into a room and is certain that his view will ‘carry the day.’... The confident person walks into the same room and is aware that he must amass information and that much of what he thinks may be incorrect. Nevertheless, he is confident that he can glean what he needs to know…”

Perhaps we can say that the lashon hara of the meraglim (and really lashon hara in general) stemmed from arrogance. They said, “We can’t go up to the nation [those who were currently in Eretz Yisrael] for they are stronger than us” (Bamidbar 13:31). At first glance they were saying that the nations in Eretz Yisrael would defeat them, but on a deeper level, Rashi tells us that the meraglim were saying that the nations are stronger than Hashem. Either way, the meraglim had some information of the land, but instead of opening up the topic with a broader view, they ran with their limited perception, ultimately making an extremely faulty conclusion. In some respects it seems like they believed their view will “carry the day,” thinking they know everything about the situation when in reality they only had minimal information. The righteous meraglim—Yehoshua and Kalev—on the other hand, said, “If Hashem desires us, he will bring us to this land and give it to us” (ibid 14:8). They didn’t give a definite outcome, but left it open-ended.

When one sets his mind on overcoming arrogance and instead becoming confident, he opens up his mind to more possibilities, does not jump to conclusions, and can see deeper into the matters that he experiences in life. With this mindset, it becomes much easier to steer away from lashon hara since the seeds of it, i.e., the narrowmindedness and faulty definiteness, are no longer present, but rather have been replaced with an open-minded outlook on the person and his circumstances, realizing that there is much more information that may need to be taken into account before arriving at any conclusion.

Binyamin Benji is a graduate of Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan and Wurzweiler School of Social Work. He can be reached at [email protected]