Parashat Sh’lach – Positive Evaluation
Viewpoints can be found throughout our nation’s history, whether it’d be Avraham’s viewpoints on who the master of the world is down to who the Jews thought should be king after Shlomo Hamelech’s passing. From explaining why some people did a certain action down to how they view the world, subjectivity is crucial in developing a person. While Hakadosh Baruch Hu doesn’t invalidate a wrong action because of a good viewpoint, he does indeed realize that it is something that can lead a person to sin.
The above claim is evident by looking at the wording of the commandment to wear Tzizit. The Maftir of this Parasha tells us not to go after our desires, from our hearts to our eyes. However, this conflicts with natural human behavior, which is when they see something they like, then the heart desires said item. The action is first done with the eyes rather than the heart. An old English saying explains my point: “You don’t know what you want until you see it”. There’s certainly truth to that statement; after all, I’ve used that statement to get people to use my business for work. So how can the Torah say that it is the opposite?
“וְהָיָ֣ה לָכֶם֮ לְצִיצִת֒ וּרְאִיתֶ֣ם אֹת֗וֹ וּזְכַרְתֶּם֙ אֶת־כׇּל־מִצְוֺ֣ת יְהֹוָ֔ה וַעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֹתָ֑ם וְלֹֽא־תָת֜וּרוּ אַחֲרֵ֤י לְבַבְכֶם֙ וְאַחֲרֵ֣י עֵֽינֵיכֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁר־אַתֶּ֥ם זֹנִ֖ים אַחֲרֵיהֶֽם׃
That shall be your fringe; look at it and recall all the commandments of the LORD and observe them, so that you do not follow your heart and eyes in your lustful urge.”
Numbers 15, Parashat Sh’lach [7th Aliya], verse 39
Once Upon A Time™️, there was a survivor of the Holocaust who stopped observing the Torah. When the Rosh Yeshiva of Brisk met him and inquired him about it, he recalled an event that he witnessed: “In the camp, there were thousands of people who lived in great starvation and were forced to do back-breaking work from dawn until night. After some time, a new Jewish person arrived at the camp, and he had a small siddur. Immediately there formed a huge queue from all of those in the camp to see the siddur and read some prayers from it. However, to my surprise, he requested from each of them that they give him half of their meager daily bread rations. And so, each person that came to pray gave half of his daily bread rations, and only afterward was he allowed to pray from the siddur. I saw this and shuddered. From that day onwards, I decided to cease observing the mitzvot, for how could a person take advantage of impoverished people lacking all hope of being saved and take from them from the little bread that they had so that they may pray from a siddur? And then I told myself, if this is the religion, I have no interest in it!”
Although the man was disgusted by this act, the Brisker Rav was delighted at how dedicated the Jewish people were to observe the Torah. “Why do you only see with your eyes that individual who behaved in this appalling way and from him you made long term decisions, and you don’t see in that very same event the hundreds of people who stood in line and were prepared to give from their meager bread to pray from that old siddur? You should have seen this, and from here you should have deduced the self-sacrifice they had for Torah and prayer in every situation and all ages acting so!”
However bad a situation is, depends on our viewpoints, and if our initial perspectives on events are flawed, then the situation would observe to be bad. In every situation, there is both an objective good and an objective bad. However, the overall picture can only be determined by subjectivity, based on how we evaluate certain criteria above others.
However, just like we need to observe the world around us as good, so too we need to observe ourselves as good. If we start doubting our skills, we’d never be able to view other things as good. We can learn this out from how the meraglim acted and explained themselves in comparison to the giants;
Although there is a deeper fundamental reason for why they did this (they didn’t want the Jewish people to work), this coverup needed some evidence and the comparison to the giants is a perfect one.
אֶ֚פֶס כִּֽי־עַ֣ז הָעָ֔ם הַיֹּשֵׁ֖ב בָּאָ֑רֶץ וְהֶֽעָרִ֗ים בְּצֻר֤וֹת גְּדֹלֹת֙ מְאֹ֔ד וְגַם־יְלִדֵ֥י הָֽעֲנָ֖ק רָאִ֥ינוּ שָֽׁם׃”
However, the people who inhabit the country are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large; moreover, we saw the Anakites there.”
Numbers 13, Parashat Sh’lach [2nd Aliya], verse 28
This is flawed when we consider just who these people were. Moshe specifically picked out these individuals because of their status as leaders, and leaders aren’t picked out randomly.
וַיִּשְׁלַ֨ח אֹתָ֥ם מֹשֶׁ֛ה מִמִּדְבַּ֥ר פָּארָ֖ן עַל־פִּ֣י יְהֹוָ֑ה כֻּלָּ֣ם אֲנָשִׁ֔ים רָאשֵׁ֥י בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל הֵֽמָּה׃”
So Moses, by the LORD’s command, sent them out from the wilderness of Paran, all the men being leaders of the Israelites.”
Numbers 13, Parashat Sh’lach [1st Aliya], verse 3
If they had enough trust in Hashem (like Kalev and Yehoshua did), they wouldn’t be saying these things. However, according to Rav Shmuel Birnbaum (zt”l), they didn’t trust Hashem because they didn’t trust that they were worthy enough. When someone does not have positive reinforcement, even something which can seem relatively easy to take down appears huge, and they diminish their worth and their strength.
וְשָׁ֣ם רָאִ֗ינוּ אֶת־הַנְּפִילִ֛ים בְּנֵ֥י עֲנָ֖ק מִן־הַנְּפִלִ֑ים וַנְּהִ֤י בְעֵינֵ֙ינוּ֙ כַּֽחֲגָבִ֔ים וְכֵ֥ן הָיִ֖ינוּ בְּעֵינֵיהֶֽם׃”
We saw the Nephilim there—the Anakites are part of the Nephilim—and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.”
Numbers 13, Parashat Sh’lach [2nd Aliya], verse 33
Evaluation without biases is quite hard, especially if someone can’t mentally do it on their own. Whether it’s setting expectations too high for oneself or choosing to look at the half-empty cup instead of the half-full cup, the Torah commands us directly in the Mitzvah of Tzizit not to look at that. We’re not supposed to go after the desires and expectations of the heart, but rather, seek absolute truth. Abandon the weak expectations your heart desires for avodat elokim and aim higher. Abandon the strong expectations year heart desires for fame and other things, and recognize those things yourself. Then, that’s where you’ll find true happiness.