Moshe rebukes Bnei Yisrael—reminding them of the time when the appointment of judges was established—when he said, “How can I alone carry your troubles, your burdens and your quarrels?” (1:12). The term “burdens” seems repetitious, since it already says “troubles.” Thus, Rashi explains, that the words “your burdens” comes to teach us that the people were heretics: for if Moshe left his home early to go judge the people, they would say that it’s, perhaps, because he is not calm at his home (i.e., he’s having challenges with his family). And if Moshe would leave his home later, they would say it’s because he was devising plans against people and thinking thoughts against people.
While they interpreted Moshe’s earliness and lateness the way they did—negatively, it also could have been interpreted in the complete opposite sense—positively. Maybe, he left early because he was eager to go help the people who needed their dealings settled! Maybe, he left late because he had a healthy family relationship and was enjoying spending time with them! But the people saw a scenario, and chose to interpret it negatively—even though it was against someone as great as Moshe Rabbeinu. A person can experience something, and interpret it in a positive or negative sense. The choice is left open.
Moshe further reproaches the people—reminding them of the time they sent spies to scout out Eretz Yisrael—and that, ultimately, Bnei Yisrael didn’t want to enter the land. As Moshe says, “You did not wish to ascend … you slandered in your tents and said, ‘Because of Hashem’s hatred for us did He take us out of the land of Egypt … ’” (1:26-27). How could the people have thought that Hashem hated them after all that He did for them until then? Rashi explains that Egypt’s water supply was through irrigation (for the Nile would rise and overflow its banks), whereas Eretz Yisrael depended on rain. The people were saying that Eretz Yisrael was inferior in that regard, and so, by Hashem taking them out of Egypt—which was “superior” in terms of the water system—and, instead, wanting to bring them to a land whose water system was “inferior,” shows that He hates them.
The question is that Eretz Yisrael is praised for having its land watered through rain! As it states in parshat Eikev (11:10-11), “For the land (Eretz Yisrael … is not like the land of Egypt …) where you would plant your seed and water it on foot (as they would have to bring water from the Nile by foot since the Nile’s overflow only reached the low-lying areas (Rashi)) … but the Land (Eretz Yisrael) … from the rain of heaven it will drink water, (and while you’re sleeping in bed, Hashem waters both the low and the high, that which is in the open and that which isn’t (Rashi)).”
We see from here that water from rain is superior! So, how was it considered a shortcoming in their eyes? The sefer “Im Levavi Asicha” explains that we learn from here a fundamental idea: “Two people could observe the very same situation, and yet, one sees it in a negative sense, and one sees it in a positive sense (see ‘Hadrachat Haparsha, Devarim, page 369’). Bnei Yisrael could have just as easily—if not more—seen Eretz Yisrael’s water system in a favorable light, but, instead, chose to see it in a negative light.”
The establishment of Tisha B’Av—and the unfortunate destruction of both Batei Mikdash that occurred on this day—stems from the meraglim’s evil report of Eretz Yisrael, upon which Bnei Yisrael began crying. The people were distressed by the idea of entering Eretz Yisrael. As a result of their crying, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 104b) says, “that date was the night of the ninth of Av. Hashem said to Bnei Yisrael, ‘You cried in vain; therefore, I will establish (this date) for you (as) a (day of) weeping for generations (to come).’”
We could suggest that the root of the meraglim’s sin was, perhaps, because they saw the land and chose to view it negatively, instead of positively. Indeed, the pasuk says that they “brought forth to Bnei Yisrael an evil report … saying … the land … is a land that devours its inhabitants!” thus, implanting within Bnei Yisrael fear of entering the land. Rashi notes that what they meant when they said its “a land that devours its inhabitants” is the following: “In every place where we passed, we found them burying the dead,” (i.e, people die untimely deaths there). However—continues Rashi—Hashem organized this to occur for their own good, in order to distract the inhabitants with their mourning and, thus, they would not notice the spies.
It seems that they could have interpreted these events in a positive and beneficial sense, but they opted for the cynical route. As Rav Shimon Schwab learns from here, two people can see the exact same thing, but “see” very different things. One who is focused on gashmiyut sees the “sticks and stones,” whereas, had they looked at the land from a spiritual mindset, they would have seen a land filled with ruchniyut and holiness (“Maayan Beis Hashoeivah,” Shelach).
