A Positive Spin by Avi Levinson

(2006/5766) 

After spending forty days spying Eretz Yisrael, the
Meraglim returned with their negative report: claiming that the
nations in the land were too powerful for Bnei Yisrael to
conquer (13:29), the Meraglim discouraged Bnei Yisrael from
entering Eretz Yisrael.  Accepting the report, the people
complained bitterly against Hashem and Moshe and
announced that they will choose a new leader and return to
Egypt.  As punishment for this grievous sin, Hashem decreed
(14:34), “BeMispar HaYamim Asher Tartem Et Haaretz,
Arba’im Yom, Yom LaShanah, Yom LaShanah Tis’u Et
Avonoteichem Arba’im Shanah,” “Like the number of years
that you spied out the land, forty days, a day for a year, a day
for a year you shall bear your sin, forty years.”  For each day
that the spies were in Eretz Yisrael, Bnei Yisrael would be
punished, Middah Kenegged Middah, with one year of
wandering in the desert.  This punishment is difficult to
understand – the Meraglim sinned only by speaking Lashon
Hara for a few hours, perhaps one day at most; why were
Bnei Yisrael punished for the days the Meraglim spent in
their spying mission, when, on the surface, no sin was
committed during that time?
Rabbi Yissochar Frand explains that there are two
ways to view any event: one can “look on the bright side,” or
one can take a pessimistic, darker view on the matter.  Rashi
(13:32 s.v.  Eretz), explaining the Meraglim’s comment that
Eretz Yisrael is “Eretz Ochelet Yosheveha,” “a land which
devours its inhabitants,” writes that wherever the Meraglim
went in Eretz Yisrael, they saw funeral processions.  The
Meraglim could have viewed this event in two ways.  They
could either have recognized that Hashem had performed a
miracle – that many people suddenly died so that the
residents of Eretz Yisrael would be occupied with the
funerals and not notice the Meraglim – or they could take the
negative outlook that the land must be uninhabitable. 
Because they took this latter view, they reported that the land
“devours its inhabitants.”  In essence, therefore, their sin of
telling Lashon Hara about Eretz Yisrael began on the very
first day they entered the land, when they first saw the
funerals and concluded that the land was problematic.  Ergo,
the Meraglim actually spent forty days involved in the sin of
Lashon Hara, and Bnei Yisrael were punished accordingly
with forty years of exile.
If Lashon Hara really begins with viewing an event
negatively, a strange Pasuk in Parshat Tazria also becomes
clearer.  In discussing Tzaraat HaBegged, Tzaraat that
appears on clothes, the Torah dictates that a piece of cloth
which has questionable Tzaraat must be “quarantined,” or
closeted away with the affected area marked, for seven
days.  If the affliction remains unchanged after seven days,
the cloth must be washed and quarantined again.  If, after
this second seven-day period, the Kohen sees that “Lo
Hafach HaNega Et Eino,” literally “the affliction has not
changed its eye,” the cloth must be burned (Vayikra 13:55). 
Rashi explains this strange phrase to mean that the Tzaraat
has not changed color, interpreting “changed its eye” as
“changed in his eye” (the eye of the Kohen).  However, it is
unclear from Rashi why this strange phraseology is used. 
Rabbi Frand explains that because Lashon Hara really starts
with a negative view of an event, the Pasuk can be
understood literally.  The Tzaraat, which was likely caused by

Lashon Hara, did not “change its eye” – the person did not
change his negative outlook which caused the Tzaraat in
the first place.  The Torah is hinting that the problem in the
person’s viewpoint has not been corrected, and the cloth
must therefore be burned.
The Sefat Emet notes that the words “Nega”
(affliction, the word used for Tzaraat), spelled Nun Gimmel
Ayin, and “Oneg” (enjoyment), spelled Ayin Nun Gimmel,
have the same letters.  The only difference between them
is where the Ayin is placed – at the beginning of the word
or at the end of the word.  The word “Ayin” is not only a
letter, but also the word for eye.  Thus, the only difference
between being “afflicted” (Nega) and enjoying this world
(Oneg) is where the Ayin, the eye, is placed.  If one has a
positive outlook, seeing the good side of things and
judging others favorably, then he or she will truly enjoy
this world.  If, on the other hand, one has a negative
attitude, concentrating on the bad in everything and
speaking Lashon Hara, then he or she will be constantly
“afflicted,” unable to enjoy life.
A powerful lesson emerges.  The only way to
avoid the terrible sin of Lashon Hara is to see the good in
people and events.  Judging others LeKaf Zechut,
favorably, is so important and so difficult.  With Hashem’s
help, we should all merit to judge others favorably and
thereby uproot the sin of Lashon Hara.

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