Friday, June 17, 2011

Parsha Shlach: The Spies, the Ayin Tov, and Converts

This is my first post on Torah, but I just can't resist this parsha. The story of the spies is one of my favorites, and last year, it was even the parsha when I visited Eretz Yisrael for the first time! Appropriate, right? The spies became a kind of analogy for my Birthright group, which made me appreciate the story even more. So here are some pre-Shabbos thoughts for you to bring to your Shabbat table tonight!

I am always surprised that the Midrash and just about every traditional source says that the spies lied about the land. Nothing in the speech of the 10 spies sounds made up, and when Caleb speaks against them, he doesn't accuse them of lying! He essentially says that the other spies (and the congregation of Israel) lack bitachon (trust in Hashem) because Hashem can surely bring us into the land of Eretz Yisrael if He wants to. In essence, he is saying, "Sure, all that stuff is true, but we have G-d on our side! We can't lose!"

So if the 10 spies weren't lying, why were they killed by a plague? And if they lied, why punish Israel for freaking out because of false information? Death in the desert and not entering the land certainly seems to be a harsh punishment for an unintentional sin. 

It just doesn't add up that the spies lied.  But if they didn't lie, what is the problem? As I learned from someone on my Birthright trip (Scott, I think?), the spies had the wrong perspective. The things they said were technically true, but it was spin. They saw the land with an ayin ra (an evil eye, as opposed to "the" evil eye) because they lacked bitachon. 

It may be a question of the chicken or the egg: did they lack bitachon before or after they saw these things in the land? Maybe they lacked bitachon when they began, so they looked for reasons to be afraid. This is a very external focus. But on the other hand, maybe they had bitachon until they saw scary things in Israel and their self-doubt finally convinced them that their own frailties couldn't possibly stand up to the dangers in Israel even with G-d on their side. In essence, that would be a lack of bitachon that Hashem can make us powerful or successful. In short, low self-esteem and a lack of trust in yourself. Did the spies have an ayin ra towards the land or themselves? My guess is that it was towards themselves because why would they NOT want to enter the land? I haven't seen any reasons given for why the spies would resist entering the land unless they wanted to remain in the desert eating manna. Maybe that's true, but I think they wanted to enter the land and dwell there. My penchant for psychology also pushes me towards believing that the spies didn't have trust in themselves.

Applying this to our lives today: Can a person really have bitachon while suffering from low self-esteem? My initial reaction is skeptical.

As I've said several times before, I'm convinced that perspective is everything. Very few things are within our control, but an ayin tov is. The ayin tov is the good eye, a positive perspective. This doesn't mean you can't be realistic and prepare for the worst case scenario; it's all about about your reaction. As so eloquently stated by motivation posters in my elementary school classrooms, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” The 10 spies reacted poorly.

And in almost completely unrelated news, there is a convert connection here. In the Haftorah this week, we read about Rahab during the second set of "spies" in Israel. Read more about Rahab at the Kvetching Editor: Rahab the Harlot: the Rabbis' Convert!


  1. Rashi (Shelach 13:27) says they had an evil design from when they left:

  2. At the risk of shameless self-promotion, I share a blog I wrote last week about Rachav. It's called "Penitent Prostitutes". She is simply one of my favorite figures of Jewish history for her example in teshuva- renowned prostitute turned convert and wife of Yehoshua, the leader of the Jewish people!