As we know, the second Beit Hamikdash was destroyed due to sinat chinam (Gemara Yoma, 9b). Sinat chinam, perhaps, also stems from a similar flaw—where one sees his fellow man and chooses to see and assume the negative, instead of the positive.
When Moshe rebukes Bnei Yisrael vis-a-vis the account of the meraglim, Moshe recounts when they reported about Eretz Yisrael—“Good is the land that Hashem, our God, gives us…” Rashi is of the opinion that the people who brought back this report were Yehoshua and Calev. However, Ramban argues that it refers to the other meraglim as well, that they too, agreed to the goodness of the land, but they, nevertheless, focused on stressing the might of those nations who inhabited the land; thus, scaring the daylights out of Bnei Yisrael. According to Ramban, it sounds like the meraglim were sincere in agreeing that the land was good, and they had no agenda in that specific comment.
However, the Chatam Sofer (“Torat Moshe,” Shelach) seems to opine that even when they said the land is good, they had an agenda and they meant it in a negative sense—as he says that the meraglim intended to impart that since the land is so good, and there is no land like it, the inhabitants will not leave it and they will sacrifice themselves for the land—they will give it their all to retain it! (And, seemingly, the meraglim were further frightening the people with this comment).
We could, perhaps, deduce from here, another unfortunate level of pessimism: where one sees something that is objectively good and beneficial, but yet, interprets it as being something negative and as a disadvantage. Eretz Yisrael was objectively good! They even admitted it! But yet, they approached and perceived it in a negative sense. Similarly, rainwater is objectively good, especially compared to Egypt’s irrigation system! Yet, they chose to take something that was good, and turn it into being something bad, and to their disadvantage. Likewise, Moshe was “objectively good”—how could anyone deny his sincerity and righteousness? Yet, one might look at something or someone (i.e., Moshe) that is objectively good and righteous, and yet, perceive it with pessimism. In a similar fashion, sinat chinam can, perhaps, go so far where one sees another person who is objectively good, and whose deeds are objectively praiseworthy, and yet, twist the reality by interpreting it in a negative fashion.
Although our parsha may be highlighting various instances of the tendency to see and assume the negative as opposed to the positive; on the other hand, our parsha might also hint to the emphasis on seeing the positive and searching for the good in others: When Moshe is recounting the journeys of Bnei Yisrael, he mentions when they were circling Har Seir for many days until Hashem told him, “It’s a lot of your (“rav lachem”) circling this mountain; turn yourselves northward … You shall command the people, saying, you are passing through the boundary of your brothers, the children of Eisav … You shall not provoke them … ” (2:3-5).
The midrash (Devarim Rabbah, 1:16) here comments that Hashem said, “I am paying (Eisav his) dues. (For) when Yaakov gave a gift to Eisav, Eisav said (to Yaakov), ‘I have a lot (“yesh li rav”),’ meaning, ‘Don’t suffer (on my account by giving me a gift).’” Thus, Hashem said, “With this expression (‘rav’) (Eisav) honored (Yaakov); with this (same) expression I say (to the descendants of) (Yaakov), ‘Turn away from before (the descendants of) (Eisav): It’s a lot (“rav”) of your circling.’ (And, immediately, thereafter Bnei Yisrael are told not to provoke Eisav’s descendants).”
Rav Chaim Zaitchik (“Ohr Hanefesh,” Devarim) uncovers an incredible insight from this midrash. While it’s true that Eisav displayed a genuine sincerity in declining Yaakov’s gift, realistically speaking however, these positive emotions of Eisav lasted for but a few short moments at most—as we see that shortly after, Eisav ended up accepting the gift. Nevertheless, Hashem took into account Eisav’s declining and his transient sincerity and mercy for Yaakov, and rewarded him so greatly.
We could, perhaps, see how Hashem “acts,” so-to-speak. Far beneath the abominable character of Eisav, laid a temporary and miniscule sliver of fleeting good-will; and it was not overlooked! Despite so much evil, Hashem—so-to-speak—delved through the layers and layers of evil and found and held this small deed to such great importance—it was searched, seen and valued.
Says Rav Zaitchik, if even by such people are we taught to recognize and appreciate even such a minute amount of good they contain, then how much more so are we to try to search, see and value the sincerity and goodness hidden in the hearts of every single one of our fellow Jews.
Binyamin is a graduate of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchanan, and of Wurzweiler School of Social Work.